As I embark on my new journey at the Nordic Business Alliance, I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had in my life and the lessons that I will cherish going forward
Although I was born and raised in Serbia, I spent most of my life in the United States. It was at the age of 17 that I left my family in Belgrade and, with mixed emotions, embarked on a journey that would take me far from home. On one hand, I was excited to pursue my dreams, while on another, I was scared of what the future holds. Fear is natural when abandoning one’s comfort zone, which is something I learned much later in life. After graduating with an economics degree, I pursued a career in management consulting in Atlanta and became an avid runner.
Running was a way to clear my mind, spend time in nature and stay fit. Aside from the health benefits, running taught me perseverance (especially on a rainy Sunday morning) and pushed me to exert myself to the fullest and always keep an eye on my goals. Running also allowed me to connect with myself, and to continue to pursue my dreams, one of which materialised in 2002 when I was accepted to Harvard Business School.
My journey continued at Harvard, again with somewhat mixed emotions. While I was thrilled to be part of this incredible community, I was also intimidated by my brilliant classmates and again scared (although less this time) over whether I could make it. My experience at Harvard Business School was undoubtedly a defining moment in my life. This diverse, interactive learning environment stimulated my growth on many levels. It is okay not to be the most intelligent person in the room, as long as you listen actively, ask questions and speak openly about your strengths and weaknesses. Everyone had hopes and fears, but – more importantly – at Harvard ambition was balanced with humility, mutual empathy and the sense of joint responsibility that comes from the privilege associated with this institution.
My experience at Harvard Business School was undoubtedly a defining moment in my life. This diverse, interactive learning environment stimulated my growth on many levels. It is okay not to be the most intelligent person in the room, as long as you listen actively, ask questions and speak openly about your strengths and weaknesses
After Harvard, my career took me to New York. And, yes, my emotions continued to encompass both sides of the spectrum, though it was different this time. My world was lipsticks, mascaras and hair dyes. I was launching new products, developing marketing campaigns and trying to figure out why red never goes out of fashion. I enjoyed the city life and soon transitioned to financial services, in order to tackle “more serious topics”, such as interest rates, hedging and capital raising. I witnessed the unprecedented Wall Steet crisis of 2008 first-hand. It wasn’t an easy time. Many of my colleagues were laid off. The fear of uncertainty was looming and I felt it. I think it was then that I realised that uncertainty was here to stay. And fear is inevitable with every uncertainty.
I continued to put myself in uncertain situations in the following years. I took a new job in Prague, leading a regional a hub for Citigroup, and in my quest for adventures in nature I climbed Kilimanjaro in 2010. Did I feel fear? Yes, absolutely, but I also felt an opportunity for self-discovery and self-growth.
Many years later, I now lead a non-profit association committed to specific values: social responsibility, solidarity, sustainability, transparency, inclusion, care for environment and innovation, to name a few. Our goal is to learn from pioneers – the Nordic countries – and encourage Serbian businesses and society at large to adopt and live according to those values. The journey that lies ahead is again long and uncertain. Sceptics often say that Serbia will never be like Denmark, Finland, Norway or Sweden. And I agree that it won’t, naturally. We have to remain authentic to who we are and cherish our own heritage. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. The first step is to admit our shortcomings, open up to change and embrace the uncertainty. Let’s take that step together.