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Both Form & Heart

The existence of a vision in setting goals, perseverance and dedication in their accomplishment, and (why not?) a certain dose of romance – this is the recipe for the enduring presence and growth of the Slovenian Business Club

The Slovenian Business Club, which is this year celebrating 15 years of operations in Serbia, can state with pride that, in terms of member numbers, it is the third-largest club in the SBC network worldwide, but also the most successful club in fulfilling the tasks set by Slovenian institutions and members.

“It is implied that members expect us to continue in the same direction at least at the same pace and with the same enthusiasm and energy,” says Slovenian Business Club President Danijela Fišakov, adding that she considers her re-election as SBC president as an incentive for “raising the bar”.

What would you single out as the key factors marking the SBC’s growth and development?

– The SBC is among the most prominent and respected foreign business associations in Serbia. It was created primarily as an organisation of Slovenian companies that had then launched or planned to launch operations in Serbia. Of course, in this case, it also proved easier to establish than maintain in good shape over the long term. However, during the previous 15 years of its service to Slovenian and Serbian businesspeople, the SBC has not allowed itself to be overcome by what used to be referred to long ago as “objective circumstances and subjective weaknesses”. The existence of a vision in setting goals, perseverance and dedication in their accomplishment, and (why not?) a certain dose of romance – this is the recipe for an enduring presence and growth.

Belgrade’s Slovenian Business Club is the third largest SBC in the world. What are all the factors – with the exception of solid economic links dating back to the former shared country – that contribute to such a high rating on that list?

– I would emphasise that we are the first in terms of successful implementation of tasks set for us, both in cooperation with Slovenian Public Agency SPIRIT and our members in Serbia. We even received an official written letter of gratitude for that from SPIRIT last year, and our members confirm that through their numbers and in expressing their electoral will. Both of them are often capable of being very demanding in their tasks, but they are simultaneously very cooperative and always keen to assist the administration and other members. Our members are certainly our greatest resource.

How many members do you have today and what are their key expectations of the SBC?

– SBC membership exceeded 140 members in the last three years. However, we are of the opinion think that the emphasis should be placed on quality and not quantity. We are especially proud of the fact that our association includes the largest number of Slovenian companies that play a significant role in the Serbian market. These are model, reputable and successful companies that contribute to the development and stability of the market on which they operate. Regardless of company size, there is no difference in initiating and participating in activities, and in total contribution to SBC, but also in expectations of the additional value of membership.

To what extent are the needs of members changing due to the trend of constant growth in trade and investment?

– The SBC was created with the aim of making it easier for Slovenian businesspeople to cope on the Serbian market, exchange experiences and overcome difficulties encountered. These founding reasons for the existence of the SBC are also present today, with some variations. However, over time we were also joined by Serbian companies – firstly those that cooperate with representatives of the Slovenian economy here, and then those wanting to represent the Serbian economy in Slovenia. The diversity of members constantly leads to diverse challenges. Finding solutions to these challenges represents a special charm of doing this kind of work.

You were recently elected unanimously for a second term as SBC president. What are your ambitions like today compared to the time of your first election?

– It would be falsely humble of me to say that I don’t attach importance to the fact that I was again elected, and unanimously at the session of the Assembly, as the president of the SBC and that such an election result didn’t please me. 

Apart from the board being expanded to include new eminent members, the remaining existing members of the Board of Directors were also re-elected. For us, this is confirmation that we worked well together in the previous mandate, to the benefit of members. However, with re-election, we were rewarded, and not pensioned off. Personally, I consider my re-election as stimulation for “raising the bar”

Enthusiasm and positive energy, listening to the needs of each member and taking care of them, as well as making them aware that they will be welcomed with open arms, these are the main factors why new members join us and old ones return

The previous period also saw the return of some former club members. What proved crucial to their return to the ranks of SBC members, among the large offer of business associations in Serbia?

– If an organisation doesn’t meet a member’s expectations – and is unable or unwilling to use the energy and time needed to change something for the better – that member is entirely justified in cancelling their membership. The SBC does not differ from other similar associations in that regard. Likewise, when that former member understands that they can still realise their own interests through that organisation, they can rejoin. I would say that enthusiasm and positive energy, listening to the needs of each member and taking care of them, as well as making them aware that they will be welcomed with open arms, these are the main factors why new members join us and old ones return.

 Alongside the constant growth of Slovenian investments in Serbia, Serbian investments in Slovenia are also increasing. How much do such trends impact on expanding the SBC’s number of Serbian member companies?

– There are Serbian investments in Slovenia, but not even close to the amount we would like to see, given the number of opportunities and how good that would be for both sides. There are various reasons for such a state of affairs. The SBC, for its part, is increasingly focusing a significant part of its activities on promoting investments in Slovenia and assisting Serbian companies seeking to do something like that, or even just wanting to appear on the Slovenian market with their products and services.

Although our cooperation with Serbia’s state authorities is certainly good, I must stress our members’ opinion that they often receive treatment that doesn’t adequately reflect the fact that they bring investments and create new jobs

With the improvement of Serbia’s transport network, how willing are Slovenian entrepreneurs to invest in the more remote and less developed parts of Serbia today, and how do you cooperate with local governments interested in attracting investments?

– A developed transport network is certainly a resource of the highest importance. If we add to that the potential brought by so-called Industry 4.0, of which we are contemporaries, there are great opportunities for regions offering such resources. Local governments in Serbia are responsive to the needs of Slovenian investors; they are happy to respond to calls and initiate cooperation on their own.

The most cooperation to date has been achieved in the areas of energy efficiency, ecology, IT and tourism. A major investment in production in eastern Serbia has also been announced.

The SBC focused more on individual members, micro- linkages and activities throughout Serbia during 2017. Are these kinds of activities still in your focus this year?

– I am extremely satisfied that our commitment to giving special importance to ‘one-to-one’ work has been shown not to have been mistaken in the slightest.

Such an approach, in which every member feels like they’re the only one, requires additional investments of time and energy but provides members with manifold benefits and a sense of satisfaction.

Most of our members are headquartered in Belgrade, but not all of them. They are diversified throughout Serbia, so our activities must be also. We had a very well-attended and notable working meeting in Novi Sad last year, while this year we will go to Niš.

When it comes to achieving your goals, how important is your cooperation with the Slovenian Embassy in Serbia and representatives of Serbian state authorities?

– Our activities are fully compatible with the activities of the Embassy, and our cooperation is exceptional. We are in daily communication and are committed to supporting our members – not only Slovenian businesses in Serbia but also Serbian companies that need assistance in connection with their appearance in Slovenia. At the head of the Embassy’s excellent team is H.E. Ambassador Vladimir Gasparič. Apart from being a renowned diplomat, he is simultaneously someone who has an excellent understanding of business problems and is willing to make the resources at his disposal available to assist businesspeople at any time.

On the other hand, although our cooperation with Serbia’s state authorities is certainly good, I must stress our members’ opinion that they often receive treatment that doesn’t adequately reflect the fact that they bring investments and create new jobs, and that they regularly contribute to the Serbian national budget with their payments of taxes and other obligations. 

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