In 2020, Germany’s Leoni will be employing over 10,000 people, which will make this company the biggest employer in the industrial sector in Serbia. The new factory in Kraljevo will employ 5000 by 2023, and will be the biggest contributor to the employment in Leoni. When the factory is completed, Serbia will be the only European country within the Wiring System Division with four production units.
Leoni is a global provider of products, solutions and services for energy and data management in the automotive sector and other industries. It has big plans for Serbia, which was confirmed at the semi-annual meeting of managing directors, held outside Germany for the first time in 10 years, in Niš in late September last year.
The company quoted the availability of workforce, a remarkable work ethic and the level of expertise of people in Serbia, as well as the flexibility and the openness of Serbia, as the reasons to choose the country as an important destinations of its investments.
We spoke with Clemens Sachs and Danijela Ivković, Managing Directors of LEONI Wiring Systems Southeast d.o.o.
This year, LEONI Serbia marks 10 years since its establishment and launch of operations. With this experience behind you, what message do you have for your fellow investors from Germany? Why should they invest in Serbia?
— Mr. Sachs: I can say from LEONI experience of doing business here, that Serbia is very interesting country to invest in, at first, in point of labor market, then for the support from the Government and also, which is important for our labor business, are people here who have a good mindset and want to develop and to improve the country.
What stages of your decade – long operations in Serbia would you say were crucial for your business?
— Mrs. Ivković: As you may know, we started our business in Serbia in 2009, opening our first plant in Prokuplje. That was the most important moment for our company which made foundation for our further investments in Serbia. After that, followed next very important stages: opening plant in Malošiste (Doljevac Municipality) in 2014; opening plant in Niš in 2017 and start of construction works for our fourth plant, in Kraljevo in 2018.
Kraljevo eagerly awaits the beginning of the construction of your new factory. Considering the pace of the construction work, do you think you’ll be able to implement the original plan?
— Mr. Sachs: Our fourth plant, in Kraljevo will be our biggest plant in Serbia with approximately 50.000 m2 production area and 5.000 new working places. According to our current progress, we are fully in line with our planning and we do not see any deviation, meaning that the project is not under risk and is not below the scheduling.
After this factory is finished, are you planning more investments in Serbia?
— Mrs. Ivković: After plant in Kraljevo is finished, we will continue to develop our current business in our existing plants. What we will try to fight for in the near future is to establish LEONI Serbia Research & Development Center which will be of big importance to our next projects.
Business people here often say that they are faced with the lack of quality staff. Why are you so confident that you will be able to find the needed 5,000 workers in Kraljevo by 2023?
— Mr. Sachs: I would say, no master is falling from the sky. What we are doing here, which is LEONI philosophy, to make a good selection process, to recruit people who are capable and to give them necessary training that will bring them on a level to work according to our requirements. We have chosen Kraljevo location based on our investigation which shown that there is a potential to found this planned number of people to employ.
Do you think that the projected slowdown of the German economy could jeopardize your plans in Serbia?
— Mr. Sachs: When we are speaking about automotive business in Germany, there is a short decrease, but we are not expecting to have downsizing here in Serbia. Our business here is split in producing for two premium customers, for BMW and for Mercedes Benz which both are showing stable yearly increase, producing more cars.
How many students have applied for your scholarship competition?
— Mrs. Ivković: Last year LEONI Serbia started for the first time its scholarship program. So far we granted 15 scholarships to best students from Niš University. I am very proud that till now, 6 of them, after graduation, got the opportunity to start their professional career in our company. This year we continue with the program too. The selection process is still ongoing, and I hope, when finished, we will got another, second generation of best sholars that our company will support in their education and that they will later join our big LEONI Serbia team.
What kind of worker profile do you miss the most in Serbia?
— Mr. Sachs: What we are seeing on the labor market in Serbia that more and more people are leaving the country looking for a job. The one trend is that people are leaving Serbia to go abroad to work, and the other is that people are going to the capital Belgrade where they have more opportunities to work than in other parts of Serbia. In our business, we “feel” the consequences of these trends also, specially facing with lack of qualified quality control engineers, production engineers, industrial engineers.