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June 2015

Impressions from the Business Forum in Paris: Expectations met and doors opened for other events in European capitols

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The Business Forum in Paris that took place on Friday, June 26, achieved its expectations. The team of Macedonia2025 met many business professionals of Macedonian origin who live and work in Europe. This is an important step towards building a network of people who are related in many ways to Macedonia and who wish to play a role in the country becoming an integral part of Europe and its economy of 500 million people. There are many people who live outside Macedonia who are not acquainted with its ongoing progress and are unaware that significant changes had taken place. Following the Forum’s panels, there were more than 30 individual B2B meetings between attendees. The forum in Paris opened the doors towards organizing similar events in other major cities across Europe where there is a diaspora of people who originally come from Macedonia.

At the event’s venue- the Embassy of Macedonia in Paris, we met with Mr. Alban Ibraimovski who is the Product Manager of the French supermarket chain Auchan. Mr. Ibraimovski said he eagerly helps exporters from Macedonia to develop an image and business relations in France. He emphasized that the companies need to learn the specifics in how business is done in a foreign market such as the French, pointing to the fact that every exporter has to secure a seller to connect them with an outlet.

Mr. Dino Gramatikov, who is Wizz Air’s pricing and revenue manager, told the guests at the forum that he feels especially proud for having played a role in putting Macedonia on Wizz Air’s map.  He added that the budget carrier “took over 1 million passengers on its route to Macedonia in the past four years” and that Ohrid has the potential to become another Wizz Air destination.

Keti Koseva, Area Manager of Vitalia said: “Events like these enable us to meet with key people in our industry. Entering a new market is always a challenge, but when there is a support from a Diaspora representative, doors can be open more easily. Vitalia participated at this Forum with a specific purpose to discuss cooperation with French companies and our goal was achieved.”

In addition to connecting Macedonians, the forum also gave an opportunity to representatives of the Macedonian foreign investment agency, Invest Macedonia, to present all the incentives for investing in the country, such as the low VAT, but also to point to the fact that Macedonia had made a tremendous improvement in the past several years regarding business and development.

Prime Minister of Macedonia, Mr. Nikola Gruevski was a guest of honor. He informed the attendees about the country’s dedication to retain its agility on the path of development and responsiveness to foreign investors. Mr. Gruevski said: “The World Bank ranked Macedonia 94th in the facility of doing business, in 2006. Now we are ranked 30th. In order to overcome our handicap of being a small country with a small economy, we have free trade agreements with all countries in Europe, both in and out of the European Union, except for Russia. These agreements allow for free export from Macedonia.”

In addition to representatives of companies who have invested in Macedonia, such as Steve Sharpe– President and CEO of Euromax Resources who develops the gold and copper mine in Ilovica, there were representatives of famous French companies, as well as French government officials. Mr. Charles Paradis, of Bouygues Construction and representative of the Macedonia-France council under MEDEF International, reflected on the strides Macedonia has made in the past several years. Mr. Paradis said: “I think that the business climate is improving on a daily basis and I think this is a chance French companies should use in order to increase their presence in Macedonia.” Mr. Paradis, who is influential in his sector, has expressed interest in exploring the opportunities for investing and cooperating with Macedonia.

The event’s photo album is on our Facebook page. 

We would like to thank the sponsors and supporters of this event for helping us put together our first event of this kind:MAMA’s Ajvar, BiMilk’s special edition cheeses and the exception wine by Tikvesh caused much interest among the guests. We thank the travel agency LaMacedoine for helping with the organizing logistics. Ohridska Banka – Societe Generale Group were our Co-hosts and the Macedonian Embassy in Paris as our host.

The next destination for Macedonia2025 is Toronto, where on July 7 the organization is hosting a networking reception to help connect Macedonian diaspora members in Canada. During the stay in Toronto, the Macedonia2025 team will take several business executives and managers from Macedonian companies on a study tour at a renowned business institute and a number of companies in Canada. This efforts helps develop professional business leaders that will drive forward the economy of Macedonia in the time ahead.

Interview with John Lazarou, finance expert and Leader Project instructor in Macedonia: Capitalism is based on failure!

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Tell us about your experience here in Macedonia as a LEADER Project instructor. What do you think the participants learned from the program?

The biggest thing they learned is critical thinking and ways to structure their thoughts.  They were guided to look at the way they currently do business, or the way they intend to do business, in ways they have never really thought of before, but upon reflection make sense.  And it allows them – more than allows – it demands of them, to put numbers on things that before were just nebulous ideas.

What else can they learn or what should they look for to improve on their path to success?

They’ve learned that in order to raise money for their enterprises they need to tell a good story.  Many of them, when we had our first communication seminar, did not tell a good story, but through subsequent practice they got better and some of them became outstanding.  So the number one thing that I think that they can do is practice their story with their friends, with their family, until they have a chance to practice it with people who are in a position to actually give them money.

The second thing they learned is to look at their business currently, whether it’s a service or a product that they are offering, and really dig into their contribution margins. There are a number of people who have showed us spreadsheets of their products and services and they have started to think in the following way: this is my revenue, this my variable cost, this is my contribution margin, this is my break-even.  Many of them will have other products and services that they will add in the future and they should probably apply that model for those as well.

Do you think the participants are ready to compete, to enter a contest with another company?

One of the parts of the course had to do with sizing up the market and your competitors so they recognized there is competition.  I think they got a little bit more realistic about what their competition really looks like.  There can be competition not only for someone that has an identical product to yourself, but also competition from substitutes, meaning you don’t necessarily have to take an airplane someplace – you can go by train or by car.

Do they have what it takes to compete? The reality of new startups is that over 90 per cent of them will fail and that’s just the nature of new startups.  If you fear failure then people will be risk averse, they won’t take chances and you cut down on the amount of ingenuity, the amount of product development in this world.  So, they are as on a level of playing field as anybody else at this point who has got a thought, an inspiration, a goal and now a business plan.

You said in your lecture that capitalism is based on failure. Can this piece of wisdom be discouraging to people?

Yes, it can, especially when you know ahead of time that 90 per cent of new entrants are going to fail. No one goes into it saying, I am going to be one of those 90 per cent. They go into it saying, I am going to be one of the 10 per cent. But the fact of the matter is there is 90 per cent chance you will be one of those 90 per cent.  It can be discouraging and that can be a good thing if you have something that is not feasible.  If it’s discouraging and you haven’t even given it a start then it’s probable that you were not cut out to be an entrepreneur.  And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

What is the difference between the North American entrepreneur and the SE Europe or Macedonian entrepreneur? What can we learn from Canada about doing business and driving your idea forward?

I think that there are maybe two distinguishing features.  The first would be access to capital. If you take a look at the North American market, there really are many different sources to access capital and we’ve gone through one dot-com boom in the late 90’s/early 2000’s that demonstrated how easy it was to get access to capital for many companies and it almost seems like we are going to go through it again.  That access to easy capital actually spurs optimism and it spurs risk taking, and you don’t really find that anywhere else in the world to that degree.  Macedonia does not have that type of infrastructure in place nor that history. So that’s number one.

The second difference is, you have people in Macedonia that might be coming from a background that isn’t necessarily wealth but they may have an idea for a company and they are going to give it a shot.  In North American you also have a number of people from backgrounds with financial means where they start with substantial amounts of capital behind them and then they say they are going to give it a shot. The difference between those is that if you don’t have sufficient means you don’t have long staying power.  You might have a great idea, but your cash could run out early.  A large initial cash cushion can sustain you for a longer period of time. The market is more forgiving for somebody who has more means behind them.

You could probably say that you will get more out of ideas that have a larger initial cash pile behind them, or you could argue that because people don’t have cash behind them they will know rather quickly if their idea is a success and this allows them to turn over ideas faster.  I think the jury is out right now about which type of environment is better.  One may be seen as a colossal waste of resources and the other may be seen as a more efficient use of resources.

Regarding the financial infrastructure of Macedonia, there are the banks and some financial services. What sort of financial tools and expertise is needed to increase the likelihood that entrepreneurs have better access to capital?

I’ve heard it said that nowhere is it easier for somebody to become a millionaire now than at any other point in history.  The reason being is you don’t have to sell a million dollar product to somebody to make it rich, you just have to sell a million products at a dollar each and the Internet allows people to do that. Whether your company is based here or in the US or anywhere else in the world, the Internet makes it a level playing ground and now it just comes down to having a service or a product that appeals to mass-market audiences.

It could be as simple as a kid who sold advertizing on a web page of his for one dollar per pixel and his page size was a thousand times a thousand pixels and so he made a million dollars immediately.  That really was quite impressive. That was just a fad that caught on.  It could also be as simple as somebody selling on the equivalent of eBay a piece of toast that looks like it has the likeness of Jesus Christ and that went for I think several thousand dollars and somebody ended up wanting to buy that.

So there is no shortage of global capital, it is just a question of how do you get your idea out to people so you have some type of tsunami of crowd interest.  That could just be a blog, a tweet, a Facebook post, a news item – something that catches and just goes viral.  But this type of viral marketing for the Internet anyone can tap.

Any advice you would like to give to entrepreneurs in Macedonia?

I think regardless of the product or the service that you have there are two things that are very important. The first is the crafting of your story.  If you do not have a 30 second elevator pitch that captivates someone’s attention then you will be hard pressed to garner interest in your business.  That’s extremely important as you embark upon fundraising and that story is only going to get more and more important in additional fundraising rounds.

The second is to have a really good understanding of what it is that your product or service does for your end customer.  If this customer benefit is evident and you fully grasp your contribution margins, then you are actually playing in a game in which you understand two of the biggest impediments to the progress of any new business.

Would you encourage people in Macedonia who believe they have a product or service that can go global, to reach out to investors from abroad.

Any type of capital nowadays is fully fungible into pretty much any type of currency.  The challenge is this:  If you reach out blindly to somebody and say, “Hey do you want to invest in my company?” that’s the equivalent of begging.  There has to be some type of tie-in, or some hook or a rationale as to why the investor really would want to invest with you.  Most people say they have a great idea without any thought as to whether the investor would think it is a great idea.

I think if there are synergies to be had between your company and the provider of capital then you dramatically increase the probability of getting funding.  Let me give you an example:  In our class we had a gentleman who had a business plan to plant a certain berry tree in Macedonia.  Now I don’t know what the market is for those berries around the world, but I have bought chocolate covered berries.  To the extent that there is a chocolate company that is looking to diversify their product line, perhaps the berry plant entrepreneur should approach them with a proposal where he supplies the berries for them to wrap in chocolate.  The chocolate maker and he could work together to make sure that he can plant sufficient amounts of trees for them.  That seems like a very natural flow of capital from the chocolate company to the berry plant entrepreneur.  It’s definitely more targeted than, “Oh I heard you have money, can I have some?”

John Lazarou graduated from The University of Toronto in Electrical Engineering and The University of Western Ontario with a Master’s in Business Administration. He has more than twenty years experience in money market marketing, credit derivative marketing, and equity derivative structuring. John provided advice and risk hedging solutions to hedge funds, Governments, and global banks.

John Lazarou has Macedonian heritage and he voluteered to come to Macedonia for the first time as a LEADER Project Instructor and was delighted with his stay here and for the chance to interact through education with entrepreneurs and young professionals.

Revisiting the LEADER Project in Skopje: The participants share their lasting impressions

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This March, Macedonia2025 hosted a ten-day, intensive business education course titled LEADER Project, which was first launched by the Richard Ivey School of Business in Canada in 1991, by MBA graduates from the school. This is the eighth time that this educational program is taking place in Macedonia and we are delighted for the impact it has on the people who participate in it.

This educational program helped transfer business leadership and analytical skills to 38 participants, most of them young professionals and entrepreneurs. We wish to share with the public the ways in which this educational program inspired progress and forward-thinking among Macedonian managers and entrepreneurs. After the final presentation’s graduation ceremony we asked some of them to give a concluding remark about their experience.

Ilija Trajkovski is the Human Resources manager of the Macedonian bakery chain Specijal. The company has been in business for 24 years and employs 200 people. Ilija told us: “With this approach in transferring skills and the tendency with which Macedonia2025 organized this event, I believe Macedonia can reach important milestones by 2025. I want to thank you for helping put together this amazing experience and I want to thank the instructors who came from Canada to teach us new approaches in the ways how to do business.”

Dejan Dimitrovski is Technology Development Manager at Nextsense- a leading Macedonian IT company focused on developing solutions to help companies improve their business performance. Following his presentation Dejan said: “I met wonderful entrepreneurs and made great new friends at the LEADER Project. The instructors dedicated great effort to give us the best from their knowledge and experience. Now I really feel ready for the next level.”

Elena Gjorevska is a young entrepreneur who owned a hotel that she named Idila. She later partnered with another entrepreneur to found the Idila Terzieva home for the care of the elderly, which is one of the best resorts of this kind in Macedonia. Elena said she now really understands the meaning of the expression “thinking out of the box.” Besides meeting new and exciting people, entrepreneurs like herself, she said that she learned new directions in analyzing numbers- “something that I use in my day to day duties that really helps me put things into perspective.” Elena arranged for few of the instructors to visit the resort to analyze together what could be improved or introduced as new there.

Milorad Milenkovski works as an Export Manager in the Macedonian healthy food company Vitalia. His company is a Macedonian success story: it started out small to become a brand that sells a whole range of products on nearly all continents. Milorad said it had been an honor to be part of the team of leaders and experience that great energy. He thanked the instructors for their dedication and patience and Macedonia2025 for bringing closer the North American approach of doing business to Macedonia.

Lidija Pecov is the CEO and Editor of EntreHub Europe. Even though she is an experienced professional, she acquired many valuable insights at the LEADER Project, which she said will help her to further her career. Lidija said she was honored for having the opportunity to listen to Mike Zafirovski give a lecture on leadership and building up a corporate strategy. “The LEADER project was amazing and it made me believe and be more determined to try and help the younger generation of Macedonia. My goal is to find innovative ways in steering young people towards a more positive and prospective mind-set.”

Ljupco Efremov has PhD in Psychology and works as a Senior Research Consultant for the analytical house GfK in Skopje. Ljupco is also a lecturer in Market Research at University American College in Skopje and the School of Journalism and Public Relations.  He said he saw a posting about the LEADER Project on the Macedonia2025 Facebook page and he immediately knew that he could use in his career what was promoted. Ljupco told us that he had been looking for a training of this sort, which would expand his horizons and entrepreneurial skills. “That happened on many different levels,” said he and added, “programs of this quality, such as the LEADER Project, are extremely rare in Macedonia. I am very happy that I had a chance to experience an Canadian MBA classroom right here in Skopje.”

Macedonia2025 wants to thank the Canadian partners at the Canadian Embassy- H. E. Ambassador Philip Pinnington and the Richard Ivey School of Business, for presenting us with the opportunity to be one of the LEADER Project sites around the world.

A speacial note goes to the people who support Macedonia2025 and our Corporate Partners who are contributing to the development of Macedonia by supporting the educational initiatives of our organization.

Presenting fine food and wine from Macedonia at the Paris Business Forum, provided exclusively by Tikves, biMilk and MAMAs

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Macedonia has a long-lasting tradition in wine making. A fine testament to that are the large, bronze wine-storing vessels called krateri, as well as the ornate drinking cups that have been discovered in archeological sites throughout the country. There are also many local legends about priests who have tended village festivals and drank the best wine offered by the wealthy households. Macedonia’s tradition as a wine-making country started to reach connoisseurs around the world recently, after prominent domestic companies began to bottle, brand and export their best vintage. Tikves Winery is one of the wineries to “blame” for the publicity Macedonian wine gained around the world. The company is the oldest and largest net exporter of wine from Macedonia and it is our pleasure that we will serve their vintage at the Paris Business Forum.

Besides wine, cheese has also been produced in Macedonia for centuries. The territory of the country is covered in hills and mountains. In fact, 2/3 of the 25,000 square kilometers are mountains- an ideal geography for the pastoral life of rural Macedonia. The palette of milk products that are made in Macedonia is wide: sirenje or white cheese, kashkaval or yellow cheese, urda or cottage cheese, mashtenica or sour cream, kajmak or skim cheese and more. The most prominent producer of dairy products in Macedonia is biMilk, located in Bitola, which sources milk from farmers located in pristine environments across the country. Those attending the Business Forum in Paris will have a chance to taste pure white cheese from Macedonia made by biMilk.

Ajvar is a spread made of red peppers and eggplants that goes best white cheese. The product is so delicious that today Ajvar is sold allover the world. However, the best Ajvar is made in Macedonia and the best producer is the Skopje-based company MAMA’s, which sources its peppers from Strumica- the best pepper-growing region, probably in all of Europe. MAMA’s founders went around Macedonia writing down hundreds of recipes. After making every single recipe, they picked the best and improved it to offer the most delicious Ajvar in the world. Guests of the Business Forum in Paris will have the opportunity to taste MAMA’s Ajvar.

The Business Forum in Paris is coming on June 26. We are happy that we have managed to get the attention of renowned professionals from France, Macedonia and other European countries, who will give their insights on how Macedonia can attract foreign investors and expand trade with countries in Europe. The Forum is a great event for Macedonians from around Europe to meet, network and cooperate. We invite you to have a look at the event’s list of speakers and agenda and to register and be part of the Forum.

Professor Mile Terziovski at the Leadership Series Workshop: It is much more rewarding when you participate in the development of your country

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Professor Mile Terziovski gave a lecture yesterday, at the Museum of Macedonian Struggle in Skopje to an auditorium of sixty young entrepreneurs and university professors. The event titled “Re-engineering the Organization through Innovation and Entrepreneurship” was split in two parts. The lecture was followed by a workshop which guided the attendees in an interactive implementation of the main conclusions towards re-engineering a real organization. The attendees used these examples and gave a brief presentation regarding their own business or business idea.

Professor Terziovski shared the presentation that he recently gave at a ceremony at the Bangladesh University of Business and Technology in front of 4000 students. He introduced his presentation with the question What is an entrepreneurial personality, gave his own definition for the word entrepreneur and continued to reflect on his understanding of the Macedonian society, culture and education and the ongoing state of progress in relation with the main conclusions of the leading trends in the world, in what he called the extreme future.

He said that there is war for talent around the world. Countries and entire sectors are working hard to attract hard-working young people and professionals. In Macedonia, Professor Terziovski said, there are two trends regarding this issue- young people moving out and at the same time investments coming in, which causes disparity down the road. He said he has nothing against that people are looking to start or continue their career elsewhere, but he reminded young people that it is much more rewarding when one participates in the development of his or her own country. “The investments that are here can expand and send an impulse to other potential investors, if there is a good source of quality work-force and talent to supply the demand of developing sectors.” “Macedonia is not the only country with this issue,” he said, adding that “1.4 million Australians are living abroad.” Indeed, two of the attendees in the auditorium had actually come from Australia to live and work in Macedonia. “Think twice before you start thinking about moving out,” advised he.

Professor Terziovski noted an article from The Economist saying that economies which are based on entrepreneurship outperform economies which are not. He thinks that Macedonia is developing a culture of entrepreneurship and should continue this trend with the support of relevant organizations, institutions and individuals who can help in any way they can. He also urged universities in the country to reach out- join international projects, develop the best curriculum, best teaching methods and hands-on experience for a niche field, such as IT which has good prospects in Macedonia but still, there is a shortage of work-ready individuals. “Countries with responsive, agile education systems are best-placed to resolve the issues that are coming along and Macedonia needs to develop Generation Y managers.”

He advised that Macedonian universities should expand their capacity to absorb new knowledge and know-how. “There are hundreds of Macedonian professors, academicians around the world, who have been educated or who had become experts abroad. There are people who are eager to cooperate. Leverage their knowledge. Replicate it, bring it forth, share it and keep experts in the house.” Professor Terziovski compared the Macedonian system of higher education with universities around the world that he is familiar with, and pointed that “there is too much structure in universities here and structure stifles innovation. The university must be conducive to sharing information and knowledge between departments and professors.” Upon opening the floor for questions or comments, the younger generation was delightfully more eager to participate than the clique of academics who withheld their inquiries.

Concluding with the role of universities and education as a pre-requisite for good practices towards innovation in the workplace, Professor Terziovski went on to discuss the ways to build innovation capability and the various degrees of leadership involvement and the dilemma of profit versus control. Also, he offered a number of infographics on making career choices, sources of entrepreneurial motivation and source of new business ideas. The groups in the workshop had to explain why their subject business model needs to be reengineered, the characteristics of the new or improved business model and the leadership style to lead the process of change in the company.

Professor Mile Terziovski is Dean of the Curtin Graduate School of Business in Perth, Australia. He taught at the University of Melbourne for 10 years, Monash University for 4 years and worked for Rio Tinto Ltd for 17 years as an Engineer in line and project management roles. Professor Terziovski has consulted to a diverse group of companies both large and small, including Motorola, Dow Chemical, Ford Australia, PETRONAS in Malaysia, and companies in France: Merck, IBM, Xerox, and La Poste. He has served on the President’s Advisory Council for innovation and Entrepreneurship, established by the former President of the Republic of Macedonia. He is a Former Deputy Chair of the Academic Board, at the Australian Institute of Management in Melbourne. Professor Terzivoski is an Honorary Board Member of Macedonia2025.