The Slovenia Times

Welcome foreign businessmen





Since they are engaged with particularities of the Slovenian political economy on the daily basis, their lives in Slovenia are perhaps more difficult than those of the other finalists. Lack of progressive business culture, a difficult market for foreign investment, unbreakable monopolies, complicated taxation system and untransparent legislation are just a few issues that they have to cope with. Ole Bloch :: Andreas Maierhofer :: Harvey Norman It is our strong belief that this is why Guest Stars in Economy deserve special attention in the Slovenian media, especially when they are talking about young entrepreneurs, the latest technologies, and a bridge to southeastern Europe and tourism as opportunities that must not be missed. What do you particularly like and dislike about Slovenia? Bloch: I particularly like Slovenia's beautiful nature. I dislike bureaucracy (which is very slow) and the rigid public service system. Maierhofer: I like its smallness and simplicity and the fact that both characteristics can easily also become those which I would dislike - it depends on the occasion. Norman: Likes: Nice, friendly people and very diverse and picturesque countryside, you don't need to travel far to be able to go skiing, swimming, bushwalking etc. Easy to communicate with Slovenians as a large number of the population speak and understand English very well compared to other European countries. Dislikes: Missing out on the Australian sports, such a rugby and cricket. What is your most bizarre experience in Slovenia? Bloch: Driving along a local road and after a heavy rainfall finding half of the road washed away. Another one is when I complained in a restaurant there was too little food, the waiter tried to convince me there was plenty of food, but I was eating too fast and my brain didn't have time to register it. Maierhofer: My first important business meeting with one of the biggest executives. Their management style was really an experience. Norman: Filling petrol in a diesel car. In Australia, petrol is more common and there are not too many diesel motor vehicles. How would you define a Slovenian character? Please describe it to a fellow countryman back home? Bloch: Slovenes are in general very friendly, open and easy to get in contact with since most of them speak English or other foreign languages. Maierhofer: Slovenes are European citizens and this is what makes them different them from the other nations of my past experience. Normally they are very open, but Slovenes can sometimes be described as closed and jealous, envious and curious. But generally I like their style. Norman: Slovenians are hard working, friendly and have good language skills. They present themselves very well and are a happy-go-lucky confident type of population. Can you list some of the projects that you have done in Slovenia? Bloch: I have worked with many companies in Slovenia. In the beginning, I held workshops on organizational development for IEDC. I have been and still run value, vision, goal-setting, team-building and coaching workshops for government institutions and large or middle-sized companies. I have also run many outdoor workshops for top managers in Bohinj. Maierhofer: My biggest project is Si.mobil and all other projects are of course connected to this. But to be more concrete, I achieved a lot in the regulatory field. And what I am proud of is also the development of organizational culture in Si.mobil and of course the clear turnaround of the company in terms of image and financial growth. Norman: Bringing the Harvey Norman brand to Slovenia with the opening of the Ljubljana store back in 2002. What is your biggest professional and personal accomplishment in Slovenia so far? Bloch: My biggest professional accomplishment is working for some of your largest companies. And my biggest personal accomplishment is having my Marjana say yes to marrying me. Maierhofer: My first accomplishment in Slovenia was the successful acquisition of Si.mobil in year 2001. Now since I am the C.O.O. of Si.mobil, I count Si.mobil's excellent performance as the greatest success. I think I moved forward the thinking of some crucial people in the Slovenian telecommunication industry regarding the real competition in Slovenia. Norman: Biggest professional accomplishment is establishing the first Harvey Norman store in Europe. Setting the ground work to open and build further stores in Koper in 2006 and Celje in 2007. Biggest personal accomplishment is the pride I have seeing the sales employees in Harvey Norman being brought up to a new level of expertise and skill that was never seen before in the retail industry of Slovenia. What are your projects in the pipeline? Where are we going to see you in the future? Bloch: Planning for large-scale projects with the government and communities helping them to transform into profitable, innovative and progressive communities that can be competitive in the new economy and at the same time addressing ethical and environmental issues of corporate governance. As a mental coach for athletes I would like to work more with the future of Slovenia - your children and young entrepreneurs. Helping them to build their self-confidence and create and reach their visions and goals. Suicides and depressions among children and young people must be avoided at any cost. They must learn to see that the future is worth living and that they have unlimited possibilities. Maierhofer: I will most definitely stay very close to the Mobilkom Austria group also in the future. For now I will stay in Slovenia, but since Mobilkom Austria group is in expansion, I think, my international experiences will also be welcome in the future, on other markets. We will see. Norman: Planning to move back to Australia this year ... In your eyes, how has Slovenia changed since you have come here, both generally and in the field where you are active? Bloch: When I came here for the first time it was 1979 when I participated as a rower in the Danish National Team. Since then Slovenia has become independent and many things have changed for the better. Among other things the infrastructure is constantly being improved. In the field of my work more openness and greater competition is evident. This is a healthy sign and a sign that Slovenes adopt the latest trends quickly. Maierhofer: Since I came, Slovenia is now a member of the EU, has a new government and a lot of political changes have happened during this time. Also the economical environment is changing all the time. Maybe I could define this time as the lesson for Slovenia that changes are ongoing and constant and also needed, but unfortunately the political influence in the economy is still too much visible. Norman: Increase of the awareness that Slovenia has world-wide since joining the EU in 2004. Increase of tourists visiting Slovenia especially after Easy Jet began flying into Brnik. Improvement in infrastructure, public services and the westernization of the county. The retail area has seen a huge growth of new companies establishing businesses in Slovenia over the past 4 years. This can be seen by the expansion of the retail area in BTC. There has also been an improvement in the expertise, presentation and service of retailers in Slovenia. How would you define Slovenian business culture? What really bothers you in doing business in Slovenia? Bloch: There is a lack of a progressive business culture in Slovenia because of constant changes of top management in larger companies. The positive side is that organizations and companies I have met or worked for have shown an openness and willingness to learn and change. What bothers me is that it takes time to get some of the political issues with companies settled. The result being that managers are changed constantly and it is therefore difficult for Slovenia to establish the necessary continuity in order to be competitive in the new economy. Maierhofer: The Slovenian economy is very closed and suspicious of outsiders. To gain trust and respect in this society, you really need to be persistent. What really bothers me are the connections (not only political), which, in this case, are the outcome of smallness of the country. Norman: Slovenian business culture is rather conservative. If you were Slovenia's prime minister, what would be your first business-related move? What would you change? Bloch: I am not into politics but I would put a lot more emphasis and money into helping develop young entrepreneurs. This is the only future resource Slovenia has. Maierhofer: First I would take care of the privatization of the biggest sectors, also telecommunication. I would open Slovenia to foreign investment, which not only brings capital, but also knowledge and development and the opening of new working places. Bring Slovenia to become the door of SE Europe and to make it attractive. Norman: Change legislation so that retailers can be allowed to open on Sundays. It is wrong to tell the population that you cannot shop on Sundays. The people should be able to choose for themselves what they want to do with their Sundays. We are limiting the free choices the people have and retail businesses alike. I just feel it's a backward step for the community and country. What do you think about the reform package proposed by the government? Bloch: Look at what other small nations have done and have been successful with in the respective areas. Learn from the best and copy them. Here Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and other small countries have many years of experience and could easily be copied. Maierhofer: I think that every move toward more flexible taxation system would be necessary in Slovenia. But still, the government should give more focus to the business and open more public debates. Slovenia has an advantage from the past but should be also moved into the future. Norman: I'm positive about the latest reform package. Especially the privatization of government assets which will break down monopolies and give the population more bargaining power and choice. Where do you see Slovenia's biggest business opportunities? What is Slovenia's niche? Bloch: In research, development and application of the latest technologies. Tourism with its unique nature (it has everything within a small radius) and utilizing the cultural heritage from Yugoslav times in the neighbouring countries. Maierhofer: Slovenia is a bridge to SE Europe. With the knowledge of national character, culture and language of nation of ex-Yugoslavia, Slovenia needs to take the advantage and become the most important partner in doing acquisitions in this region. Norman: Tourism as it is still very much undiscovered by other nations. There have been so many good things coming out of Slovenia lately that increase the awareness of Slovenia as a beautiful country, its history and friendly people that if correctly marketed around the world will bring a huge increase in tourism dollars into Slovenia. I refer to athletes like Aljaz Pegan, Mitja Petkovsek, Rok Benkovic, etc increasing the world awareness and profile of Slovenia. Melania marrying Donald Trump, Hollywood stars holidaying in Slovenia. Foreign-based companies like Harvey Norman and others establishing businesses in Slovenia always have coverage in newspapers and commercial television back in their home lands. It all helps in highlighting Slovenia as a fantastic place. Can you tell us your opinion about the future of Slovenia? Where will we be in 10 years time? Bloch: One of the things is that if top management in companies or organizations will to a higher degree involve people in company processes such as defining values, visions and goals, Slovenia has a big chance to profit from the fast changes in the business world. If Slovenia and the politicians in general play their cards right (Politicians, stay out of business affairs.), Slovenia could be a highly developed society profiting from innovative ideas, and approaching Danish business standards and business culture and thus making yourself attractive to foreign investors by living up to the highest standards of corporate governance. Maierhofer: Hopefully Slovenia will go in the direction of strict separation of business and politics. Also business itself has to become more flexible, open and transparent. I would like to see Slovenia as the Monaco of the SE Europe. Slovenia has all bases for that. Norman: Slovenian economy will continue to grow, the EURO currency should have positive affects in terms of inflation and interest rates.



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