November 2019 -- Vadim Novo came to the United States as a six-year-old refugee from the recently fallen Soviet Union.
“I was only four or five years old,” said Vadim. “We had an opportunity to move to the U.S. and we basically grabbed everything and shoved it in suitcases. We really didn’t have much. I remember being at the Moscow airport dimly wondering what’s going on, ripped apart from my whole childhood.”
Distant relatives invited Vadim’s family to come live with them. So they squeezed into a small house in West Seattle share by two other families.
“I remember it was really nice to have ice cream at McDonald's,” said Vadim. “It was heaven, it was sublime! And running barefoot in grass and just enjoying friends.”
An Early Interest in Business
Vadim's father gave him his first taste of entrepreneurship.
“My father started his own business in construction as a carpenter, because he was astounded with the opportunity to do that. So I grew up swinging a hammer, then being a project manager for him and doing business, sales — everything I could do. That instilled in me an entrepreneurial drive.”
After graduating high school, Vadim returned to Russia to teach business English in one of the most violent, mafia-ridden cities in the country. After six months, he moved back to Seattle with new determination.
“That scenario cemented how lucky we are, how blessed we are to have the opportunity to start a business free from corruption and burdensome state interference; how blessed we are to create a product, hire employees, create jobs — and it opened my eyes to the whole process. In Russia, it was fairly new. Before then, people didn’t really have that opportunity. I came back excited and enrolled in business school.”
For his honors thesis, Vadim studied investment opportunities in Brazil. After sinking hundreds of hours into learning about the nation’s geopolitical situation, its financial markets and everything else he could get his hands on, he had a pretty good grasp on how to do business in Brazil. When his classmates started taking internships at big-name investment banks and consulting businesses, Vadim bought a one-way ticket to Brazil. There, he searched for — and found — suppliers to ship granite and stone to sell to U.S. buyers.
Learning on the Job
After graduating from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business with a degree in finance, he continued in the same line of business, expanding to Peru, where he sourced agricultural goods and superfoods like quinoa (before it was cool).
During this time, busy as he was with sourcing and logistics, Vadim met a business owner who needed help. His exterior envelope install company was experiencing high growth and was teetering on the edge of failure due to problems with cashflow and a lack of business structure. He asked Vadim for help, and Vadim agreed to step in.
The first big thing Vadim knew had to be done was to spin out the architectural metal fabrication and install aspects of the business into a separate company. It was completely different and required its own set of systems, resources and processes. He organized the entire business from sales to project management and fabrication. Following the company's subsequent growth, Vadim focused on the organizational structure, forming operational and administrative functions and adapting cashflow management to meet expansion needs.
Vadim’s next venture was to build a sheet metal manufacturer from the ground up. Even though the company offered custom products, there were so many players entering the industry, margins had become razor thin. He knew he had to find a way to compete when differentiation was next to impossible. So he looked at the business as a whole to see how every part impacted every other part. Then he leveraged every angle of the business, every department, every function to optimize cashflow, eliminate waste and instill a culture of continual improvement.
Both companies are still going strong today. Vadim had found his calling.
Since that time, he has focused on increasing and optimizing EBIDTA and cashflow during periods of high growth and thin margins — a vital skill because businesses often die when they hit such periods — as well as turning businesses around. He enjoys work in operational finance because of its complexity. He can see how each facet impacts the business as a whole, and how to leverage that understanding to create and optimize profits. It’s complex and Vadim loves complex systems.
Complexity and Unintended Consequences
People forget their organization is a complex system that exhibits unintended consequences. Leaders must use discernment and careful planning. For example, investing in economies of scale is a costly strategy that reaps huge rewards. However, the unintended consequences can include fragility and systemic risk, as a black swan event could wipe out the whole organization. A more decentralized structure will survive the same catastrophe. That is why top-down statist systems don’t work.
Vadim’s appreciation for complexity comes from personal experience.
“I can smell Communism from far away after living in it, and I see the direct, unintended consequences. Good intentions often drive policy and organizational decision making without any second-order thinking. We don’t consider the unintended consequences. I’ve lived through those dreadful results stemming from good intentions, that’s why I appreciate business, because it’s a complex system and very few owners appreciate the consequences, non-linearity, adaptation and self-organization of it all.”
Vadim also sees the many different facets of life that rely on and are impacted by small businesses.
“A lot of people out there are creating products and services and hiring people, but there are problems that they have. Those problems could be structural or growth issues. The most painful one is the ‘I can’t retire’ issue — that’s a huge problem. It hurts me to see a baby boomer say ‘I want to retire, so I’m going to close shop.’ And imagine, he has a loyal customer base that trusts him, many staff that love him and vendors who rely on him. This ecosystem, this community now sees a vacuum and are bereft of his value. There’s a process, actually a simple way to continue that business. It can be sold, it can be systematized so he doesn’t have to be there day to day. There are so many things you can do very simply. I love that, I have a heart for those people because I see them and talk to them on a weekly basis.”
Serving Small Business as a Team
This was why Vadim was planning to acquire a manufacturing business. He had narrowed down his search to a small list of companies owned by baby boomers. When he learned that OneAccord had successfully acquired one of the companies on his list, Bestworth-Rommel, he wanted to know more.
“I said, ‘Who are these guys?’ and fell in love with their values. I initially just wanted to be part of a team doing what I was doing and I wanted it bad.”
Vadim was determined to meet with OneAccord co-founder Jeff Rogers to talk further.
“I cold-called Jeff, cold-emailed Jeff, met acquaintances of Jeff — he couldn’t not meet me. But I am humbled that he decided to make me part of the team. I joke and laugh that the only reason he brought me on board was to meet his Russian quota. Every business requires a Russian.
“I definitely am privileged to be a part of a team of such successful and impactful people and colleagues.”
Outside of work, Vadim is a voracious reader, an Olympic weightlifter and a very happy family man. He and his wife of four years have a one-year-old son and another on the way.
“My family is my joy,” said Vadim. “I love spending time with them.”