DRAGAN SIMOVIĆ, General Manager of Gebrüder Weiss Serbia, Member of Managing Board of AHK Serbia, adviser to first deputy PM for international economic cooperation: Continuity is One of the SECRETS OF SUCCESS

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Today, Gebrüder Weiss (GW) is a globally active company, and its development in the transport and logistics sector has been going on for over 500 years. The company’s history also reflects the political and economic development of the Austrian region and other parts of Europe.

How much can Serbia learn from the business principles of family-run companies that have evolved into big international companies like GW?

— Gebrüder Weiss is the oldest Austrian freight forwarding company, which has remained family-owned since its inception and is one of the oldest family-owned companies in Europe. The advantage of such companies is the quick communication with the owners and the Board of Directors, unlike in large multinational companies which have a clear organizational structure in which it takes branches a long time to reach the top management. Serbia can learn how to get involved in the development of required workforce. In Austria, Gebrüder Weiss has been committed to participating in dual education for almost 80 years. At this moment, 233 students are given the opportunity to train in 30 locations in several countries, and many students are now employed in our company. We are proud of the fact that, last year, in Serbia, GW signed a dual education agreement with a Traffic Engineering High School in Zemun, and that we currently have six second- grade students. What impressed us the most was the fact that pupils were responsible, diligent and eager to get to work. In 2019, we applied for another three new students, and in 2020, we are going to apply for six more. The biggest advantage of dual education is that it is a ‘win-win’ situation for both young people and employers. Students have a great opportunity for employment after completing quality education, while, on the other hand, companies get qualified and trained workforce

Gebrüder Weiss operates in all countries of the region. What are the benefits of cooperating with a company which customers can rely on in any Western Balkan country?

— In addition to its presence in Europe and the Balkans, GW is growing eastward – toward Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Armenia, and the countries on the Silk Road route. Certainly, it is a great advantage that companies that need our services have one logistics provider that can service them from one centre. For example, if a multinational company comes to this region, they usually choose Belgrade as a seat. In this way, they globalize their business and they don’t need to have agreements with five different offices in five different countries. On the contrary, they conclude an agreement with a single office and as a result, operate in all territories. This is how they cut costs, save time and resources, and get a superior service. Strict standards implemented by companies require high performance logistic solutions. From procurement through production and delivery to the spare parts market – today, a perfectly functional logistics chain is crucial in the market game. On top of that, if it takes just one company to round off a business in an entire region, everyone is winning.

Does Serbia have favourable conditions for attracting new investors in the automotive industry, and what is the situation with the logistics sector?

— The current government has done a lot in the last couple of years to improve the economic environment. Reforms have taken place, and the state is helping a lot of foreign investors. Serbia’s development agency is also of great assistance to big investors, and there is an increasing number of family-run companies that are coming to Serbia. For instance, China is no longer interesting as an investment destination, because it ties in the capital for far too long – there is a long way from production to delivery. On the other hand, it is pretty obvious that in this region, and compared to Bulgaria and Romania, Serbia is the best investment destination. There are many factors that have contributed to this, but I would like to underline the quality of the workforce. It is precisely for this reason that Serbia has imposed itself primarily on Germany, which already has a good experience with the Serbian workforce. The biggest problem that European countries are facing is workforce. Serbia is No. 1 because it has a professional and educated workforce and I think that that is the most important thing in attracting foreign investors; much more important than, let’s say, cheap labour.

You put a great deal of focus on development of your employees. What employee training programmes do you run?

— The company is made of employees, and if you want to progress, you have to invest in your employees who are professional, valuable and loyal. And if you do not have that, your business can fold like a house of cards. Gebrüder Weiss sees its employees as its biggest capital and puts their satisfaction at the forefront. Investing in our employees is an investment in the future of the company. Continuity is one of the secrets of Gebrüder Weiss’ success. Through continuous professional training and seminars, we ensure a high level of professionalism in our business. We have helped our employees to build a foundation for their careers in our company through education and training programmes. GW views professional training and improvement as a strategic success factor. Employees should be prepared for current and future requirements in the company. We also pay a great deal of attention to having a wide range of various types of training which is why, back in 1988, we set up a foundation that finances training programmes. With young people, university graduates and people with a big potential in mind, Gebrüder Weiss has devised a training programme and a programme for boosting one’s potential called OrangeFuture. This training programme was set up in 2004 and since then has been regularly implemented. The programme lasts for one year and during that period, attendees work for several sectors in the company which, subsequently, gives them a wide range of work competencies. This is a life-long learning.

What are the company’s further plans in regard to development of its services?

— In February this year, we agreed on a new, 3-million-euro investment in our warehouses in Serbia. So far, GW has invested 17 million euro in Serbia and we are continuing to do so. We got more business with the arrival of multinational companies here, particularly automotive ones. It’s no longer a problem to get a project but to realize it. The big problem is the lack of drivers who are leaving to work abroad. If something does not change, we are going to be left without drivers by 2021. Germany has announced labour liberalization in 2021, and once this happens, we are going to have a problem with transporting goods from point A to point B. In terms of business results, we are extremely pleased with the year behind us, and we expect further growth for this year.

You are a member of the Steering Committee of the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce. How important is the cooperation with German companies and what can we learn from it?

— The German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce is not only at service to German companies, but also to Serbian. If a German company intends to invest in Serbia, the first thing it does is get in touch with the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce which gives it a realistic overview of the current situation in the country. The Chamber also works on propagating the business climate, which is good, and this is best seen from the business environment survey that we conduct every year. The survey has shown that 95% of the surveyed companies would re-invest in Serbia. This is an indicator that Serbia is a good investment destination and that the economic climate is improving.

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