Displaced by War, Ukrainians Open a New Front as Entrepreneurs | Big Indy News
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Displaced by War, Ukrainians Open a New Front as Entrepreneurs



Oksana Dudyk scanned a small selection of ornamental plants lining the shelves of her new florist shop, recently opened in this city on Ukraine’s western frontier. Her eye landed on the perfect bloom for a new customer: fuchsia-colored primroses, vivid and lush, ideal for brightening an austere corner.

It was late afternoon, and the flowers were only her 10th sale of the day. But that was nothing short of a miracle for Ms. Dudyk, who started the shop with her last savings after fleeing her now-decimated hometown Mariupol under a hail of Russian rockets. Her husband, who enlisted in the Ukrainian army after the invasion, was captured by Russian forces in May and has not been heard from since.

“These flowers help me to get by,” said Ms. Dudyk, 55. A former construction engineer who before the war helped design and build schools, she said that she never imagined that she would one day sell flowers to survive. “They bring me joy, and they help customers too, by creating a positive atmosphere in this incomprehensible war.”

Ms. Dudyk is among thousands of Ukrainians who are picking up shattered lives and trying to start over, many creating small businesses that they hope will bring them and their new communities fresh purpose. Others are working jobs that are a step down from positions lost because of war, grasping lifelines to keep their families afloat.

“The Russian invasion has spurred a lot of people to pull up and start building new businesses,” said Andriy Sadovyi, the mayor of Lviv, which has become a locus for people fleeing the war-torn east. The government is encouraging this entrepreneurship by offering grants, zero-interest loans and other financial support for small businesses.

“Ukraine will remain unbroken,” he said, and a big part of that involves “ensuring that the economy develops and thrives.”

That would seem a daunting prospect as Russia prepares for new attacks in Ukraine’s east and south. Ukraine’s economy is projected to shrink by a third this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, and an estimated one-fifth of the nation’s small and medium-sized businesses have shuttered.

But many refugees who have fled war-torn areas are collectively forging a new front of economic resistance to Russia’s aggression.

The foundations are being laid by people like Serhii Stoian, 31, a former math professor who opened a tiny storefront selling coffee and fresh pastries in Lviv after fleeing a job in Bucha, the city now infamous for scenes of unarmed civilians killed by Russian soldiers. The cafe, named Kiit, after his cat who is missing in the war, struggled in its early days. But business is now so brisk that he is opening a second one in Lviv. A third is being planned for Kyiv.

“We came here with $500 in our pockets,” said Mr. Stoian, who now employs four people and works with a friend who became a business partner. “When we started, we promised to pay the landlord back in two months. We were able to pay him in just two weeks.”

Mr. Stoian had dreamed of opening his own cafe but never did, fearful of failure. As a side gig to teaching, he operated a YouTube cooking channel in Ukraine called Hungry Guy Recipes that has nearly 700,000 followers. “Life was pretty great,” he said.

He had just begun a part-time job at a bakery in Bucha, making pastries from his YouTube recipes, when the invasion brought everything to a halt.

“The bakery owner called at 5 a.m. and said, ‘We are being bombed. You have 10 minutes to join me if you want to escape,’ ” Mr. Stoian recalled. “My friend and I didn’t have time to think, because when you hear that Russia is invading, you can’t think,” he said. “I was worried about my cat, who was staying with neighbors. But we grabbed some clothes and documents and jumped into the car. And we drove like crazy.”

They wound up in Lviv, where they lived in a shelter jammed with other refugees from around the country. For three weeks, they helped women and children cross the border. But they needed paying jobs.

When Mr. Stoian saw a “for rent” sign on a tiny former souvenir shop, a light bulb went off. “We could rent that and sell coffee and pastry,” he recalled thinking. “We had no business experience. And we were a little worried because there is corruption in Ukraine. But my friend knew how to make coffee. And I could bake.”

They rented an espresso machine, and Mr. Stoian stayed up nights making fruit pies, rosemary cookies and cinnamon buns. But no customers came. Mr. Stoian began to despair. Then he erased the menu from the cafe’s chalkboard facing the sidewalk, and began to write out his dramatic tale.

“We moved here because of the war,” the message said. “We want to do what we do best: Make great coffee and pies. We believe in Ukraine. People have helped us and we want to help others.” He pledged to donate part of the shop’s proceeds toward the war effort. Military personnel were offered free coffee.

The next day, he said, there were lines of 20 to 30 people. After posting on Instagram, the cafe had up to 200 customers a day. It has been such a sensation that he has received inquiries about opening Kiit franchises.

Though buoyed by the success, he still grapples with the pain of the senseless killings of people he knew in Bucha, and the loss of his beloved cat, who his neighbors left behind as they fled from shelling. “Naming the cafe after Kiit helps me to go on,” he said.

On a recent day, he swept his eyes over the bare walls of his second Kiit cafe, the floor cluttered with construction equipment. “This is all still a gamble,” Mr. Stoian said. “And if we lose everything, that would be OK, because we started with nothing,” he said.

“But maybe we will also make it. Maybe we will be the next big success.”

For others, resilience means accepting a more awkward transition. Kirill Chaolin, 29, worked as a high-ranking trainer for air traffic controllers at Lviv’s international airport. His job was wiped out when Ukraine shut its airspace to commercial flights. In the last few months, Mr. Chaolin, who has a wife and 5-year-old daughter, has begun driving a taxi for Bolt, a rival to Uber, to get by.

“It’s hard to step down from a big job to do this,” he said, navigating through a crunch of traffic on a recent weekday. “But there is no choice: My family needs to eat.”

Scores of his former colleagues at Ukraine’s airports are doing the same, he added. “You must do whatever you need to survive.”

People like Ms. Dudyk are remaking their lives even as they struggle to surmount the war’s heavy toll.

She and her husband had been living a tranquil life in Mariupol, the port city that was one of Russia’s first strategic targets, and were about to visit Prague for vacation when the invasion started.

“We had decent salaries. A happy home,” said Ms. Dudyk, who has two children and four grandchildren. Her husband ran a window-making business and worked on the side as a beekeeper, tending 40 hives. As a construction engineer involved in significant building projects, Ms. Dudyk had a job that made her proud.

When Russia attacked, she and her father, aged 77, tried to hold out until a powerful blast ripped off the front of her house while they were sheltering inside, forcing them to flee under continued shelling toward Ukrainian-controlled territory.

Ms. Dudyk said her husband, 59, enlisted to fight the day Russia moved in, and joined Ukrainian forces inside the Azovstal steel factory. He was among 2,500 fighters taken by Russia as prisoners of war in May, and she has not heard from him since. Last month a blast at the prison camp left more than 50 dead, but Ms. Dudyk dreams that he will one day come home.

Today, home is a cramped shelter in a temporary modular town set up for Ukrainian refugees, where she lives with her father.

“I want to make the flower shop a success,” said Ms. Dudyk, who is expanding it with guidance from another refugee who once ran a nursery. If all goes well, her spartan storefront will be transformed with new shelves and more flowers.

Most of all, she wants to sell roses: “My husband always would bring me big bouquets,” she said with a smile. “But for roses, you need a refrigerator. And I don’t have the money.”

With her savings low, Ms. Dudyk has applied for a grant under the government’s program to support small and medium-sized businesses.

She takes nothing for granted. “When your country is being bombed, you realize that your life is threatened and everything can be taken away,” Ms. Dudyk said, a sunny woman whose blue eyes cloud with tears when the painful memories surface.

“You are planning for the future one moment, and in the next you lose everything. You start fighting for bare necessities — water, the ability to make a phone call to tell someone you’re still alive,” she said. “You wait for the nightmare to end, then you realize that the invasion is of such a huge scale, so what is the chance?”

As she spoke, a stream of customers filed in, and her face brightened. A deaf couple approached and gave her a hug, making the sign language symbol for tears — and then, a heart. She showed them her latest floral lineup, and they pulled out their wallets.

“I’m not a plant expert, but I know what can cheer people,” said Ms. Dudyk, who said she derives strength from a remarkable show of solidarity and support from her new Lviv neighbors. “Thanks to them,” she said, “I know I am going to make it.”

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Sister Patricia Daly, 66, Dies; Took On Corporate Giants on Social Justice



For years, Sister Pat and other environmentalists had urged ExxonMobil to take significant steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from its operations and products. In 2007, she proposed a resolution that called on that energy giant to set a firm date to report on its progress.

“We’re the most profitable company in the history of the planet,” she told Rex Tillerson, then the company’s chief executive (and later secretary of state in the Trump administration), at the company’s annual meeting, “but what will be our long-term health when we are really faced with the regulatory and other challenges around global warming?”

She added: “We are now, this company and every single one of us, challenged by one of the most profound moral concerns. And we have the wherewithal to respond to that.”

The proposal won 31 percent of the ballots, or about 1.4 billion shares, the largest tally for an ExxonMobil climate-change resolution. If not an outright victory, it was a page in a decades-long narrative that led ExxonMobil to put a climate scientist on its board in 2017. Three executives who recognized the urgency to address climate change joined the company’s board in 2021, nominated by a tiny activist hedge fund, Engine No. 1.

“The arc of her work led us to those victories by working from the inside and the outside,” John Passacantando, the founder of Ozone Action, an anti-global warming group, and a former executive director of Greenpeace, said in a phone interview.

In 1999, Vanity Fair named her to its Hall of Fame, applauding her as one who “translates belief into commitment and never backs down from a fight.”

Mary Beth Gallagher, who replaced Sister Pat as executive director of the Tri-State Coalition in 2017, said Sister Pat had not become frustrated when her resolutions were routinely voted down.

“She lived in hope,” Ms. Gallagher said. “We never talked about winning or losing. It was about raising consciousness and educating. If we’re not asking these questions, who will?”

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Families can make a tax-free rollover from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts starting in 2024



Maskot | Maskot | Getty Images

Americans who save for college in 529 plans will soon have a way to rescue unused funds while keeping their tax benefits intact.

A $1.7 trillion government funding package has a provision that lets savers roll money from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts free of income tax or tax penalties.

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The House passed the measure Friday and the Senate did so Thursday. The bill heads to President Biden, who’s expected to sign it into law.

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The rollover measure — which takes effect in 2024 — has some limitations. Among the largest: There’s a $35,000 lifetime cap on transfers.

“It’s a good provision for people who have [529 accounts] and the money hasn’t been used,” said Ed Slott, a certified public accountant and IRA expert based in Rockville Centre, New York.

That might happen if a beneficiary — such as a child or grandchild — doesn’t attend a college, university, vocational or private K-12 school, or other qualifying institution, for example. Or, a student may receive scholarships that mean some 529 funds are left over.

Millions of 529 accounts hold billions in savings

There were nearly 15 million 529 accounts at the end of last year, holding a total $480 billion, according to the Investment Company Institute. That’s an average of about $30,600 per account.

529 plans carry tax advantages for college savers. Namely, investment earnings on account contributions grow tax-free and aren’t taxable if used for qualifying education expenses like tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

Retirement plan changes in the omnibus spending bill

However, that investment growth is generally subject to income tax and a 10% tax penalty if used for an ineligible expense.

This is where rollovers to a Roth IRA can benefit savers with stranded 529 money. A transfer would skirt income tax and penalties; investments would keep growing tax-free in a Roth account, and future retirement withdrawals would also be tax-free.  

Some think it’s a handout for the rich

However, some critics think the rollover policy largely amounts to a tax handout to wealthier families.

“You’re giving savings incentives to those who can save and leaving behind those who cannot save,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

A 2012 analysis conducted by the Government Accountability Office found the typical American with a 529 account had “much more wealth” than someone without: $413,500 in total wealth for the median person, about 25 times the amount of a non-accountholder.

You’re giving savings incentives to those who can save and leaving behind those who cannot save.

Steve Rosenthal

senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

Further, the typical owner had a roughly $142,000 annual income versus $45,000 for other families, the GAO report said. Almost half, 47%, had incomes over $150,000.

The new 529-to-Roth IRA transfer provision doesn’t carry income limits.

Limitations on 529-to-IRA transfers

While the new tax break primarily benefits wealthier families, there are “pretty significant” limitations on the rollovers that reduce the financial benefit, Jeffrey Levine, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant based in St. Louis, said in a tweet.

The restrictions include:

  • A $35,000 lifetime cap on transfers.
  • Rollovers are subject to the annual Roth IRA contribution limit. (The limit is $6,500 in 2023.)
  • The rollover can only be made to the beneficiary’s Roth IRA — not that of the account owner. (In other words, a 529 owned by a parent with the child as beneficiary would need to be rolled into the child’s IRA, not the parent’s.)
  • The 529 account must have been open for at least 15 years. (It seems changing account beneficiaries may restart that 15-year clock, Levine said.)
  • Accountholders can’t roll over contributions, or earnings on those contributions, made in the last five years.

In a summary document, the Senate Finance Committee said current 529 tax rules have “led to hesitating, delaying, or declining to fund 529s to levels needed to pay for the rising costs of education.”

“Families who sacrifice and save in 529 accounts should not be punished with tax and penalty years later if the beneficiary has found an alternative way to pay for their education,” it said.

Are 529 plans already flexible enough?

Some education savings experts think 529 accounts have adequate flexibility so as not to deter families from using them.

For example, owners with leftover account funds can change beneficiaries to another qualifying family member — thereby helping avoid a tax penalty for non-qualified withdrawals. Aside from a kid or grandkid, that family member might be you; a spouse; a son, daughter, brother, sister, father or mother-in-law; sibling or step-sibling; first cousin or their spouse; a niece, nephew or their spouse; or aunt and uncle, among others.

Owners can also keep funds in an account for a beneficiary’s graduate schooling or the education of a future grandchild, according to Savingforcollege.com. Funds can also be used to make up to $10,000 of student loan payments.

The tax penalty may also not be quite as bad as some think, according to education expert Mark Kantrowitz. For example, taxes are assessed at the beneficiary’s income-tax rate, which is generally lower than the parent’s tax rate by at least 10 percentage points.

In that case, the parent “is no worse off than they would have been had they saved in a taxable account,” depending on their tax rates on long-term capital gains, he said.

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Goldman grumbling grows for banking giant to sack CEO David Solomon



The knives are out for Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, and this time the people brandishing them aren’t the usual suspects — his junior staffers annoyed that they have to work late or come into the office several times a week.

Solomon’s problems are more serious and existential, I am told, and how he handles what can best be described as a revolt in some quarters of Goldman’s middle and upper management ranks could determine how much longer he stays in his job.

Solomon, 60, took the job in 2018 and was always somewhat of an odd choice to run the white-shoe investment bank that usually cultivated its leaders from within. He cut his teeth at a decidedly un-Goldman-like venue: the scrappy investment bank Bear Stearns (ultimately one of the causalities of the 2008 financial crisis).

He joined Goldman in 1999, as a partner, no less, because his deal-making chops allowed him to skip layers of management.

In other words, Solomon is an outsider at a firm with a wickedly insular culture. He has a quirky side gig as a DJ in the summer Hamptons party circuit. He’s also not one for small talk, and doesn’t consult with a lot of people before handing down his edicts. 

“He doesn’t breed a lot of love,” said one former Goldman executive who knows Solomon well.

Lots of people at Goldman don’t like him, and they’re letting their views be heard both internally and with pals at rival firms.

Solomon as a DJ
Solomon is an outsider at a firm with a wickedly insular culture.
David Solomon/Instagram

For the record: I’ve met Solomon and like him for his no-BS style. And until pretty recently, the numbers show him doing a great job. Goldman was running on all cylinders in deals and trading. Even as the market corrects, shares are up about 60% since Solomon took over as CEO in 2018 compared to around a 44% rise in the S&P during that time.

Goldman is still the top M&A shop, even widening its market share over rivals in that important business line. Solomon was the first among his fellow CEOs to see the downturn and enact significant layoffs to cut costs.

Still, the grumbling about Solomon is spreading to the managing director and partner class. High-priced Wall Street talent don’t call all the shots at any firm, of course. But Goldman’s MDs and partners have historically been a powerful force when the board decides the fate of current management, which makes Solomon’s hold on his job increasingly precarious as more and more of them defect from his camp.

David Solomon as a DJ
Solomon was the first among his fellow CEOs to see the downturn and enact significant layoffs to cut costs.
David Solomon/Instagram

Here’s how they’re building a case against him: Goldman’s longtime archrival investment bank Morgan Stanley now easily dwarfs Goldman in market value, $144 billion to $116 billion, continuing a trend that predates Solomon. That comes amid a slowdown in banking deals, Goldman’s bread-and-butter business, and Solomon’s home turf.

Morgan’s CEO James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues. Solomon’s effort to diversify was an overindulgence in something called Marcus, a digital retail bank launched by his predecessor Lloyd Bankfein that Solomon made his baby. So far, it’s been a disaster, so much so that Solomon has been forced to scale back, possibly on the way to winding it down.

Goldman, meanwhile, has missed targets in its recent earnings announcements, and more downward surprises could be in store as markets continue to wobble. Bonuses are down, in some places cut in half, albeit from the nosebleed levels of 2021.

Goldman Sachs headquarters
The grumbling about Solomon is spreading to the managing director and partner class.
AFP via Getty Images

Traders did well in 2022 because Goldman’s are particularly adept in profiting off turbulence, but part of their pool is being diverted to bankers to keep them in-house until the deal slowdown ends.

Since Solomon is a banker, he’s also being accused of favoritism, which in truth is a pretty lame charge, since bankers often subsidize trader bonuses when the markets aren’t profitable. Still, the Goldman trading department is powerful and can spark management change, as it has done in the past.

There’s also a question about Solomon’s allegiance to Goldman’s stand-alone culture. In its 153-year existence, Goldman has operated on the assumption that it would be the acquirer in any major strategic acquisition. Solomon’s experience at Bear, then one of the most transactional places on Wall Street, means he could be looking for a deal and not one that keeps Goldman in charge.

Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues.
Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues.
AFP via Getty Images

At a time when most Goldman insiders believe he needs to do a “transformational deal,” i.e., something big that allows it to better compete against Morgan Stanley and super banks like JP Morgan, there is speculation that Solomon might allow Goldman to be swallowed whole by, say, a big asset manager or bank if the price was right.

As best I can tell, this grumbling, though real, doesn’t immediately threaten Solomon’s job. Then again, there is something to be said for keeping your producers happy.

Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, was a notorious screamer and demanding beyond belief. Yet Welch knew how to nurture his people.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch
Jack Welch was a notorious screamer and demanding beyond belief. Yet Welch knew how to nurture his people.
Getty Images

“Jack could chew your ass, then put his arm around you and make you feel great,” one of his longtime executives, Bob Nardelli, once told me.

It’s why so many other talented execs chose to stay around under Welch, abuse and all, and left when his successor took over, watching GE implode from the outside.

Maybe it’s a good time for Solomon to take a page from Welch and start hugging it out.

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