It would seem that Europe no longer has unexplored corners. Everything is open, everything is just a few hours by air from us. However, what do you know about, let us say, Slovenia? A tiny republic with a unique nature, a powerful economy, and enormous potential for business development. What in this country might spark your interest? Denis Ostapchenya, our Head of Banking and FinTech Sales, who often goes there on business trips, answers.
Аndersen: Hi, Denis. Tell us about yourself, please. Why do we send you on business trips?
Denis: Hi. Okay, briefly about me and my expertise. I came to Andersen from the insurance sphere, where I had been working for 10 years. I started as an ordinary loss settlement specialist, six years later became the Deputy Head of a large company, managed areas related to insurance, reinsurance, and loss settlement. I found myself in Andersen because I wanted to change the field of work. After all, 10 years is quite a long period, so it was high time to do that. I looked around and realized that IT is a very dynamically developing and promising direction. I had a good command of English and willingness. Therefore, I completed business analysis courses and came to the company already with managerial experience and theoretical knowledge. Here I worked as a Head of the business analysis department for more than a year, and then I was proposed to take over leadership of the direction related to the development of Banking and FinTech sales. At that time, the company had many such projects, but they were not accumulated in the hands of a single person. My task was to collect all these projects, properly present them, and then multiply their number.
A: Sounds respectable. Do you have to go on business trips often?
D: Generally yes, but there is a seasonal factor in our work. Summer is a slack period, everyone is on vacation. But in general, it used to happen that I flew on a business trip almost every week. For example, over the past six months, I have visited about ten countries and attended around 30 meetings.
A: But why Slovenia? What is our interest there?
D: Slovenia is a totally new direction for us; there have never been any interactions with it before. However, from the perspective of potential, the country’s development level, companies on the Slovenian market – it seemed interesting, so we decided to try. We found potential partners, organized meetings with companies that might get interested in our services.
A: Were there many of such companies?
D: On the first visit, we met with representatives of 7 companies for 3 days. Of course, we didn’t establish cooperation with all of them, it never happens like this. Still, we keep in touch even with those companies who didn’t become our clients, and they invite us to participate in tenders. Although it’s not all that simple with tenders there. For example, there was a state bank, which outlined a very serious procedure for selecting a supplier, which presupposes a number of restrictions for foreign participants registered outside the EU. And overcoming them appeared to be utopian.
A: How do local people negotiate in general? How were meetings held?
D: Negotiations were carried on in offices, in manufactures, during the lunch… Generally speaking, I want to note that people there are kind-hearted and positive. They were talking not only about business but also, obviously, about the country and some cultural characteristics. And when we mentioned facts and knowledge about Slovenia, the locals always perceived it very well. As they say, few people in the world know about the country, so such little things are very pleasant for them.
It has been well said that Slovenes are as punctual as Germans, as creative as citizens of Balkans, and as charming as Mediterraneans. For example, we met with a representative of a very large (by the Slovenian standards) retail company. And, notably, he was personally the company’s leader. He didn’t have any problems with meeting us in a cafe and was dressed casually. Nothing in his look or manners said that he manages a company with a staff of 10 thousand people. Also, I noticed that Slovenes smoke a lot, so smokers would feel more comfortable during negotiations, be mindful of it.
A: I guess Slovenes become mad when being confused with Slovaks, right? I wonder how often do people arrive in this place by mistake?
D: 5 people a year, as I heard. The same case as with Austria and Australia.
A: Well, here you can at least notice that something went wrong – it’s so far away! But Slovenia and Slovakia are quite near.
D: Exactly. By the way, speaking about “far away”. If we consider the connection between Belarus and Slovenia, getting there is not so easy and cheap. Belavia Belarusian Airlines doesn’t fly in this direction. We usually fly there from Moscow, which is inconvenient, of course. There are few ways to get there, flights to Slovenia are not daily.
A: Generally speaking, the country is very small, with a population of 2 million people. What are the peculiarities of the local industry and market?
D: The country is small not only in population but also in the territory. But economically, it is incredibly developed. This is facilitated by a number of factors, for example, the most advantageous geographical location. The country is situated at the crossroads of a great many transit routes, is surrounded by many important, from the perspective of geopolitics, centers, has access to the sea. A small domestic market determines the specific features and focus of the economy – it is highly export-oriented. The country has truly high-qualified specialists and a number of high-tech enterprises. I can give many examples here. For instance, we had a meeting with Gorenje, one of the leading manufacturers of household appliances, they are familiar to everybody. Also, everyone knows the Elan brand, they produce alpine skis. Or Krka, a pharmaceutical brand known worldwide. The list goes on, and this is a fantastic success for such a small country.
A: What are the other reasons except for the geographic location?
D: First and foremost – people. They are well educated, speak foreign languages. By the way, among the countries of the former Soviet bloc, Slovenia has the highest GDP per capita. They have a leg up on their closest competitors, Czechs. Also, the country has one of the smallest gender gap. It’s almost nonexistent, which indicates the country’s development level and democracy in it.
A: So were there a lot of women in the negotiations?
D: Still, not so many. They were, but we met mainly with top managers responsible for technical issues, and this was determined by history that men are more involved in this sphere. So far, this trend has remained.
A: What about ageism?
D: As for information technology and large companies, people at the level of department heads are quite mature, 40-50 years old. Which, by the way, differs from some “youth” characteristics of our business and outsourcing in particular.
A: Why is it profitable for the Slovenian business to work with outsourcing?
D: The reasons are the same as those of any other country. Most of the times, they turn to us when facing the lack of internal resources and bump into deadlines. In this case, it’s easier to hire specialists for a certain period of time, without the necessity to think about the multitude of organizational issues associated with creating or expanding their teams.
A: Are local programmers expensive?
D: I wouldn’t say so. As in many countries of Southern Europe, Italy and Spain, for example, a programmer is the most ordinary profession with an average income of 2,000 euros. This is lower than even in the Belarusian market and is significantly lower than the cost of outsourced specialists. However, in the name of fairness, a company like ours takes on a lot of additional costs that the client doesn’t see: organization of the workplace and processes, etc. Generally speaking, personnel outflow is common to Slovenes too. The best specialists often choose to pursue their careers in Germany or Austria.
A: How about the production of IT staff?
D: Everything’s fine. Every major city (the number of which is small, to be honest) has a university that trains good specialists. In general, IT in Slovenia is heavily influenced by Serbia and Bulgaria. There is a pretty good technical school there, and the situation is similar to Belarus or Ukraine. The government encourages the development of the IT sector and is focused on the export of its services. First of all, in their region, of course. Therefore, they are our main competitors in Slovenia.
A: Whom are they more willing to hire? Our developers, Balkan ones, or maybe Indians?
D: Indians have not reached there yet, and we would surely win the competition with them. But with local companies, we are running neck and neck.
A: Well, enough said on that point. What in this country caught you as a tourist?
D: Slovenia is one of the most wooded countries in the world – 60% of its territory is covered with woods. You drive along the road – and everything is green. Nature is amazing, you can find any type of landscape. You can navigate a yacht on the sea, lie on the beach, swim in a mountain lake, then go to a ski resort. All the conditions for cycling and rafting are there. At the same time, the country is very compact so that you can calmly manage all this in a few days. This small piece of land (10 times smaller than Belarus!) really has everything.
A: But tourism in the country is not promoted at all, right?
D: That’s right. Primarily, Slovenia is a holiday destination for Slovenes. They are patriots who prefer their homeland to any resort. Even local products in the store are more expensive than imported ones. And people do buy them because they are confident in their quality and are ready to overpay for them.
A: Do they have some kind of branded product associated with their farming?
D: Good wine, cheeses (and dairy products in general), excellent meat. As in any pre-alpine country, I guess.
A: What about housing?
D: Both housing rent and hotels are very expensive if compared with any other European country. I suppose that there are just only few hotels, the demand is not satisfied. More and more people are starting to learn about the country, but the infrastructure is not ready for this yet.
A: How do you like the local cuisine?
D: My impressions are the most positive. The service is correct and fast, the cuisine is authentic. In one of the restaurants recommended by our partner, I ordered a tartar. I had never tasted such a tartar before. The veal was beaten or rubbed in a special way, meat fibers were not felt at all. Like a homogeneous air mass. Very tasty and unusual.
A: Do Slovenes also work in the service sector? What about immigrants there?
D: Spending the time there, I didn’t see immigrants at all. The country’s population is quite homogeneous, Slovenes, in fact, are a mononation.
A: They have their own Slovenian language, right. What language did you speak with them?
D: In English, of course. Everything is fine with foreign languages there, people speak several languages. Slovenia used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so command of German is good there. Also, the country shares borders with Italy, and in the bordering region, the population is fluent in Italian. Even road and shop signs are duplicated in this language.
A: Give me some sudden fact about the country.
D: Slovenes are crazy bee-keepers. The country has the largest number of bees per capita in the world!
A: Can you recall some not-so-good moments?
D: There are very agreeable roads there, but very disagreeable speeding fines. I heard this fact from the locals, obviously. Cameras on the highways are few, but a fine for exceeding 12 mph is 500 euros.
A: And finally, give advice to those who are going to travel to Slovenia for work or vacation.
D: Just go and explore Slovenia, but don’t mix it up with Slovakia. Being in Slovenia, you must try the local wine, even though it is pricy: a decent bottle for dinner costs 25-30 euros. This wine is nice, similar to Austrian ones. Vineyards are situated in the foothills, the climate is mild, so winemaking has been successfully developing here for a long time. Also, this place has a wonderful cuisine with an Italian touch and awesome seafood from the Adriatic.
And be sure to rent a car. The roads are really excellent, many of them don’t have speed limits. They are not like autobahns in Germany, where nothing catches an eye, but very picturesque routes that loop between hills and mountains. Besides, the rental there is relatively cheap. So just rent a car and drive the whole country, from north to south or from west to east, it won’t take a lot of time.
A: Thank you, Denis. Thanks to your help, we learned about another amazing country. Good luck!