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Tijana Škorić Tomić, Co-founder And CEO, Veljko i sinovi

Gorda’s Strengths: Love, Heritage And Tradition

Company Veljko i sinovi [Veljko & Sons] is headed by Tijana Škorić Tomić, the creator of the concept of “Gorda”, one of the best-selling Serbian rakija brandies. This spirit with the fineness of cognac was initially produced exclusively from plums, while today its range is complemented by “Gorda dunja” [quince] and “Gorda kajsija” [apricot]

The most important struggle of Veljko i sinovi is to turn Serbia’s fruit rakijas into a recognisable brand. They require global market visibility and recognition that would consequently lead to increased exports, which provide an extremely important source of funding for further growth and development.

Despite the name of the company, Veljko & Sons is actually run by daughters instead of sons. There’s surely a beautiful family story hidden behind that fact…

You will certainly have noticed that daughters are referred to as “sons” in Serbia. My mother would also often call me that. The three of us transfused the great sorrow caused by my father’s death into the founding of the company Veljko i sinovi.

We wanted the name to serve as a reminder of all the bitter quarrels that we had within our family. From today’s perspective, those are beautiful memories that have shaped both me and “Gorda”.

Love, heritage and tradition… Those are the most precious factors to you?

Love, heritage and tradition were the key motivational factors prompting the creation of “Gorda”, and they represent its strengths. It might sound like a cliché, but the most precious thing for us is the satisfaction of our customers and the loyalty they’ve shown to “Gorda”.

Their trust has had infinite meaning, because without it there would be no “Gorda”. You know that there are many high-quality products, but there aren’t many that endure for a long time and traverse different generations. At our company we are very proud of that.

Rakija is considered a man’s drink in our country, while producing rakija is men’s work. The awards that you receive show that this second statement is incorrect, while the first one is also debatable, right?

Men have certainly been, and will continue to be, the primary consumers of alcoholic spirits. This is shown by all research and confirmed by experience.

Men like good spirits and cigars, while women like everything that resembles a ritual, has satisfying aesthetics and, of course, is backed by implicit quality

Despite the fact that there are always oscillations in consumption levels, I don’t expect any significant change in the future. Men like good spirits and cigars, while women like everything that resembles a ritual, has satisfying aesthetics and, of course, is backed by implicit quality. This difference drives new ideas and products for us in the future.

“Gorda” is your brand of top rakijas that are produced from pure fruit and are also sold and consumed beyond the borders of Serbia. What makes them so special?

One very important part of the process is the harvest itself, i.e., the picking of the fruit. Specifically, “Gorda” is a single variety rakija that’s produced from the Čačanska rodna variety of plum.

These plums mustn’t be harvested, but rather screened by hand in orchards to ensure they meet the technological standards set. The plums partly come from our own orchards, and partly from suppliers with whom we’ve realised long-term cooperation, due to the expansion of production. Their quality is controlled by our agronomists, while the fruit is additionally checked upon arrival at the distillery, after which the process of preparing them for fermentation begins.

Once this process is complete, the distillate is left to age in oak barrels, which gradually give the rakija that silky, cognac- like note. The barrels for aging rakija are made from a single type of oak that is specially prepared for us. It is known that each different type of oak leads to a different process of enriching the spirit with tannins and a different process of oxygenation, thus giving different organoleptic properties to the actual rakija. The final stage in the process is the blending of distillates of varying age structures that are already in the cellar. This unbelievably unique and creative process is the responsibility of the chief technologist, i.e., our master blender.

Prior to dedicating yourself to the production of rakija, you had forged a successful career for yourself at a large international company. What compelled you to abandon that security and excellent earnings?

Earnings are a relative thing for each of us, given that it’s been proven that monetary incentives aren’t the most effective motivational mechanism. It is absolutely vital, but very short-lived. Working in a corporate environment is a valuable experience, but limits arise when you reach the point at which you can no longer develop or no longer have decision-making freedom. In other words, a corporation is dangerous in terms of getting “stuck” as a mid-level staff member or an employee who represents part of the management structure but isn’t among the essential decision makers.

Corporate experience is essential and important, but it has an expiry date for those who desire development, responsibility and challenges

Based on my experience to date, I consider that corporations create mediocrity among workers (though there are always remarkable and professional exceptions) and don’t provide the security you mentioned in the question, and all of that is the worst in cases where the ownership and management have not been separated on time. Corporate experience is essential and important, but it has an expiry date for those who desire development, responsibility and challenges.

Which aspects of your “former” corporate life proved useful when it came to running your company? Is it difficult to be a woman entrepreneur in Serbia?

A sense of belonging to the company, team motivation, speed of decision making, credibility and transparency in relations are essential for a successful business. However, it is equally important to have high-quality, focused and timely communication, both within the company and externally.

Remaining afloat in entrepreneurial waters is equally difficult whether you’re a man or a woman. We are struggling for a better industrial framework, easier conditions for doing business, reduced costs, fair competition, control of the grey market etc.

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