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Interview with Maria Kozyrnaya

Maria Kozyrnaya is the Managing Partner of Protege group, a Ukrainian marketing and promotion company. It has hosted many luxury high class events throughout Eastern Europe. She runs the company along with Anna Gvozdiar. Protege Group has been very successful, and it was very interesting to read Maria’s thoughts.


Maria Kozyrnaya

What has been your favorite event that you have organized so far?

One of the biggest and most profitable projects for Protege Group was the organization of shooting for the Final part of the 3rd season of the Ukrainian “Bachelor” reality show as part of the Mauritius island promotion campaign. We put all our efforts to make this project possible: 6 months of negotiations, 40 days on the island and a fruitful work of more than 50 people, led to a top rating show with a beautiful product placement for the best hotels of Mauritius, DMC Company and the island itself.

All of Ukraine watched it, and every travel agent wanted to know the secrets of the shooting process and the location where the romance took place. So we came up with a special event where we invited the chosen couple with chosen couple and the director of the show. Our guests could address all their questions personally to the main hero and to the director. I love surprises and I always try to impress people in a pleasant way, so this surprise event was definitely my favorite!

Marketing and tourism are very competitive, how is your business unique to other companies?

Marketing in tourism is indeed a very specific business, where you need to understand every single detail of advertisement, media, travel companies and hotels. My business partner used to work as a sale director in an international hotel group and I started my career in business advertisement and media. So together we had access to all decision makers to start our business, much of whom we had already worked with. Main secret of our success is the trust of our partners, who believe in Protege Group, and of course our enthusiasm and willing to make innovative and quality travel advertising in the Ukraine.

Maria and her business partner Anna Gvozdiar


You have organized many high class events, what is the key to success in organizing them?

Organizing high class events is not very complicated if you have the budget and know the companies you trust in (catering, sound, printing, etc.) The main complication in such events is to invite the right guests interested in your clients. Therefore, we usually organize B2B events, so we don’t need to persuade busy professionals to come after their working hours to an event where we will discuss about work again. This community of people is not big, especially in the luxury travel business which is our main focus, and it is pretty “closed”, so time is needed to become part of it. We are always trying to stay in touch with the community, to arrange meetings not only to set up invitations, but also to ask how the business is going, and sometimes even to help. That way strong business relationships are built which get stronger every year! You won’t attract such guests just with good restaurants or entertainment only; you need gourmet food, stunning venue and smart timing to make an event successful. A professional photographer for photo call is always needed, if there are no nice pictures from the party – there was no party!

Describe your idea of a perfect employee…

It may sound strange a for company owner, but I don’t like the word “employee”. I don’t like when somebody “works” for me. When we have a project – we are all inspired with one idea and we all work as a team to achieve one big goal. I can personally call to invite guests to our events, or even send invitations from my personal email, since for some guests it is important to receive personalized invitations. As for people working in our team, I want them to have strong communication skills, to be easy going and definitely to have a nice sense of humor. I also want people who I can rely on – just like I can rely on my business partner – who can handle any situation even when I am in a plane unavailable for more than 12 hours. In our business , we prefer hiring professional outsourced people for every single project, and to pay them a monthly salary even for a week long project, but to insure the best result. Our business doesn’t allow for any excuse and everything should be as perfect as possible. International Luxury brands with a long history of excellence entrust us with their image; there is therefore no place for mistakes!

How do you inspire/motivate your employees?

I guess we are lucky since our business is an attraction in itself. The most common “motivators” are found in the internet such as websites about travelling to islands, and other paradisiac places all around the planet. When I chose my profession, the hotel and restaurant business attracted me in its capability of providing a chance to help people pursuing their dreams. Motivation should come from the inside and I will never accept in my team a person who is not driven by motivation or who only dreams about money. Every job gives you a lot of opportunities, not only financial ones. When I started working as a marketing director in a tour operator, I didn’t earn the appropriate salary for such a position and level of responsibility, but I earned more: The opportunity to travel – even though on business trips – since travelling has always been the dream of my life. To conclude, my secret of motivation is to make my coworkers believe that impossible is nothing and to help them to pursuing their dreams.

In your opinion, what are the most important characteristics to become an Entrepreneur?

I’m sure their must be a “risk” gene in your DNA! You definitely have to be brave, confident and a bit crazy, since everybody around you will tell you to think twice, reminding you of stories about unsuccessful start-ups…. And for sure there will always be some of negative energy around, because none of your competitors want you to become successful; you therefore have to be strong to go through it. In my case, I would have never started my company without my soulmate and my business partner Anna. She was the first person to believe in the idea, to believe in us as a team! Through her the idea became a company.

Do you have a motto in business?

On my graduation, my teacher high school teacher said: “She sees the goal – not the obstacles” and her words become the motto of my life!



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