Ice hockey helps Innovecs CEO Alex Lutskiy to focus and be productive. How does he scale this effect on Innovecs?
This interview was originally published in Forbes Ukraine. To read it, please follow the link.
For three months, Innovecs CEO Alex Lutskiy endured the pain and exhaustion in training. For what? The entrepreneur challenged himself to learn to play ice hockey. When he finally started to get good, the discomfort gave way to advantages. As a result, Lutskiy felt more energized and focused.
Alex Lutskiy invested his hobby in the corporate culture, putting together the Innovecs ice hockey team. Their goal is to stay in the top three of the Kyiv Amateur Hockey League. Upon achieving it, the team will play abroad.
He believes that any sport prevents burnout. Alex told Forbes why he chose hockey and how the communities at Innovecs make employees happier. Direct speech has been shortened and edited for clarity.
— I have been looking for a sport that would drive me for a long time. I went to the gym, played tennis, table tennis, and football. I watched hockey on TV or at world arenas. Entrepreneurs and business people have strong personalities and always look for challenges. Ice hockey has become that challenge for me.
In tennis, you can take a racket and play as you can. In hockey, you can’t just skate with a stick. You have to invest energy, time, and your will just to get started. You have to go the hard way to make progress.
At the first training at the VDNG arena, the coach asked me: “Do you realize that hockey implies at least four intensive training sessions a week?”. I replied that I did not, however, I could give it a try. He gave me skates, and the other guys shared their shin guards. And I tried it for the first time. Then the coach asked again if I had changed my mind. After the training, I bought myself some good equipment.
Hockey equipment costs between $1,000 and $2,000. Training costs on average 500 hryvnias per player. Also, we pay for the ice rent, coach, and goalkeepers. The latter are paid to come to play in teams because there are very few of them. Away games incur additional expenses. Indeed, ice hockey is not a cheap sport.
I was in pain for the first three months, I didn’t have enough strength, and nothing worked. When facing this, people often leave sports. You need to go through all the pain points to start having fun. When I succeeded, the pain and fatigue were erased by adrenaline. Of course, I am far from saying that I have become a professional hockey player. I am an amateur and have been training for nine months. But I do it regularly, I play ice hockey, and I never skip my training.
Hockey is a sport for strong, ambitious and result-oriented people. Here you need willpower because you have to train for at least a year to start playing in a team. During training sessions, you lose calories and get energized. And due to this, you become more focused on your work. In hockey, I can open up, set goals and pursue them systematically and efficiently.
In hockey and business, some things overlap. First, both are about team play. There is a saying that you can run fast on your own, but you will be running for a long time together in a team. Secondly, in both spheres, only ambitious, passionate, and hard-working people succeed.
At Innovecs, we believe that employees’ commitment does not always depend on their direct responsibilities. People require emotions. Therefore, we created the InnoClub unit, which has professional hobbies and sports communities — e.g., related to chess, football, hockey, and even investments. Our strategy is to engage 70% of our employees. We want people to do what drives and develops them and ensure a work-life balance for them.
Communities initiate trends that positively impact entire companies. The average tenure of communities’ members at Innovecs is higher than that of other employees. People involved in communities are more likely to invite friends to work here; they are our brand ambassadors. Usually, you only become a brand ambassador if you are personally and professionally happy.
I lead the Innovecs hockey team of 21 players, and we have had training sessions with the coach for the past eight months. We have various training and skating classes. People don’t always attend them, but we do our best to be systematic.
Besides the core team, some people have decided to attend the arena in the regime that suites them best. Those employees do not play but watch the matches and support the team.
InnoClub communities are open not only for Innovecs employees. For example, several members of the Nike Run Club have joined our Running Community. Subsequently, three of them became our employees. We invited experienced hockey players and employees of other companies to the hockey team — they have been playing for much longer than we do. This mix allows you to train with strong players, improve our level and engage people from other companies to Innovecs culture.
We want not only to win Ukrainian amateur hockey leagues, but also to travel outside the country. Our first goal is to get into the top three of the Kyiv Amateur Hockey League. We have already drawn twice and won two matches — we are among the three leaders of this league. Suppose we keep this result until the end of the season. In that case, we will try ourselves in international competitions — we will go to the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, or Spain to compete in the amateurs’ cup. It is excellent motivation. When there is the next level, you are driven and try to do your best.
The company covers the cost of the uniform, the ice rent, and the coach’s fee. It’s not a heavy investment for Innovecs, but it’s an essential investment for the team. We invest up to $50,000 per year, except the away competitions outside Ukraine.
Over nine months of my training, I have met many hockey fans — for example, the Ukrainian Ice Hockey Federation president, Georgy Zubko. I became interested not only in training and leagues. I wish ice hockey would become a popular sport in Ukraine. At the moment we lack solid infrastructure, ice hockey schools, championships, and even PR.
Innovecs has a clear stance: we don’t support initiatives with funds. We help with our strong expertise. We became the official digital partner of the Ukrainian Ice Hockey Federation because we see that its online representation is scarce now. We plan to launch a website with all hockey leagues, players, statistics, and video games. We want to help make Ukrainian hockey bright and popular to engage more youth and children.
Five years ago, I said that Innovecs was both work and life for me. Then I realized it was wrong. When you get positive emotions and energy not just from work, it affects your personal growth, activity, and productivity in business. Ice hockey excited me a lot. I opened up and got inspired.