“You should make your own values and never take any dogma on trust. You can only accept what you have realized and chosen.” This was the life creed of Bohdan Hawrylyshyn, a Ukrainian who rose from obscurity to make an enviable career in the West, where he was deeply respected by economic and political leaders worldwide.

He was born on Oct. 19, 1926, in Koropets, a small village in western Ukraine, the youngest of four children in a poor peasant family that lived from hand to mouth in a traditional house built of clay and hay.

For the Soviets his father was a “kulak,” and therefore an “enemy of the people.” So during the Soviet occupation of western Ukraine, from 1939 to 1941, he and his family lived in constant fear, spending nights hiding in different places – in summer they hid in a haystack, and in winter in the neighbors’ barn.


During World War II, Hawrylyshyn was taken to Germany as slave labor and wound up in a refugee camp after the war ended.

Lumberjack and seafarer

“In Germany, in a camp for displaced persons, I was hired by a company to work in North Ontario, Canada, as a lumberjack,” Hawrylyshyn reminisced. “I dreamed of making a career in the New World and I made future plans after my lumberjack contract.”

On Aug. 24, 1947, he boarded a big cargo ship with a very symbolic name – Liberty.

In Canada, he worked nine hours a day with an ax and a saw. He knew a few English words and had a German-English dictionary. Every morning he learned 40 new words and asked one of the local lumberjacks how to pronounce them.

Having learned a little English, he offered his fellow lumberjacks English lessons every evening after supper. He charged them 10 cents per lesson and so doubled his daily wage.

North Ontario, Canada, 1948

A year later, when he worked as a barman in Toronto, he was admitted to the aviation department of Toronto University.

The Globe and Mail published a photograph of Bohdan Hawrylyshyn and his younger Ukrainian friend under the headline: “Immigrant Lumberjack Admitted to Toronto University.”


After graduation, he visited several companies in the United States, looking for a job. The country impressed him with its powerful industry, economic dynamism, and vast opportunities.

“The Americans seemed to be friendlier and more straightforward than the Europeans, but I didn’t like their system of values and their excessive materialism. And I didn’t want to be a corporate man. I wanted to remain a free man,” Hawrylyshyn said.

Recalling his trips to Africa, he admitted that he’d learned “a few good lessons” there.

“I understood one thing,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “You can foresee a country’s future if you hear what kind of future student activists want for their country. I understood why students in French colonies were struggling for independence of their countries, and when I returned to Canada, I gave a series of lectures on that subject… I said that the next generation would see African colonies gain independence. I was wrong. It happened in ten years.”


Multinational manager

After three years of work in North Quebec for one of the world’s biggest aluminum companies, Hawrylyshyn was selected for a one-year course at a school of management in Geneva. During the course he visited companies in 10 European countries and saw them through the prism of labor-management relations, learning the ways of thinking, cultures and work styles of different nations. 

In 1968, Hawrylyshyn became director of the International Management Institute in Geneva.

A year later, when the Institute was preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary, one of the teachers, Klaus Schwab, suggested he organize a training event in the well-known Swiss ski resort of Davos.

The event took place there in January 1971 and gathered 500 participants. Hawrylyshyn opened the conference and conducted the training sessions.

A few years later, the event took the name “World Economic Forum.” Now it is a major global non-governmental event for businessmen, top executives and key political leaders.

In the 1970s, “Dr.” Hawrylyshyn was in great demand as a lecturer, adviser, and consultant. He became a member of the International Academy of Management, the World Academy of Art and Science, and the Club of Rome. In 1980, he wrote a report for the Club of Rome titled Towards More Effective Societies (Road Maps to the Future). It was published later as a separate book in nine languages. 


He found Switzerland an ideal country for himself, his wife and three children, and Geneva a perfect place for his job, so he bought a villa in Vernier, a suburb of Geneva, where his family was involved in community activities.

Wedding photograph of Bohdan Hawrylyshyn and his wife Leonida (Lennie). 1951

Advisor to leaders and potentates

“Fate has been very generous to me, allowing me to fulfill my dream to learn the world,” Hawrylyshyn mused. “I traveled a lot to different countries with different purposes. In each I did something useful. I didn’t just travel as a tourist. In some countries I was involved in decisive events and left behind a trace by seriously influencing their development, as was the case with Australia and Argentina.”

In Australia, Hawrylyshyn contributed to the consensus reached in the early 1980s by the government, businesses and trade unions that eventually helped the country embark on significant economic growth.

In Argentina, where his book Road Maps to the Future was very popular with local professors, he was invited to deliver seven open lectures and three exclusive lectures for the commanding staff of the Argentinian Army, Air Force and Navy.

Governed at the time by the military junta, Argentina was an ailing economy with growing popular discontent. Hawrylyshyn’s lectures offered effective systems of governance and economic management and ways to build them. Surprisingly, just a few months after his visit, the junta called early elections and Hawrylyshyn was again invited to Buenos Aires. There, he saw his name on the front pages of newspapers: “Hawrylyshyn Arriving!”


“It looked like I was coming to the rescue,” he recalled later. “I was met… right at the plane and led through the passport control and customs without checking… I gave an interview and in 20 minutes I heard it on the radio. In two days, the papers published 16 articles about my activities in Argentina.”

Hawrylyshyn lectured in Brazil and traveled to India almost as often as to the United States, France, or Sweden. IMI India, which he founded, is still believed to be head and shoulders above many other business schools.

During his lifetime Hawrylyshyn visited a total of 90 countries and shared very emotional memories and impressions of India, Japan, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela, but said that he only felt at home in Ukraine, Canada and Switzerland.

Return to his native Ukraine


In December 1988, Hawrylyshyn came to Kyiv. He met with Borys Paton, President of the National Academy of Sciences, and they decided to found the International Management Institute in Kyiv (IMI Kyiv) as a Swiss-Ukrainian joint venture.

IMI Kyiv

Hawrylyshyn said then, “I feel it’s enough of studying and analyzing. We need to start working… And we will begin with generating the new elite. I want to begin with what I am good at: I want to found the IMI in Kyiv.”

The opening of IMI Kyiv in August 1989 made a sensation in the USSR. Even the Soviet government’s mouthpiece Izvestiya wrote: “If you wish to learn something about business management, you should go to Kyiv.”

Bohdan Hawrylyshyn talking to IMI Kyiv students

In November 1989, at a Club of Rome conference, Hawrylyshyn met with George Soros and persuaded him to set up a separate branch of his International Renaissance Foundation in Ukraine.

As soon as Ukraine became independent in 1991, Hawrylyshyn invited leading politicians to present the political systems of their countries to Ukrainian lawmakers and share their unique personal experiences. He chaired the Advisory Council at the Ukrainian parliament and was a personal advisor to three Ukrainian presidents, four parliament speakers and three prime ministers.

Hawrylyshyn felt that it was vital for Ukraine to become a full-fledged member of the international community, but he understood that it was not up to the old-timers. That is why he looked to the new generation – those growing with the awareness of Ukraine as a big European nation. He also understood the importance of patriotic education and, himself having been a scout since his teens, actually revived the scouting movement in the land of his birth.

He wanted to see Ukraine bring up a new generation of businesspeople, politicians, writers and artists willing to change the country.

In December 2009, the Bohdan Hawrylyshyn Charity Foundation was founded in Kyiv to help gifted school-leavers study at the world’s best universities.

“I hope these young people will occupy key positions in the political and other institutions and will drive this country through transformations to what I call a normal country,” Hawrylyshyn said in an interview.

“The Foundation’s mission is to help the new generation to learn the skills of teamwork, leadership and mobility, to help accumulate critical masses of politically and socially active people in Ukraine. “Is this a dream? – Yes, it is! Or is it already a visible reality? – I think it is.”

Bohdan Hawrylyshyn said this on his 90th birthday, five days before he passed away on Oct. 24, 2016. He made a great career in the West and remained a devoted patriot of his nation. He said, “To me, Ukraine wasn’t just a geographical name. Ukraine was in my heart wherever I was… I spent three quarters of my lifetime outside Ukraine, but I always and everywhere introduced myself: ‘Bohdan Hawrylyshyn, Ukrainian.’”


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