In 1991, a tiny business in Lviv started off developing software products for electric power companies. In the following 32 years, ELEKS has grown from a small office in the Lviv Polytechnic National University to a global-scale IT company uniting over 2,000 professionals and represented in more than ten countries. reveals the path and principles of the first IT company in independent Ukraine in its project "Ukrainian Business: 32 Years of New History".
From a "social club" to a global company with Ukrainian roots
In the winter of 1996–1997, Volodymyr Skladanivskyi, a third-year student at the Lviv Polytechnic National University, was in search of a job. He had been into programming since childhood, so his friends suggested he apply to ELEKS, a small company with about a dozen specialists. Volodymyr was interviewed and hired, and his life has been intertwined with the company ever since.
"At that time, ELEKS was more of a social club than a commercial company, but what it was doing was already world-class. I can hardly recall specific details of what was going on at that time, but I remember feeling that I had found a unique environment that did special things. We had no Internet back then and no ІТ conferences were held, so our access to knowledge was limited, and that was a different world which gave us a sense of possibilities and motivation. We searched out information about new advances, brought books from our trips abroad, and tried to put new knowledge into practice. These things were barely discussed outside of the room we worked in," says Volodymyr Skladanivskyi, ELEKS Chairman of the Supervisory Board.
ELEKS (short for "Electrical Systems") is, in fact, the oldest IT company in Ukraine. It was created in 1991 as a contractor for electrical power companies by Oleksii Ivanovych Skrypnyk, his wife Yevheniia Ivanivna, and their son Oleksii. Although the Skrypnyk family hadn’t planned for such scale from the start, the company had outgrown its initial focus on software for the energy market by 1995, then began taking on other contractual projects, eventually going international in 1999. ELEKS still works with its first foreign client.
"By the late 1990s, other ІТ companies working on the international market started appearing in Lviv. Most of our specialists, who also were students, had already graduated, and we started asking ourselves what to do next. Should we fight for problematic contracts in Ukraine, or should we, taking into account the situation we had in the country at that time, try and go international? We didn’t have a single reservation about this decision. We just went for it. We have never thought we could not do something," recalls Volodymyr Skladanivskyi.
Going international was also a natural step to escape the 1998–1999 crisis, when Ukrainian customers defaulted on payments.
Before the 2022 full-scale Russian invasion, the company had already lived through five crises, but that first one was the hardest and, to some extent, formative, since custom software development has been the primary focus for ELEKS since then.
"In my view, we went through the rest of the crises quite easily. ELEKS has always had a huge safety margin due to the loyalty of our customers and specialists, which is based on the quality work we do. Diversification helped as well—we have never relied on a single market or customer. These crises taught us to be more confident in ourselves and the way we do everything," says Volodymyr Skladanivskyi.
At the beginning of 2003, ELEKS opened its first office abroad in Las Vegas, USA, followed by a client hub in Chicago in 2008. After Russia started its invasion of Ukraine in 2014, the company opened its first Polish delivery office in Rzeszów as part of risk diversification, and another delivery centre in Kraków was launched in 2022 to accommodate many ELEKS specialists forced to relocate by the full-fledged war. The company’s global headquarters is in Tallinn, Estonia, which helps communicate with international customers promptly and easily. Another office is in Croatia. In total, ELEKS has offices in 13 countries, with the most recent openings in Argentina, the Middle East, and Japan.
Products and projects that change people’s lives
Despite being largely viewed as an IT outsourcing company for the last 20 years, ELEKS has been developing its own proprietary products since its inception. The first one is DAKAR, which helps study processes in power systems and model the load, risks, and possible failures. Oleksii Skrypnyk Sr., aged 84, is still working to improve it.
In the 1990s, ELEKS started working with a well-known doctor, Volodymyr Koziavkyn, who wanted to automate processes in his clinic. That resulted in the development of Doctor Eleks, a health information system which hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians use in private and public healthcare institutions.
One of the latest projects launched by ELEKS is appygas, developed for GRT Gaz, a Franco-German gas transportation and trading company. The software displays the location and movement of gas. The operator sold it to ELEKS, which now tries to improve and further develop it. After the 2022 all-out Russian invasion, interest in the solution rose.
Working with TAIT has been a major focus for ELEKS for the last 20 years.
"Everyone who has ever accessed the entertainment industry came across the results of our work. Our software operates equipment used to shoot movies (including such blockbusters as Quantum of Solace and Spiderman) and organise tours of such artists as U2 and Katy Perry," Volodymyr Skladanivskyi explains.
Back in the 2000s, ELEKS implemented projects based on the e-governance concept, albeit in small jurisdictions. "Such projects give us the understanding that we make people's lives better and not just do programming to order," Volodymyr Skladanivskyi notes.
"We all grew up in an instant"
On February 23, 2022, Oleksii Skrypnyk Jr., the company’s co-founder, who inspired and motivated many ELEKSers, who was an example for our specialists and always ready to give guidance, died suddenly at age 57. The next day, Volodymyr Skladanivskyi, who was in Norway at the time, went to the airport to attend the funeral. The plane, however, didn’t take off as Ukraine’s airspace was closed for civilian flights due to the full-scale Russian invasion.
"It was as if Oleksii’s death became part of the tragedy unfolding around us. I think we still haven’t fully comprehended what happened. He was very close to us, someone we worked with for years. I always felt that I could ask for his advice. We have all grown up both because of his death and because of the war," says Volodymyr.
According to him, the team had general understanding that total war was possible since 2014 and, therefore, gradually prepared for it. The preparations intensified and became more practical in November 2021: the specialists were taught first aid and given instructions on how to behave at checkpoints, which highways should be avoided in the event of hostilities, how to plan evacuation routes, etc.
"Oleksii always promoted freedom, including in delegating. So, on February 24, we already had a crisis centre that worked 24/7. We all were involved," recalls Volodymyr Skladanivskyi.
The ELEKS Supervisory Board decided on the first day of the invasion that all leftover profits would be used to help the army and displaced people and for other humanitarian needs until hostilities end. The company’s donations to Come Back Alive, the charity it has been working with since 2016, increased tenfold. So far, ELEKS has contributed nearly $5 million in aid. At the same time, our specialists launched their own volunteer movement to help their loved ones who are fighting on the front lines.
ELEKS also has its own charitable initiative, Help Ukraine, which provides targeted assistance to service members. ELEKSers supply Ukrainian defenders with tactical gear (eye and hearing protection, gloves, plate carriers, backpacks, etc.), medical items (first aid kits, tourniquets, and bandages), and equipment (drones, radios, and thermal imaging devices).
Social responsibility is a part of the company’s corporate culture, which predates February 24, 2022. Before the outbreak of the all-out war, ELEKS actively collaborated with charity foundations such as Tabletochki and Wings of Hope, CSR Ukraine, orphanages, nursing homes, and various NGOs.
Two years ago, the company launched an initiative named "30 good deeds for ELEKS’s 30th anniversary", in which any of our specialists could suggest to help someone, and the company would support them both organisationally and monetarily.
Doing what has to be done
Besides corporate responsibility, ELEKS’s corporate culture is about free people who enjoy working together, about respect for the customer, and about integrity and responsibility, which are consistently proven by the high quality of work. "If you promise something to your specialists, you do it. If you promise something to your customer, you also try to stick to it. We have never had any inside stories of fraud or corporate foul play." Volodymyr Skladanivskyi explains.
He says the company struggled with sales in its first 10–15 years while it had yet to earn its renown. Finding and contacting a prospect is not a problem, but proving your worth to them is far more difficult. ELEKS acquired a reputation as a responsible company and established long-term partnerships as a result of its corporate culture.
ELEKS also adheres to the win-win principle, which implies giving everyone the opportunity to do what they are good at with great effect, not at the expense of others but in synergy with them. Tetiana Fedoriv changed roles seven times over her nearly two decades at ELEKS. She began her career as an office manager and is now a Competency Manager at the Project Management Office (PMO).
"My jobs were very diverse: at some point, as a travel manager, I dealt with visas, communicated with some customers, and took them on tours around Lviv. Later, I worked as an assistant to our CEO, then the CFO, and eventually started working on projects. It was interesting to experiment during my career path and to find out what else I could do. I was hesitant when they invited me to my first project, but then I saw I was able to manage it, and I liked it. You can have doubts and some fears, but here at ELEKS, you always have mutual support".
Tetiana also oversees her office’s internal initiative — PMO Rules. It is a comfortable and open environment for PMs for sharing their experience and advice, for communication, internal training, and debate clubs involving project managers. She also supervises mentorship, which entails managing approximately 30 mentors as well as establishing and supporting mentorship programs.
Volodymyr Skladanivskyi has also always strived to do what had to be done and what he was good at. The last time he did commercial programming was in 2006. Afterwards, he engaged in project management and then worked as an Account Manager and QA Director. He also launched and promoted the company’s London office. Volodymyr’s current job is in corporate management.
"ELEKS has quite a liberal delegation culture, which allows you to try yourself at different things and evolve. The main thing is to be interested and motivated to try it," he adds.
«IT is an industry that uses technologies and algorithms to solve people's problems. I am motivated by curiosity. One day, I decided to replace the word ‘challenge’ with ‘curiosity’. I am curious about the impact the project we develop has on the customer’s business. I am curious about the way people make use of what we do. I am curious about what we can do to ensure everything goes just as we envision it».
Having joined ELEKS 17 years ago, Senior Project Manager Lesia Symanyshyn also changed the areas of her work over time, as Tetiana and Volodymyr did.
When the company was in search of its first QA engineer in Ivano-Frankivsk, Lesia was a fourth-year university student. She started as a trainee and advanced to Senior QA Specialist in just two years. Because there were no easily available quality training materials at the time and the job was still in the making, programmers taught her software testing. Later, she began combining testing and programming, then engaged in business analysis, and finally project management.
Both Lesia and the company have changed in these 17 years, but what has remained unchanged over time is empathy for customers, Lesia says. "We care about their business and who their clients are, and we try to figure out how we can help them," the specialist notes.
Oleksii Skrypnyk Jr. repeatedly underscored in his interviews that his principle, unchanged over the years, was to invite people smarter than him to collaborate. ELEKS consistently invests in competence development to provide its specialists with the best opportunities to advance in their chosen fields.
Volodymyr Skladanivskyi sees three components to the ELEKS vision. First, the company strives for continuous development and evolution. Second, engineering excellence is the key to everything the company does. And third, the culture of caring about our customers, specialists, and the society we live in is indispensable to ELEKS. For professionals who have been with ELEKS for more than four years, the company offers unique employee stock ownership programs.
"We don’t want to do typical projects one after the other. We want challenges, and we want to create something new, to change, and to improve," he says, adding: "For me, ELEKS is still a young company, and I feel its potential. I’m confident that we can do much more than we have so far. Such "incompleteness" gives me a sense of a future".