Michael Willard, writer, painter, columnist, entrepreneur
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Willard: The Company

Willard, the company, was born out of necessity. I needed a job.

I was 52-years-old and had been out-maneuvered by a fellow who wanted my job in Moscow. He spoke fluent Russian. I didn't. At that time I was market leader for Burson-Marsteller for both Russia and Ukraine.

The writing was on the wall. My competitor was about to be named market leader in Russia. I got in touch with the company's COO who confirmed what I felt to be true. And, he added, we might close the Kyiv office in Ukraine.

I immediately sent a note saying I was ready to buy the Ukraine office. They agreed, and I formed the office with two partners, my brother, Glen, and an Englishman, David Payne. We called ourselves The Willard Group. That was in 1998.

A month after we acquired the office, an economic crisis hit. It was a difficult year, but we not only survived we positioned ourselves to strive. My competitor, the one who was named market leader in Moscow, was fired in 2000. I danced a jig.

Burson-Marsteller asked me if I would consider opening a Moscow office. I said yes, and today that office has about 25 people and is growing daily.

We are both an advertising and public relations company. I think the two compliment one another. In the industries, of course, there are contrary views.

This year we celebrate our 10th anniversary. It has been a good ride. We have grown each year, though due to various factors, 2008 will be more difficult. We employ about 100 people, most in Kyiv, but we also have six people in Istanbul and one in Donetsk.

We represent small and large companies, from the very large multinationals such as Philip Morris, Kraft and Danone to the smaller the still sizable Chumak and the Jahn-Jensen.  We work in virtually every industry, from airlines (Delta), to minerals (Metinvest) to banking (Visa International).

While we remain tethered as an affiliate of Burson-Marsteller, we declared our independence from the advertising giant Young & Rubicam two years ago. For more information on this, see the Declaration of Independence in the column section.