It might be hard to find straightforward people these days. It might be even harder to find a boss who does not applaud himself for the achievements of the company but rather humbly emphasizes the importance of other work colleagues and democratic voting in the company when big decision is to be made.
There is this popular Croatian expression “nema dlake na jeziku” that literally translates as “no hair on the tongue”. (Yes, I know exactly what you’re thinking.) But this very vivid phrase denotes a person who doesn’t shy away from presenting the facts the way they are and fearlessly expresses an opinion. As Total Croatia News seems to fit this description too, we were beyond happiness when we met Slavica Grkeš, director of Dominium Travel, an award-winning company that quickly gained a reputation for its quality and innovative services.
Of business initiatives in Croatia, work-life balance, women who bite and women who don’t.
Slavica, you have been nominated and awarded on numerous occasions for the Business Woman of the Year. What do you think what made your company stand out? What qualities does a manager need to have to maintain and grow a successful business?
I would not say for myself that I have some outstanding managerial skills nor that I’m a bossy type of person. I don’t know if there was any decision since 2013 that I had to come up with alone, without consulting my work colleagues. Every single decision is analyzed together, along with the suggestions and voting for the best option. When we look for the new employees for a specific department, that department gets to choose their colleagues because they are the ones who are going to work with them.
Sometimes I find myself dreaming and brainstorming about something and then I suggest this idea out of the blue, but I get laughed at by my colleagues who occasionally just roll their eyes at it. Then we sit down together, analyze the situation and decide our next steps. Just knowing that others are actively involved in the brainstorming process even outside working hours is just amazing. But the most important thing for the company’s success is definitely a persistence. Things do not always run smoothly and we went through a lot, such as having a 24 hour workday without a break, but people don’t get to see that.
Success is a relative term. What is success actually? I have no idea. For me personally, the greatest success is this team of people at Dominium and a good working atmosphere. Others would probably point at something else. But is this success followed by a failure at the same time? Failure in terms of not having free time and 8-hour sleep (laughs).
But let’s be honest here, none of it would be possible without a big support from my husband and all our family. I have two little boys who are 6 month and 3 year old so the environment can be quite judgmental about me working and my husband staying home with kids, and some comments used to hurt me at the beginning. But when I asked my husband recently if he is bothered with all these comments he just answered: “As long as these people talk like this, but at the same time they have a gold digger for a wife, I don’t care.” (laughs)
How hard was it to start a travel-related business in part of Croatia where it seems that the market is already saturated with so many stakeholders in tourism and hospitality industry?
Saturated market is not a problem, because there’s room for everyone. Regulations are the problem that at the same time allow people who meet all conditions to work in this field, but on the other side there are those who by finding loopholes try to avoid them and eventually they become unfair competition since they have lower costs by avoiding rules. Therefore, we witness a creation of some cleaning businesses and portals which do the same things as tourism agencies, but with much lower costs, while at the same time we employ 15 people (soon to have 20), in addition with all subcontractors.
I would like to emphasize once again, there’s room for everyone, but only the best survive, and we happen to be one of them. And I know we can perform even better.
We work extremely hard: we invest a lot of time in growing this business, but we also strive to develop new strategies that could improve our business efficiency and attend courses and seminars, such as the one provided by the prestigious VRMA (Vacation Rental Management Association) that we attended last week in Amsterdam where we also became their members. We always tend to communicate with colleagues from the same industry, to exchange experiences and develop ideas. We reinvest all our profits, but the most important is to invest in people, that’s the best return on investment.
What do you think about the business climate in Dubrovnik and Croatia: do they provide young entrepreneurs with incentives to start their own ventures?
As my company is entering into fifth year, I still can’t name all types of taxes I am paying until I see some random payment slip and it just ruins my day. Martina, my Director of Finance, doesn’t even want to tell me everything just to spare me the stress.
We have been using the incentives for the trainees and here I have to compliment the City Council of Dubrovnik. But the overall business climate is bad, wage garnishments are high and you can feel this when you work 12 months, but you get only the amount of 6 months salary with which you have to cover the costs throughout the whole year. We have to pay rents for commercial spaces, utilities, fees for advertising on the office door, the water bill includes 10 different taxed added to it, electricity, taxes for the company domains, profit taxes, tourism taxes, fees for the Chamber of Commerce and etc. I can’t even count them all.
If someone asked me now if I would start my own business again, my answer would be: no way! But when I was 23 and I still didn’t have kids this seemed like an amazing idea, all those obstacles looked tiny and we entered enthusiastically into it.
It frustrates me to see all the rules and regulations made by those who do not have any experience in working in private sector so they impose rules as if every company were a state-owned one and can be entrusted to the IMF (International Monetary Fund). If I had to go through all of this again, I would just buy a franchise.
The problem lies in the fact that young people tend to find a “safe” job, so they do not like to engage in the risky projects. But I could never ever work in a state-owned company. I would rather work for half my salary in the private company because there’s a room for creativity, one is not limited with all that bureaucratic nonsense.
My hair did not turn grey, but when this happens I will have my excuse. Imagine working in a boring office, typing all day and at one point your hair turns grey in that office with dirty windows and dead-looking plants. (screams and laughs)
You are a member of Women in Adria Group. Can you tell us more about this project and what does it stand for? In what way does it ensure business women in this region greater visibility in Southeastern Europe, as well as in Western Europe?
Women in Adria is one of the best things that happened to me. Women are still not equally represented in management roles. I don’t know a lot of female entrepreneurs in Dubrovnik, so I often communicate with the Women in Adria members. I feel that in Dubrovnik woman is wolf to woman and in a small community people get to be judgmental a lot. In WIA group we all encounter the same or similar problems in business and our goal is to encourage women to present their ideas. Marketing and visibility of our businesses is our top priority and that’s what we get by joining WIA where we can get in touch with the business women working in different industries. In that way, we have various benefits when it comes to buying products or services from other members of the group. It is inspiring to see so much ambition in one group. Women are incredible.