Lou Naumovski was born in Bitola, worked in Ottawa, Atlanta, Bagdhad, Moscow and London. This interview is an exciting journey as we follow Lou from one foreign city to another and understand some of the personal and professional challenges that he faced.
What motivated him and how did he do it? Read on and enjoy the second installment of our interviews with Macedonia 2025 Board Members.
Macedonia 2025 – Your career started in the Canadian Foreign Service, what attracted you to that profession?
Lou Naumovski – Growing up in Canada as an immigrant, I was very conscious of the differences between people in Canada, and very proud of the fact that we were free to speak our own Macedonian language and practice our religion. Canada is a country that welcomed us as immigrants from Yugoslavia, but that also had its own unique history of having been founded by two different ethnic groups; the French and English and promoted these two languages and cultures, while at the same time encouraging us to maintain our own identity.
While traveling with my family back to what was still Yugoslavia in 1972 for the first time since we emigrated, I began to understand that my ambition and destiny was to use my Macedonian heritage, my love of languages and what I felt was my ability to bridge a number of different cultures in service to my adopted country.
As a first-generation Canadian, I wanted to be able to show the rest of the world that Canada was also made up newer immigrants who were making significant contributions to Canada. I also was very proud that I, as an ethnic Macedonian, could be selected through a very competitive process to represent Canada. For ten years in three different foreign postings I was thrilled to be able to live my dream.
Macedonia 2025 – Even after leaving the foreign service your career continued to flourish with stops in Moscow and London. Relocating to different counties must have been demanding on you and your family. What type of challenges did that present?
Lou Naumovski – Before having children, my wife and I were very excited at the prospect of moving on a regular basis. The first three or four moves were not difficult – apart from the tedium of packing and unpacking. Whatever fatigue we experienced was always offset by the excitement, the colour and the new challenges that each new posting represented.
This was also true of the new professional assignments that I undertook. Looking back at my career so far I am most proud of the fact that I have been able to make successful moves into a wide variety of professional areas: as a specialist on trade promotion and development, then into starting up a business association, then to project and corporate financing of significant capital projects, from there into financial and payment services, and most recently into the gold industry.
A lot of my ability to move into new areas was developed early in my career as a trade commissioner when I had to be flexible enough and willing and able to learn about fields as diverse as agriculture and animal genetics, farm equipment, defence products, wood working technology and equipment, construction materials, etc. This was also true at the European bank where I made loans in the steel industry, and the satellite launching sector; in the automotive industry and in pulp and paper. Whenever making a new job decision, I always focused on the opportunity to learn new things and to be able to apply whatever management skills I had acquired along the way in new settings, environments and even in new cultures and languages.
I suppose my emphasis on roles in Russia indicates that I have felt most at home in this Slavic country where my own upbringing and facility in Slavic languages has made it easier for me to thrive there than in other places. However, with children and with the passing of time, the wanderlust and physical endurance to be able to withstand time zone changes and long-haul flights has diminished somewhat.
Macedonia 2025 – Working in different countries requires not only an adjustment for the family, but also an adjustment to your work habits, so that you can adapt to your new office environment. What traditions and cultural behaviors surprised you the most?
Lou Naumovski – I have been very fortunate to be able to launch several “start-ups” where I have been able to recruit staff and colleagues, and to begin operations by putting my own stamp on what culture eventually took hold in the workplace. As a result, I have always been able to start my day early (in Baghdad that meant getting into the office at 0600 hrs for an hour of Arabic language study before the work day began at 0700 hrs), to have an open-plan office and an open-door policy in respect of communications with my colleagues.
I have also always empowered younger staff members in a way that they would never be empowered in organisations managed by local managers. Effectively, no matter what country I have worked in, I have tried to apply a Canadian work ethic, but to do so by adopting the local culture and to using the local language.
Russians and even Iraqis were very responsive to my approach, and the highest praise I have ever experienced in my professional life is when numerous young Russian colleagues have told my how happy and inspired they are in working in offices that I have managed.
I suppose the biggest surprise I have had in a cultural sense was in Baghdad, where I found that the “Asian” approach to business and personal relations made open, honest interaction very difficult, if not impossible. People really were inscrutable and it was very difficult to distinguish between your true friends and those with an ulterior motive in their relationships with you. I overcame this by continuing to be “Canadian’ and open, honest and consistent with my interlocutors to the point where I could convince them that what they saw in me was exactly what they could expect to get.
Although Russians are only slightly less “Asian” in this respect, my consistently open behavior has also served me well in Russia. In both cultures, the ability to speak the language and related to the local people has paid great dividends. Sadly, 21 years after having left Baghdad, I have had almost no opportunity to retain the level of Arabic language that I once had.
Macedonia 2025 – During your time at Visa one of your many regional responsibilities was Russia and the former Soviet republics. There is a great discrepancy in prosperity between some of the former Soviet republics – some are in the EU and others are handling their transition to democracy and an open market economy with great difficulty. Are there any examples that Macedonia can learn from?
Lou Naumovski – Until the onset of the deep crisis in the Baltic States, I would have said that Macedonia would have a lot to learn from countries like Estonia and Latvia. Although the economic crisis has hurt both of these countries and caused significant reductions in GDP over the last year, they have still made a lot of progress in economic and policy modernization, with greater transparency in government and the bureaucracy, significant and quick returns in privatization, and a thorough modernization of banking and infrastructure.
Unfortunately, their expansion of credit and intense investment activity has also hurt them in the recession. Despite this fact, Macedonia can learn a lot from how quickly and thorough these countries reformed. I do not see too many other good examples in either politics or economics that I would recommend Macedonia adopts from the remaining former Soviet States.
This is certainly true for Ukraine in respect of the contributions if their Diaspora to encouraging investment or direct financial assistance. There has not been a consistency of purpose or a consensus amongst the Ukrainian Diaspora on how to assist Ukraine. One area where they have certainly contributed, on the other hand, is in supplying both bureaucrats and business managers to Ukrainian business. Some were still surprised that Russian was in fact the language of business and commerce, and have struggled when trying to work in Kyiv or in Eastern Ukraine, as opposed to the more nationalistic Western Ukraine. The Ukrainian Diaspora as well has, in m opinion, also focused too much on politics.
The Armenian Diaspora, on the other hand, has left politics alone and focused most of its assistance in remittances to Armenia and support for small business.
Macedonia 2025 – Tell us something not too many people know about Lou Naumovski.
Lou Naumovski – Most people may not know that until I was 17, I sang in a chamber choir, and that I once entertained the thought of pursuing a musical education in University. Lucky, for the rest of the world the Director of the Hart House Chorus at the University of Toronto was a good judge of talent or the lack thereof. Finally, many people would be surprised to learn that I love curling, and that right through university I was a pretty decent competitive curler. My Macedonian grandparents were more than a little amused that someone would actually choose to sweep for fun – on ice no less!