Mr. John I. Bitove, sits on the Board of Directors of Macedonia 2025 as a Chair of Business Development and Events Committee. He has a distinguished record of accomplishments in the corporate and sports endeavors as well as the community service in Canada. He is the principal shareholder of Obelysk, which controls several businesses in Canada.
Gragjanski: Economic development is in the focus of your engagements. How can you (Macedonia 2025) assist in that regard?
|JB: Macedonia 2025 has been assisting in many regards to help support economic development in Macedonia. There are two important parts of economic development. One is to attract and retain foreign investors, the other is to build an innovative, competitive atmosphere where entrepreneurs are able to strive and be successful. Our goal is to assist on both fronts. We have good relations with Invest in Macedonia and we have successfully worked with them in the past on getting companies to invest in Macedonia and we continue to do so. We are also hosting a Global Investment Summit this October to help attract investors, including members of the diaspora, where opportunities in Macedonia can be explored and discussed. We also host economic roundtables where we discuss the business environment with local business leaders, we work towards identifying issues and discuss potential ways to improve the atmosphere. We also are advocates for increased mentoring and skill development labs within Macedonian companies. This allows employees an opportunity to increase skill sets and innovation within a company.|
Macedonia 2025 has also developed programs to help young professionals and university students through our education program. With our executive education program, we work to provide young professionals the opportunity to develop academically and professionally. In fact, some of my companies have helped these students with internships for a few months, where they work and interact with our employees to see first hand how we operate. Internally in Macedonia, we host programs that assist in encouraging university students to excel and explore opportunities around them.
Economic growth must come from both investment and development of the current state, but also development and investment in the youth of today.
Gragjanski: What are the biggest benefits of the system in Canada that stimulate investments and business development?
JB: All modern democracies have programs to assist in stimulating investment and development. It never falls to one group or person to get it going. There are roles at the national, state or provincial level, city or town and even in local communities. It just takes both the government to want to do it and, just as importantly, people who want to take advantage of these programs to be successful in business. You cannot run these programs as employment agencies. They have to be set up and accountable to achieve success by creating programs that work.
Gragjanski: Do you have plans to invest in Macedonia?
JB: We are not set up as an organization to do direct investing, but hope to help those who are interested by providing insight and encouragement to invest in Macedonia.
Gragjanski: According to your perception, what are the main advantages and main disadvantages of Macedonia as business destination?
JB: The main advantages to investing in a country such as Macedonia are obvious and can be utilized to the countries advantage. First of all you are strategically located between Europe, Asia and Africa. Secondly there is a highly educated and trained workforce at wages that are very, very competitive on a European basis. These are some of the reasons companies now see Macedonia as a good place to invest.
Gragjanski: What key reforms you would suggest in order to improve the business climate and, moreover to achieve high economic growth in the long run?
JB: A few areas that can be improved to assist in strengthening the economic growth in country are to further develop and encourage entrepreneurship, innovation, and competitiveness. It is also important to have an efficient and resilient governance and judicial system to ensure basic public services and trade ethics. Accountability and transparency are still highly important when it comes to the governance of the government and within corporate practices. If the governments are not seen as fighting organized crime, supporting an independent court system and protecting basic rights of investors, then all of this will be a waste.
Gragjanski: Do you see Macedonia as under-developed country stuck in the transition process or as a modern and developed economy?
|JB: Macedonia is a developing country still going through many transitions, but I do not believe the country is stuck by any means. There are many areas that improvements are crucial to its development in the global markets, but overall, Macedonia has done a good job with growth. Considering the Eurozone crisis and difficulties many developed economies are facing, Macedonia has shown its ability to stay strong and keeps a consistent rate of improvement and growth that shows its potential. This is never easy, but patience and commitment in the end will always pay off versus doing nothing.|
Gragjanski: In Macedonia, political issues dominate over the economic ones. Is this according to your consideration, due to the fact that the country has 31% level of poverty and nearly same level of unemployment and what would be the best option according to you, to change these “priorities”?
JB: Unfortunately, political issues dominate in many countries. Here in Canada every few years we are faced with the issue of possible separation of the French speaking Province of Quebec. It dominates all federal issues when it arises but that is life in a democracy. Macedonia has good fundamentals to attract foreign investment and that is what is important. As the economic environment improves, political issues will seem less important, but they will always exist.
Gragjanski: The business sector in Macedonia is very much dependent on state budget money (around 70% of the private market contracts is with government/state institutions) and therefore, this makes the private sector very much dependent on political party in power. Is this the case in Canada?
JB: NO and this will change over time in Macedonia too. When the economy is not growing fast then governments invest more in the economy than in good times, this is done everywhere. Now certain political parties may have different strategies regarding what sectors to invest in, but they really are not based on party affiliations as much as what will be the best return for the investment.
Gragjanski: Considering that you were managing the basketball team Toronto Raptors, do you have any advice how we can build a true sport nation?
JB: All of us were thrilled last year with the performance of the Macedonia national basketball team. I myself watched most of the games on the internet. The team played with passion and sacrificed themselves as a team member to win. That’s what it takes in sport as well as nation building. Everyone has a role and with good coaching and teamwork there is always success. I think Macedonia should become a sporting nation because in today’s multi media world it brings credibility to the countries who win internationally. I think there are some good summer sports we can select to concentrate on like basketball and handball to play strong internationally. But I also think, (and please don’t laugh) that the country should look at ice hockey as an international sport to participate in. Some of the best players in the National Hockey League are Macedonian. I don’t know why this exists, maybe we are all strong and swift athletes as a people. But whatever it is if these players can help develop a national team we may one day play for Olympic medals.
Gragjanski: Macedonian companies that are modern and competitive abroad are few. What will help the corporate sector develop more dynamically and become competitive in international terms?
JB: I think you are on the way to developing companies that can compete abroad aggressively. I myself have met and talked with the Seavus group and they are doing great things. People have to realize you cannot build a multinational company in a few years. It takes a lot of time and patience. What is important is these companies have the right kind of leaders running them, who set a standard of work and ethics that the employees believe in. And together they go after global aspirations. It’s really that simple. To look beyond Macedonia, the Balkans or Southeast Europe and say “we can build a leading global company”. It doesn’t matter if they are from Macedonia, people don’t care who makes their goods and products as much as when they buy it they are happy with the purchase.
Gragjanski: Considering that one of the engagements of Macedonia 2025 is lobbying with foreign investors to invest in Macedonia, what is their perception of the country, what are they mostly interested in regard to taking an investment decision?
JB: First of all, most investors are unaware of Macedonia and where it is. So we start at a disadvantage but it is easy to change that with giving them the facts. Lets face it, we are only 20 years old and with our small size we have some educating to do. Macedonia 2025 works with organizations, like Invest in Macedonia, to attract foreign investors to Macedonia. Through this relationship we talk to the people who are involved in assessing Macedonia as a place to invest. We discuss their strategies and options and lobby hard about why The Republic of Macedonia is the best place for them to make their next investment. Direct investors tend to look for a number of things when determining where to invest. A few of these items are the rules and regulations pertaining to entry and operating in a country for the foreign investor, restrictions on home earning and profits, the standards of treatment, the functionality and efficiency of the market, other general economic indicators such as taxes on capital gain, quality of domestic accounting, reliability of dispute settlement systems, the degree of protection for investor’s rights, and of course the wages and skill levels of the employees.
Gragjanski: Did you meet Mr. Gruevski and do you have information of some Canadian companies that have intention to invest in Macedonia?
JB: We work with Invest in Macedonia and the Prime Minister’s Office to assist any way we can in attracting companies to Macedonia. We have so far had successfully cooperation with companies like Johnson Control, Johnson Mattheys, and Kemet who have all recently invested in Macedonia and some are already expanding. I personally know Export Packers, a large Canadian poultry company has started to invest there. One by one we will keep adding companies. The Prime Minister is a great salesman for Macedonia and he has to keep doing what he has been doing to attract foreign investment.