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Anja Ivana Milić, Arhi.pro Co-founder And CEO

The Female Approach To Business Is Masterful

Company Arhi.pro celebrates its 20th birthday in 2022, and it does so as one of Serbia’s largest private engineering companies, with five offices in three countries, clients from all around the world and approximately 200 employees that include top tradesmen, architects, designers, civil engineers, mechanical engineers and electrical engineers

As a recipient of the Cvet uspeha za ženu zmaja [Flower of Success for a Courageous Woman] Award, which is presented to the best female entrepreneurs by the Association of Business Women in Serbia, Arhi.pro Co-Founder and CEO Anja Ivana Milić believes that the secret to great success lies in the entrepreneurial spirit or the energy of leaders and good managers, regardless of gender.

What did Arhi.pro’s beginnings look like?

Every entrepreneurial beginning is the story of an opportunity that’s recognised and utilised to launch one’s own business. The opportunity for me to be the select architect of an international corporation, back in the year 2000, led to the 2002 establishing of a company that has been offering the same palette of services for the last 20 years.

The chance that then emerged to recognise the future in design & build services led to my husband and I – with our different but compatible vocations for integrated design in construction – creating Arhi.pro in partnership. With me as an architect and him as an electrical engineer, we offered the market architecture that, from the original concept onwards, takes into consideration the engineering approach to creating properties for life or work.

Do strength of teamwork, exchanges of ideas, symbiosis, the reciprocal influence of associates and respect for diversity represent the elements that have made Arhi.pro a successful company?

With the founding of the company, I abandoned the idea of being an architectural studio with a single author’s name and opted instead to draw strength from a professional team. Today, 20 years on, we are a recognisable brand on the market and home to a great team, as well as standout individuals in the profession. The synergy of brand, team and individual represents a great advantage when it comes to securing major jobs. Building a team is a process and I’m very proud that this year we are presenting many employment-anniversary awards in recognition of 10, 15 and even 20 years of work at Arhi.pro.

Do you agree with the notion that women are “the driving force behind the implementation of sustainable development goals and virtuosos when it comes to converting challenges into opportunities”?

Women who have the courage to take risks, and to contradict clichés suggesting that they cannot lead but should follow, are special and cannot be the rule for the female gender as a whole. I don’t agree with the notion that women are the driving force because they aren’t, just as all men aren’t the driving force and virtuosos who lead to great success. I would certainly dub the female approach to business as being a virtuoso approach, because we are fine artists who have a refined ear for the needs of individuals, their team and clients. We have a sixth sense that constantly gives us some superior knowledge that’s useful for making decisions, while we have a homey approach to finances and are better at micromanaging and multitasking.

The male principle is often macro-management and is bolder. They are more prepared to enter into challenges without a clear algorithm for how to overcome them; they build works more on the basis of connections, while we do so more on the basis of merit. I like both styles and both principles, and I’m sure the ideal tandem is composed of two excellent managers of either sex.

Are your employees also the company’s greatest asset?

The company’s greatest asset is every loyal, high-quality and dedicated member of the team, whether they’re highly educated or not. Assets are those for whom you can “put your hand to the fire” that they will do a job on time and to the highest quality.

Banks evaluate our worth according to what we own in terms of real estate, movable assets and contracted jobs, but I would like human resources to be equally included in that evaluation, because we have superior value in that regard.

There is more construction going on in Serbia today than ever before, which also has its downside. Do you have the impression that the battle for more square metres has turned into the ruination of urban development and the collapse of aesthetics?

There is no art in mass construction, especially under the kind of tight budgets that are allocated by all investors who build in our country. There is no place for aesthetic and technological flair in that. The battle for more square metres must really be limited to decent and indecent measures for certain environments. I think that has now also been acknowledged by many of those who previously opted for such calculations.

I hope we will find the right ratio if local authorship is returned to our architects, because – from a regional perspective – we’ve become a mecca for foreign authors, while our own architectural design companies only participate in engineering development.

Construction companies disrupted the harmony of the city back in the 1990s by hiring the cheapest draftsmen for commercial buildings in Belgrade, only for that to have now started with these large complexes that are currently under construction. The battle for profit revolves around low-budget architecture, while the price is determined by location and not the aesthetics of the building, which only creates an insignificant difference in price.

There is no art in mass construction, especially under tight budgets… There is no place for aesthetic and technological flair in that

You have amassed a portfolio that includes numerous buildings and complexes, as well as many of the most varied residential and commercial interiors… What aspect of the work do you like the most? Where is your personal stamp most visible?

Corporate architecture has been my determining factor for two decades, with examples such as the Société Générale administrative building and the Navigator 1 building, both in New Belgrade, and the new Green Escape complex that’s currently under construction in Bežanija. We had an exceptional authorial experience with the successfully implemented Lavender Bay complex in Morinj [Montenegro]. When it comes to interiors, I would single out Envoy Hotel in Belgrade’s Čika Ljubina Street, while there are also restaurant interiors, such as those of Druga Piazza, Le Molière, Diverzija Bars etc. When it comes to large regional projects in particular, first place belongs to Porto Montenegro in Tivat, where we’ve already spent 14 years as leading architects and local consultants on a project that led to us developing the concept of renowned international authors. Likewise, we are also the leading designers of the Belgrade Waterfront’s Galerija shopping mall and the One & Only Portonovi hotel in Kumbor [Montenegro].

You are one of the founders, management board members and executive board president of the Society of Women Architects. How do you view the position of women in architecture? Do you have any advice for your young female colleagues?

I was essentially the instigator of the idea of founding the Society of Women Architects, which has brought together 24 women from the profession. We have spent five years working actively to promote the talent of women, raise the visibility of women in the profession and promote their achievements. After many years as a member of associations that encourage women’s leadership and expertise, my idea was to launch the same kind of organisation in my own profession.

Women are much more numerous in architecture studies, while they also represent the majority working on the development of projects in studios, but they are still in the minority as authors and principals of architectural practise. With the Society of Women Architects, our desire was to uncover the reasons for this and encourage change.

I don’t have a unique message for my young female colleagues, which is why I invite them to contact the Society and ask us about everything that interests them. There are many of us and we are experts in various specialist areas, so they will always receive the right answer and advice from us. I would advise girls who are just deciding whether they should study architecture to reassess their tenacity and stamina, because the road from concept to construction is a long and arduous one. The most important thing is for them to know that, like any other profession, architecture is beautiful and nothing is difficult when you love your job.

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