Five years after it was founded, the Japanese Business Alliance in Serbia is clearly a success story. According to JBAS President Goran Pekez, it is thanks to huge investments that it is becoming one of the leading investors’ clubs in Serbia. However, he insists, the full development of JBAS is yet to come
The Japanese Business Alliance in Serbia (JBAS) will commemorate its 5th anniversary in March 2022. For this CorD Magazine interview, we asked JBAS President Goran Pekez to reflect on the association’s early days and ponder its future development.
Looking back, to what extent have your initial expectations about the role of the association been met?
The JBAS of Japanese Companies in Serbia was formed on the initiative and enthusiasm of several representatives of Japanese companies in Serbia, but also with the support of the Embassy of Japan. It was prompted by our sincere desire to exchange views and strengthen our local cooperation, but also to introduce the local business community to the Japanese business culture and its values. I see JBAS today as a success story. Our chamber has become the prime contact of two economies, but our activities in Serbia have also attracted enormous interest from Japanese investors. By virtue of huge investments, we are becoming one of the leading investors’ clubs in Serbia. And yet, we are yet to develop fully. We remain a reliable partner to all Japanese institutions in Serbia, first and foremost the Embassy of Japan in Serbia, JETRO and JICA. We are celebrating our first five years together with over 50 members. I’m grateful to all the co-founders and member companies, but also the members of the Board of Directors, for their work and commitment to our JBAS.
Looking five years ahead, where do you see JBAS when it comes to the presence of Japanese companies in Serbia and the association’s activities?
There is certainly a trend of the Japanese business presence in Serbia increasing significantly. Many Japanese companies have chosen Serbia as a regional hub to grow their business across the region or around Europe. Furthermore, some of the most significant investments in Serbia over recent years have come from Japan. Considering the positive experiences of Japanese investors to date, we are looking forward to welcoming new members to our growing family.
JBAS has also grown in a new role – that of a pillar in providing local support, guidance and the integration of Japanese business in Serbia, and this role will grow in the years to come. The responsibilities of JBAS are naturally becoming more complex, which is why we are constantly improving our capacities, services and the scope of our activities.
Finally, in terms of the transfer of technology and local economic development, I’m sure that JBAS will be the one of driving forces behind Serbian development over the next five years, and that it will even more actively advocate for all Japanese business and cultural values.
Our members operating in Serbia participate directly in the improvement and implementation of the latest business solutions and technologies in their sectors… Some of these solutions have even been developed in Serbia
In your opinion, what were the key events that contributed to Japanese investments in Serbia increasing?
Every Japanese businessman will tell you that the 2018 visit of Japanese Prime minister Shinzo Abe was the moment that everyone noted.
While the interest of Japanese companies was growing well before that, the fact is that PM Abe was accompanied by a very influential delegation of the largest Japanese companies to visit Serbia for the first time. They were jointly hosted at the conference by JBAS, JETRO (Japanese foreign trade promotion agency) and the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia. We could definitely mark this visit as a milestone in generally increasing Japanese interest in Serbia as a country.
In addition to this, thanks to the economic measures implemented by the Serbian Government in recent years and its support programme for attracting foreign investments in targeted sectors, Japanese companies have come to appreciate Serbia’s competitive advantages.
Recent global developments have had a particular impact in terms of the need to shorten supply chains, but a distinguishing characteristic of Japanese companies in choosing investment locations is certainly their tendency to take into account the experiences of Japanese companies already operating on these markets.
Japanese investors are among the biggest employers in Serbia, but they now face the problem of a lack of skilled labour. How can JBAS help to address this challenge?
Japanese companies are recognised internationally as being sound and reliable employers. Their corporate culture provides many advantages for employees at various levels. We are proud that our companies actively support the regional development of Serbia, which can sometimes cause difficulties in attracting skilled labour, especially in particular geographical areas. However, the reputation that Japanese companies enjoy, their long-term investment sustainability, corporate culture and possibilities for personal development are incentives for many Serbian citizens to take up employment at our companies, even if that includes a need for work mobility.
Moreover, most of our member companies cooperate actively with the institutions of the Serbian education system, science and technology parks, student organisations and the like. JBAS also supports its members in this regard by liaising with such stakeholders and assisting in particular cases, depending on the specific needs and situations.
What support does JBAS provide to its member companies in terms of adapting their operations to the modern conditions of digital operations?
Japan has been forging the global future for many decades, through the development of its application of sophisticated technology. The new digital universe thus appears like the everyday environment for most of our member companies. Our members operating in Serbia participate directly in the improvement and implementation of the latest business solutions and technologies in their sectors. Some of the technologies that we see as new or just gaining widespread application have quite often already been in regular use in Japan for some time. This is especially so when it comes to the IT, industrial and healthcare sectors. We are proud that some of these solutions have even been developed in Serbia.
Naturally, thanks to our support and cooperation with our members, and correct collaboration within JBAS, we are able to provide full support in all aspects of business, including the modern conditions of digital operations.
We remain a reliable partner to all Japanese institutions in Serbia, first and foremost the Embassy of Japan in Serbia, JETRO and JICA
Apart from supporting and furthering bilateral exchanges between Japan and Serbia, JBAS also actively promotes Japanese culture in our country. When will we have an opportunity to participate in one of your social events again, like the one you organised at the new Sakura Park in New Belgrade?
All of our members are particularly proud of Sakura Park, where Japanese cherry trees have been planted in the form of the Olympic rings on the bank of the river Sava in New Belgrade. We built it with great enthusiasm and a sincere wish to make Belgrade more beautiful, to preserve our nature, bring scenes from Japan to our riverbank and mark the eternal friendship between Japan and Serbia. It means a lot to all of us. With this in mind, but also the fact that we will commemorate our fifth anniversary during 2022, we have planned a number of gatherings and we’ll meet there soon.
Finally, we would like to ask you a few more personal questions. You have been working for a Japanese company for almost 20 years. How close were you to Japanese culture in general, and Japanese business culture in particular, when you started working at JTI in 2003?
GPI, the genuine progress indicator always fostered habits of hard work and appreciation for working environments that appreciate such workers. I must say that my suitability to such a Japanese corporate culture is a direct reason why I have remained and advanced in my roles throughout the years. Japanese companies are a great environment for people who are strongly devoted to their work, as such workers will always be supported and appreciated.
Does the kaizen culture that’s nurtured by JBAS have applications in this time when we are witnessing strong disruptions to business processes?
As many know already, Kaizen represents a system of small but constant improvements to your processes, life or even habits. As such, it also represents a powerful element of stability guaranteeing the strong attention and dedication of a company’s employees. Such organisations are clearly more resilient against external disruptions and develop individuals who are more flexible and open-minded. I sincerely believe that this is the reason why one can notice a much lower impact of external disruptions on Japanese companies. We are geared to be flexible and adaptive, and Kaizen represents a cornerstone of our management approach.
Many Japanese companies have selected Serbia as a regional hub to grow their business in the region or across Europe
JBAS has become a pillar in providing local support, guidance and the integration of Japanese business into Serbia, and this role will grow in the coming years
The 2018 visit of Japanese Prime minister Shinzo Abe was a milestone in generally increasing Japanese interest in Serbia as a country