Meet the young businessman Emil Hristov, who has three firms in the U.S., Canada and Macedonia, construction and solar energy
By Sonja Madzovski
SM: Mr. Hristov, you left very young to the United States, firstly alone and later followed by your parents. Does that mean that you learned what it means to be independent and alone at 15 years of age?
EH: I went to America as a high school student. I went as a child, separated from the family, which was a great lesson for autonomy and independence. Then I enrolled at the Faculty of Architecture, although I was more interested in finance. But in America, when they (immigrants) arive, for example Italians become chefs so they open restaurants and thus Macedonians become builders. Even during the studies I had contacts with top construction experts. In the meantime, my parents moved to America. We opened a construction company. We started with construction of apartments. Started without any capital. I did not borrow a dollar and I did not have a dollar. I needed a startup capital that I did not have, but I had a picture of what I want to accomplish. I knew that I was not going to be able to do it all at once, so I started with small projects, did parking lots and roofs. I used to find work, and other firms performed projects. I was a broker, but well paid, up to $ 5,000 a week. The most important thing was to build credibility and trust with the people I worked with. In a year I already had 30 employees in the company and a sale of $ 3 million.
SM: Why was America the country in which you saw the fulfillment of your dreams and happiness, and how much work was crucial for success?
EH: Luck and talents are only 10%, everything else is hard work. I worked for 20 hours and slept only 4 hours. Thus began the development of the business. One success brought a new one. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you are constantly searching for new opportunities. We organize the work and in certain projects we engage up to 200 people. We started with commercial projects. Built for pharmaceutical companies, but then went to collaboration with state institutions. Today we are building schools, kindergartens, courts, municipalities.
SM: Construction business was one of the hardest hit sectors during the crisis. Is it hard to be an entrepreneur in America?
EH: People use to get into investments much quicker, no one regarded the efficiency. The crisis has changed a few things; now most of the companies want to prove themselves by offering quality. We as a small company made it during the crisis. Our motto was to continue to improve. Construction sector fell and the payment was disastrous. In that time 20 percent of our business was focused on private projects, and 80 on state funded projects. But within a year the situation completely changed. The state has been a reliable payer, and stimulated the construction of civil projects. New schools were built and old ones were renovated. We refocused the business in time. That is why we grew in a time of crisis and in the most sensitive construction sector. At that time I went to China. The fact that all materials we used in our projects were from China, inspired me to make that trip. Now all materials are received directly from there.
SM: Following the successful expansion of your business in the U.S. and Canada, it was crucial to open a company in Macedonia?
EH: Major corporations during the crisis have begun to move the business in India and China, and I did not have the need to go there, instead I decided to open a company in Macedonia. In the same time I became a member of the organization “Macedonia 2025”. I did not know Mike Zafirovski, I simply wanted to help. I was looking for a way to keep my company profitable, thus I decided to move only one part of the business, one that makes the estimates of the construction projects. The main reason I came to Macedonia was to reduce the cost, and now is a strategic point.
SM: What does your company in Macedonia specifically do?
EH: In Macedonia, the company operates as a design firm. This is where we make assessments. In Macedonia we design projects for solar panels in millions, and then we implement them in America. Our firm in Skopje and Strumica has 20 employees that make the expertise. Mainly they are electrical engineers and architects, but there’s one with completed traffic school. The most important thing is whether these people want to learn, and more importantly want to work. If you choose the right people and build trust, it is the key that brings success.
SM: How do you assess the conditions for doing business in Macedonia? You are emotionally tied to our country, but when looking at only the business, are these conditions very different, is there an earning potential in our country?
EH: The potential is there, if we focus on success and if we look long term, not just for today. It is also necessary that we have healthy local companies, but it is good when foreign companies come and bring knowledge that we cannot buy ourselves. We can translate a million books, but if there is no one to transfer knowledge and properly apply it, then is all for nothing. There is hope, there are changes being made in the field of education. Maybe it will be difficult for another ten years but that is not a long period. Twenty years we have just waited and talked, and now there is movement, but still there are a lot of things to be improved.
SM: In our country in recent years, construction firms are very engaged, but there are more monuments built than there are investments in the infrastructure, construction of roads, railways, power plants.
EH: I’ll give you one example. A friend from Western Europe, who I welcomed at the Thessaloniki airport, while traveling on the highway “Alexander the Macedonian”, asked me whether this is a local road or highway because there were no vehicles. I think that it’s greater investment today to bring the right people, knowledge, and technologies. Infrastructure is not that crucial to get the investors. There should be a movement. Many people are already asking about Macedonia. Key player is the Diaspora, they are emotionally attached to the land and it will be easier for them to decide to come. Until recently they were afraid, there were bad examples. The picture on the functionality of the administration is still bad, it needs to become more efficient, the judiciary system as well. There’s room for improvement.
SM: The summit, organized by “Macedonia 2025” in October is seen as a great chance. There will be businessmen attending from the world-famous companies. What will you recommend them?
Recommendations are two ways. First, our businesses need to realize that without education, implementing new technologies, there is no progress. They cannot work the same, and expect something new to happen. There is a lack of investment in knowledge. Directors must not behave like dictators. They are managers, and they need to learn to manage. As in sports, everybody should know their place. The coach cannot organize the game and make goals in the same time. Leader is one who multiplies the leaders, who shows openness to new knowledge, opportunities and innovation application. We are aware that things cannot change overnight, but you have to move in that direction and follow the successful examples. Some of them are foreign investors, “Johnson Controls” and “Johnson Matthey”. Recommendation to investors is that Macedonia has the potential for their business interests. The cheap labor and agricultural resources of Macedonia are only few of them.
To local businessmen I recommend to focus on production of products with higher added value. That way they’ll become more competitive.
SOURCE: UTRINSKI VESNIK