LVIV, UKRAINE — Ulyana Fitsa, chief supply chain officer at Kormotech, says she may not fit into the stereotypical mold of a manufacturing supply chain leader, but the experience, attitude and empathy she brings to the role has and continues to serve as a strong backbone for the Ukrainian pet food business. Amid a full-scale war with Russia, the company continues to grow its revenue, turnover and presence on a global scale.

“This time is a very unique experience for the supply chain — not only to survive, but to perform throughout this war,” Fitsa said. “You can’t stop at any point; otherwise, everything else will suffer.”

In the following Q&A, Fitsa describes the unique supply chain difficulties that come with manufacturing during wartime, how she has leveraged teamwork and a deep passion for pets to drive continued success for Kormotech, and her advice for other women leading the industry.


PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.

Fitsa: This year Kormotech celebrates its 20th anniversary — in just two decades, the family-owned company has transformed into a global company and established a great network of partners and stakeholders. I do believe that we are rather famous worldwide. Last year, we were ranked No. 51 of all pet food companies in the world. Our vision is to enter the top 50 players by the end of this year.

During the last year — including the war and aggression from Russia — we added even more to our turnover and managed to grow. We’ve calculated that we added more than 12% capacity, which is a good figure even in a peaceful year. For this year, we aim to increase our turnover equal to $150 million, up from $124 million. This is a huge challenge for us and the supply chain team. And you have to remember, for a Ukrainian company today, all the challenges we have to cope with are doubled to be at the top level of quality and security and compete with the industry’s top leaders.


PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?

Fitsa: Being in this position, usually people think that it should be a man. I’m not a typical case, but I’ve been with the company for 20 years from the very beginning. From the moment the owners decided to establish the company, I worked as the translator for consultants in the United States. In 2003, I started my career with Kormotech as a translator, and when the company invited that consultant from the United States, I was the one who had to help them with the translation and with their audits. That’s how I started my career with Kormotech. I have been in my current role as chief supply officer since March 2013.


PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?

Fitsa: My biggest challenge is always supply chain uncertainty, and that means we have to be as flexible as we can. We must always have a plan B, a plan C, plan D and so on, and we must always be ready for any changes, challenges and risks. We don’t know what we’ll have tomorrow, and that’s why my team is always thinking about how to make the best of every situation. They’re not afraid to take the responsibility — or maybe even take some risks. Most people on my team have 10 years of experience, more or less, and they help me make the correct decisions, as sometimes they see more than I do. This is a combination of teamwork and risk management from the leadership. Everybody on my team, including me, is ready for changes and challenges no matter what. In war or peace, this is true.

This time is a very unique experience for the supply chain — not only to survive, but to perform throughout this war. You can’t stop at any point; otherwise, everything else will suffer.

Nevertheless, during the last year, we expanded our export possibilities in more than 40 countries — all without borders and ports, and with a globally broken supply chain for trucking. We have 650 active SKUs, which means a lot of raw materials are needed to produce all of them. We have more than 1,000 working packaging and raw material ingredients, which keeps us very busy. And we have developed a lot of local sourcing partnerships.

What’s characteristic about my job and that of my team is the supply chain is always a team effort. It’s not possible to do it by yourself because there is too much responsibility and too many points to control.


PFP: Tell me about a professional or personal accomplishment that you are proud of.

Fitsa: For me, I don’t tend to separate things into “professional” and “personal” — it’s all just the way of life.

The best thing you can do is to do your job professionally. This is what motivates me and my team to expand our mindset and be open to new ideas. If we have a problem or a challenge that we haven’t encountered yet, we’ll connect and have a brainstorming session to discuss different ideas, and then decide what to do. Usually it’s about finding a combination of different ideas. We have two women and two men in the first line of my team, which I think also helps balance the different ways of thinking or visualizing the same problem in a different way. I respect those differences. Also, when newcomers join my team — people who are 15 years younger or represent a different generation — I see them having a different set of ideas that can be used in the future.

Our business case could be really inspiring for other companies, and not only those in the pet food space. In Ukraine, a lot of businesses suffered from the war, and more will suffer. Each night in the capital Kiev, we have an attack. All Ukrainians are praying and waiting for victory. No matter if the previous night was dangerous or quiet, or how the weather was, we just know that we have a strong goal and we are moving toward it. That’s in our blood.

Last year, we launched the initiative Save Pets of Ukraine, through which we helped more than 300,000 pets in Ukraine with pet food and other things they needed. In 2014, we also had initiatives through which we would help pets who were left in the areas taken by Russia.


PFP: What is top of mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?

Fitsa: To be focused on the goal. When I was in elementary school, it was written on the wall that, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” And this statement has gone through all my life, and not only in business. With my team, I try to focus them on doing the best they can and believing in our strategy.

There are 160 people on my team, and I am the first line to the CEO, Rostyslav Vovk, which means I must always have a backup plan for him. We just have to be ready for anything.


PFP: If you could pick three trends influencing the industry today, which are the most important and why?

Fitsa: Sustainability is really, really popular all over the world.

Innovation is what moves the industry and the economy. I believe that you should always focus on innovation because it helps to expand your business and better understand what your customers want. Petfood companies develop digital and technological products in areas related to nutrition and diet development, health care, leisure, and adoption.

This is what Kormotech did with SoftServe, a Ukrainian IT company. They joined the project as volunteers and devised a platform for the adoption of four-legged friends - LOOK 4 PAWS for Kormotech premium brand of food for dogs and cats CLUB 4 PAWS. 

Our customers are a little bit different, because you have the person making the decision to buy it and then the pet that will eat it. With pets, you don’t have many chances to negotiate price or packaging or why you bought it. So, as a company, we have to make both the pet and the pet parent happy, and innovation is always pushing us to ensure that.

The emotional factor of pet food is also important. COVID made pets more “human.” When people were stuck in their houses, they were thinking about their pets as partners. COVID ended, but the love stayed. If your pet is happy, then the owner is happy, and producers need to understand that this isn’t only about security, and it’s not about making “feed.” For the pet, it’s more about emotions.


PFP: What is something about the pet industry that people outside of the industry may not realize?

Fitsa: When I interview newcomers, I try to explain to them that pet food is like baby food. If we can’t share that philosophy, if we aren’t on the same page, we won’t be able to find common ground. For my partners in raw materials, if they don’t understand why our quality standards are so high, I always tell them there is a psychological likeness between our pets and our kids. We now have the same attitude toward our dogs and cats as we have toward our kids — they are both very close to our hearts and our happiness.


PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their careers in this industry?

Fitsa: I would tell them that they are joining the industry of happiness, and they should understand that. It’s not so much about money or experience — what they are doing is producing moments of happiness that will be given to pets by their parents.


PFP: Just for fun, do you consider yourself a dog person or a cat person? Or, if you have pets of your own, tell us a little bit about them. 

Fitsa: I am absolutely a cat person. I can relate to cats and their versatility — I can be a predator, but I can also be sweet.


PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?

Fitsa: Perform in a way that makes you feel happy. Rather often in the industry, we only take figures into consideration. Women shouldn’t be afraid to disagree with others; it’s important to explain and share your views. For me, it’s very important to not be quiet. It’s better to be banned than to be silent.

Ulyana Fitsa was working as an English language translator for Kormotech when the company was founded in 2003. She quickly joined the pet food company later that year as office manager, and has since worked her way through several positions to her current role as chief supply chain officer. She has been with the company for nearly 20 years, since its inception. Fitsa received her Master of Business Administration in Organizational Management from the Lviv Institute of Management.

Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.