We are witnessing the fact that Serbia and Switzerland are reinforcing their economic ties on many fronts, in the areas of education, investment, market mix, exchanges of goods and people, and in cultural links, says Majo Mićović, President of the Swiss-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (SSCC), with whom we discussed the ambitious plans of this young but very active chamber.
You were elected to the position of SSCC President in February 2018. What have been the key activities of the Chamber since then, and what other goals do you have until the end of this year?
– The SSCC is one of the youngest chambers in Serbia, but we are perceived by the local business sector and the Swiss business community as an active, innovative and organised business community. This trend has also continued in 2018, and that status provides strong motivation to me, as the new president. There have been very many activities, but to note the ones that are the most significant to me: the extremely successful conference at the end of last year, “Innovations: the driving force of the Swiss-Serbian economic relations”, then the Speed Business Meeting in March, co-organised by the SSCC, AHK Serbien and CANSEE. We then had the SSCC networking event during the Kopaonik Economic Forum, followed by April’s SSCC Membership Reunion, at which our members – SKY EXPRESS and The INP Group – presented their profiles. I also wouldn’t want to overlook the visit of renowned Swiss higher education institute, FHNW School of Business from Olten, which actually resulted in excellent educational communication and exchanges of opinions between young Swiss students and SSCC members, only for us, already in May, to participate among 11 foreign-chambers in “The International Networking Reception”. June was devoted to something that I’m particularly happy about, a topic I advocated for during consultations with colleagues from the Board – the status of dual education in Serbia.
The most important and most intensive task in the period ahead is the preparation of the Annual Conference dedicated to dual education in Serbia, planned to take place on 18th October 2018 at the Hilton Belgrade hotel. It is a great honour for us that we will be joined by Dr Ursula Renold, Director of the Research Division Education Systems for comparative studies at ETH Zurich, who is among the most influential figures in that area in Switzerland and a great friend of Serbian dual education.
In addition to this event, in November our Chamber, the Swiss Embassy and Sky Express from Belgrade, leader of ICT security solutions in the region and our member, will take part in the biggest ICT event this year in the region: the SEE-IT Summit to be held in Novi Sad. In addition to the exhibit, dozens of important conferences, panels, presentations are expected, which we expect will give a further boost to innovation and competitiveness in the ICT scene, the gaming industry, and AI and Smart City concepts.
Based on the example of your company, how do you view the potential to improve cooperation between our two countries, particularly in the ICT field?
– Sky Express, like all other Swiss companies in Serbia, can feel the Serbian economy changing, and changing for the better. Here are some examples of our company: we invest in staff, bring new technologies, implement high-quality projects, provide services that can be compared in terms of standards with similar services anywhere in the world, and we educate not only users and clients, but also the Serbian market. For example, Sky Express held an important conference on GDPR standards at the Hilton precisely on 25th May – the day that standard was introduced in the EU.
The potential – and not only in our branch – is visible, expansive. Whether we’re talking about Swiss companies operating in IT, or in energy, mechanical engineering, agriculture, I believe that I dare speak on their behalf and state that: business conditions in Serbia are stimulating and a sound basis for further development and investments.
The SSCC is a natural ally of every advanced administrative measure coming from the Government, provided this measure provides new incentives to export activities and accelerates and simplifies investment cycles
Which kinds of innovative products and services could Serbia develop in cooperation with Swiss partners?
– I will tip the following areas: agriculture (organic production, especially fruit and vegetables), IT (robust industrial solutions like Tesla Box or MSSP services, gaming industry players like Nordeus), smart grid solutions in energy (EPS works on such projects), tourism etc.
How is your cooperation with the Government of Serbia and which reform moves do you advocate for in particular?
– The SSCC is a natural ally of every advanced administrative measure coming from the Government, provided this measure provides new incentives to export activities, accelerates and simplifies investment cycles, and opens the door to the regional development of Serbia. We gave our support to last year’s activities of the Government aimed at strengthening innovation as a principle of doing business and developing a market economy. This year we are working with the Government in the area of further developing the dual education system.
What values would you like to move to Serbia when talking about the sphere of business?
– The SSCC repeats like a mantra the idea of the “Swissness” standard. This can already be heard often in public. And whether we’re in meetings with people from the Government, in my company’s contacts with users or in conversation with the media, we constantly repeat the words: innovation, precision, responsibility, initiative, business courage, perseverance. Unfortunately, that has yet to come to life sufficiently on our market, because apart from the great examples of Serbian business values that we come across, we also meet with the meaningless copying of ideas, sloppiness, the avoidance of responsibility, lack of ambition and the absence of strategies.
You have long been nurturing companies’ “success stories” and you recently launched a new project entitled “League of the Successful”. How ready are members companies for this competition?
– Yes, I wanted to try something completely new, and the SSCC, according to our information, is unique in the country in this respect. There are technical challenges to completing this (integration into our site), but what is much more important is the relationship of membership towards the new concept, which will certainly be somewhat more passive initially, which will certainly be somewhat more passive initially, but once it comes to life I think it will be equally useful and fun for our Chamber. Quite simply, I think the SSCC is an excellent environment for such an idea. Imagine, say, a league competition among members based on efforts to show the Chamber the success of each member’s contribution to the work of the Chamber, relations between Serbia and Switzerland, and support for other members.
I am convinced that our Chamber is one of three key players when it comes to influence on promoting cooperation between Switzerland and Serbia. And that’s in spite of the fact that we are still a “small chamber” and a very young organisation
How “contagious” is your model of success and do you succeed in sharing your successful business methods with other business partners and business associations in Serbia?
– When it comes to how successful we really are as a chamber, I wouldn’t like to comment myself as its president, as I’m probably not objective. I can say that we are a mix of excellent world companies, such as giants like Nestle, Roche, Sika and many others, but also excellent “small” companies like Standard Furniture Serbia, Basna, Confida and TSG. In this symbiosis between large corporate strengths and energetic and innovative SME firms, it seems that there is no end of mutual stimulation and inspiration, as well as mutual support.
At what pace are we seeing growth in the size of the community of Swiss companies operating in Serbia or with Serbia, or considering such a move?
– Switzerland is a country of serious business operations, cautious steps and intelligent investments. They always seek the final result, which must be measurable, transparent and, wherever possible, sustainable. With such an investment nature, Swiss investors prefer to move step by step when it comes to expanding their operations in Serbia, so as not to act like investors from other countries by bursting on the market in waves and then disappearing suddenly.
According to our knowledge, over 300 businesses of Swiss origin operate in Serbia, in various forms of connection with Switzerland. The pace of this has been increasing lately, particularly in the areas of IT, agriculture and energy.
The SSCC Conference on dual education is scheduled to take place in October 2018. What will be on the agenda?
– At this conference we will primarily provide a summary of activities and successes to date. I will only tell you that Serbia, statistically speaking, according to neutral analyses conducted by the leading European bodies, has convincingly progressed the most in this area and is ahead of all other countries in our region. As such, this conference will provide a great opportunity for the public, not only in Serbia but across the region, to find out as much as possible about the successes of this campaign, which it was almost inconceivable to implement until a few years ago and in which we are today leaders!
This will simultaneously provide a chance for discussion between the leading stakeholders in the introduction of dual education in Serbia, primarily the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, then the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia, businesses that strongly supported this idea, the Swiss Embassy and Swiss economic bodies that financed parts of projects and, finally, the few of us who have lobbied for the idea of the dual education project from the very beginning and communicated between all these important bodies and organisations.
In the end, this will be a media and communication expression of the readiness and strength of the community of institutions and systems that will definitely not stop on the road to completing the project and finalising the introduction of dual education in Serbia.
The importance of cooperation with the diaspora is enormous: imagine just the economic and social contribution that the more than 250,000 Serbian citizens living in Switzerland could give to Serbia
What’s the key reason why Serbia is failing to utilise the advantages of its large diaspora in Switzerland in the function of economic development?
– Don’t take me wrong, but considering that I’m also a representative of that diaspora, I can responsibly claim that it’s impossible to speak about just one reason. This is an important topic and is certainly a topic to which we could devote a special interview.
In response, I would rather offer the harmonisation realised with the Serbian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and that is that we – both as the SSCC and as a group of representatives of the diaspora, with appropriate contacts in both countries – will find a way to reinvigorate relations between the Serbian diaspora and the motherland, with the support of Swiss administrative and business bodies.