June 7, 2019 – MBA Croatia held its first conference in Zagreb yesterday, How to Be Globally Competitive from Croatia. It was a stimulating exchange of information and ideas.
There was no Mate Rimac, the champion of innovation and of a Croatian businessman who can not only compete on the world stage, but also lead the way.
There was no Nenad Bakic, the successful entrepreneur who, along with Rimac, featured in The Financial Times list of top 100 digital champions of 2018.
But there was still an abundance of world-class Croatian entrepreneurship on show at the first MBA Croatia conference in Zagreb yesterday, a stimulating afternoon of two panels discussing how businesses can be globally competitive from Croatia, as well as a keynote speech from Damir Zec, country leader of IBM in Croatia.
While there may have been no Rimac, the entrepreneurial spirit of Rimac was very much in attendance, most notably through MBA Croatia President, Aco Momcilovic, who introduced the conference and its speakers. Momcilovic, who spent three years running the HR department at Rimac Automobili, has worked hard with his colleagues to provide a platform of entrepreneurial excellence and networking with MBA graduates and students in Croatia.
The conference also made a little bit of Croatian history, the organisers think, in that it was the first Croatian conference in history to be live-streamed in English on the Internet. As a statement of intent for Croatian businesses aiming for the global economy, it was a laudable move, although Secretary of State Mario Antonic seemed to have an issue with a Croatian conference being in English due to ‘4-5 people who do not speak Croatian.’ There were in fact 16, but if the message of the conference, as well as the potential of Croatian business, is to extend beyond the country’s borders, so too must the business mindset. I was already feeling comfortable in a very progressive organisation.
On a personal note, I was very honoured to be invited to the conference. Since moving from Hvar to Varazdin, I have been spending a lot more time in Zagreb, and it is has been a fascinating experience to learn more of the MANY Croatian businesses in many fields, which are not only doing well in the region, but also on the global stage. For every Rimac who rightly makes the headlines, there are a growing number of Croatian companies who are following.
And the first panel was proof of that, and I learned about more Croatian excellent that is number one in the world, albeit in a less stylish sector that the slick Rimac electric supercars. These are the Croatian businesses which made up the first panel:
Ana Majetic Pesic – Dok-Ing – “DOK-ING is a 100% privately owned Croatian company, established in the late 1991 and registered for the production of robotized and special purposes systems and equipment.” They are global leaders in demining vehicles and technology, with the US Army among their many international clients.
Marko Josip Andrijanic – Enikon Aerospace – “Enikon Aerospace is the leading company in the world in the finishing and painting of interior parts for commercial aircraft.” A company I had never heard of, the world leaders in their industry, employing 600 people worldwide, with offices in Zagreb, the USA and two in Germany.
Bozidar Pavlovic – Oradian – “Oradian was founded in 2012 by financial inclusion practitioners and fintech experts who spent years observing cooperatives, microfinance institutions (MFIs), microfinance banks (MFBs), rural banks and Saccos struggle to grow with the rigid technology available. Since 2012, Oradian has earned international awards and recognition for leading financial inclusion in frontier markets and building the fintech platform that the industry needs.” Based in Zagreb and with offices in Nigeria and the Philippines, here was another global leading company, and one which was attracting top software developers to move TO Croatia, as everyone was seemingly leaving. There are some 24 nationalities of Oradian based in Zagreb.
Ivan FranicevicIvan Franicevic – RASCO – “RASCO is the regional leader in specialised industrial vehicles and is present in over 30 markets in Europe, Central and North Asia and North America.”
Stjepan Sucic – KET – “KONČAR – Power Plant and Electric Traction Engineering Inc. (KONČAR – KET by short) is the main contracting and engineering company within the KONČAR – Electrical Industries Inc. (KONČAR Group).” The company which built some of the biggest dams in the world, as well as many other things, has reinvented itself with a software development sector, which is providing innovative software solutions for dam maintenance.
Domagoj Borscak – “Bomark Packaging Ltd. is a member of Bomark Group, a company that has grown from small family distribution company into a manufacturer and distributor that operates throughout Europe. the only stretch film producer in Croatia.”
Outstanding Croatian companies which had found their niche in the global market and made it their own. What was heartening was to see a broad range of sectors represented in this cross-section, from IT to manufacturing.
One of the more surprising revelations of the panel was this slide, which shows the difference between GDP and Croatian exports over the last decade. While GDP has remained relatively constant, there has been a 50% increase in Croatian exports. There was discussion on how much of that was due to innovation and technology as opposed to much lower wage costs in Croatia. You can watch both Damir Zec’s keynote speech and this inspirational panel in the video link below.
The second panel – Implementation – had a very international feel with a lot of global expertise and knowledge. Moderator Stephanie Trpkov from the World Bank knows Croatia well and said that she had visited more than 120 companies to see how they could become more globally competitive.
Latvia is a small nation which is making great strides, and it was represented by Nikolajs Bulmanis, Board Member of Air Baltic. So too is North Macedonia, and Aleksandr Manev had good insights into attracting international startups and approaches to taxation. One of the most progressive IT countries in the world is Israel, and Israeli Ambassador to Zagreb, His Excellency Ilan Mor, was generous in sharing his knowledge of how Israel has become a market leader in the digital age. Necessity is the mother of invention, especially when you have no cross-border trade with your neighbours. And from Malta, via his native Germany, serial entrepreneur Andreas Wil Gerdes shared his vision of how the economy in Croatia could be turned around in 6 months, based on his Maltese experience.
In an age where a 16-year-old striking pupil in Sweden is realigning the whole climate crisis debate, Gerdes’ vision of Croatia’s future was refreshing, logical and easy to implement. But this is Croatia…
“This is one of the most amazing countries I have experienced in my life. This is one of the oddest countries as well, which I don’t get. It has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe. It has one of the best fibre optic infrastructures, it has an amazing climate and really interesting people. Plus we have nearly 20 million tourists coming each year.
“So what do you do? Use the fibre optics. Connect to the 20 million. Add a few to that. And follow the example of Malta and others. Forget trying to produce things. Invite people to come here. Croatia is one of the least densely populated countries in Europe, and there are plenty of empty houses.”
It is an intriguing thought. Just as a 16-year-old in Sweden can change the debate, so too one billion digital nomads could potentially redirect the entire global economy.
And – let’s daydream a little – imagine that Croatia with all its natural advantages to cater to this growing industry – location, nature, climate, connectivity, lifestyle, English spoken, the list goes on – and could attract a fraction of this wealth-creating and tax-contributing sector of the economy, how would the future look then?
What started out, for this correspondent at least, as a conference on Croatian companies become competitive on the global stage has changed a little into how to attract internationals to Croatia who have been proven to be successful on the global stage. And encourage them to continue to be globally competitive from Croatia.
You can check out the entire second panel below.
To learn more about MBA Croatia, visit the official website.