How does a Swedish girl end up in the mobile gaming industry and football, and not being a soccer mom? Marija Pasuljević was born in Sweden, has Serbian roots, and a cosmopolitan soul and temperament. She has recently joined Nordeus, best known for Top Eleven, the world’s most successful mobile sports games, and co-founders of Serbian Games Association and Digital Serbia Initiative.
As life would have it, she was born in Gothenburg, did her studies in the United States, Asia, Italy, and Ireland, and worked for some of the most prestigious companies within the jewellery and cosmetics industry. When she decided she was ready for the next big step, she switched from advertising and FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) to mobile gaming, going back to her parents’ home country. For Diplomacy&Commerce magazine, Marija exposed the details of her personal life for the first time. She spoke to us about her journey from diamonds and cigarette lighters, luxury cosmetics to a soccer ball, explaining why the transfer from one company to another was the key to her return to Belgrade, as well as how she feels about coming to her parents’ birth country.
You were born and raised in Sweden, you studied on three different continents and hold two master’s degrees, and you now live in Belgrade. Can you describe your experience living in so many countries? What do you remember most clearly about all these places you called home?
I was born in Sweden after my parents moved there for work in the mid 60s/70ties. My education is marked by great effort and sacrifice, work and commitment, but many unforgettable moments that shaped my life, way of thinking, and worldview as well. All of this has resulted in a very professional approach to work. I did my undergraduate studies on three continents. Sweden was my home base and from there I moved to the US. I also spent a summer abroad studying in Malaysia and Singapore. The circumstances were such that I had no choice but to finish my studies as soon as possible, so I took night classes along with my regular schedule and I graduated before 22. A business opportunity kept me in the US for a few years afterwards. Following that, I earned my first master’s degree in SDA Bocconi in Milan. The unconditional love and support from my family was crucial, but my biggest motivation to complete my studies earlier was the expiration date on my scholarship and to decrease my student loans. This is what pushed me to work harder and faster, this is why I worked part-time throughout my college years, with the intent on becoming independent and gaining financial stability. Living in so many culturally diverse places enriched my life in various aspects. My childhood in Sweden has made me extremely humble and down to earth; growing up there as a child I learned to work for my ambitions. Living in the US has taught me to tackle challenges without hesitation and accept new opportunities, be it in personal life or business. I contribute my social intelligence and passion in everything I do to my parent’s heritage.
“I like to think of myself as a cosmopolitan, who has managed to adopt the best of all the cultures, countries and friendships I’ve been a part of around the world”
NYC was where you started a career in advertising before moving on to the FMCG industry, where you worked on global projects. From your perspective, what are the most striking moments that you remember in your career?
First and foremost the people. I was 21 years old starting my first internship and directly after my professional career in NYC. Being so young and working in NYC has taught me how valuable it is to be at the right place at the right time. I was lucky to start my career in advertising with brands such as David Yurman, Mikimoto, to be part of the launch of Vera Wang perfume. But also lucky to work for and with people who believed in me. Even if I was deeply in love with NYC at the time, I decided to do my master’s degree at SDA Bocconi in the EU fashion capital, Milan.
I’m of the belief that you truly can learn something new every day, and that you should always strive to learn from the people around you; continuous education is key. As Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power”. This has been my motto throughout life, whether in business or in my personal life. After completing my studies in Italy, I went back to Sweden and worked first for L’Oréal and the next step in my career was BIC, where I basically professionally grew up. I held seven different positions over 13 years, in Nordic and Baltic countries, Central, South-East Europe, and finally Paris, in charge of Global Projects for the Lighter Category around the world. I had the opportunity to see the world, dip my feet into the oceans around the globe. Though I already had an open mind to diversity, this experience pushed me to learn about and embrace the vast cultural differences – with my occupation, I saw these differences most clearly reflected in the many negotiations I was part of, from North and South America, as well as Africa. At the end, what you remember the most are the amazing people you’ve met, worked with, learnt from, and the experiences you’ve had. One of the biggest challenges was when BIC decided to focus more on the Balkans and I spontaneously moved to Belgrade by 2012. I was not a local, but I spoke the language. My first and last name are local, yet I have a Swedish mindset. On a personal level, this was the toughest crowd to join.
Recently, you made another significant shift in your career by moving to the gaming industry and focusing on football. What challenges have you faced when changing industries so drastically and what do you expect still await you?
I love to stand before new challenges and face them head-on. It’s like a game to me, to see if I have the guts, the power and strength to start all over and begin learning again. I feel alive by pushing the boundaries to see how far I can stretch myself and to see if there is a limit. The same goes for my career.
I felt I needed a change that will push me to gain new skills, will challenge me to think outside the box and learn something new. Therefore, I decided to give my parents’ birthplace a true chance and started the next phase of my career in Nordeus. When I started working for Nordeus, I understood why. The Nordeus mindset is doing what you love and having fun while doing it. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Having said that, the company’s biggest strength is its people. I honestly feel right at home in Nordeus; sharing the same mindset, the same values, and most importantly the people are key. Here, I have the best of both worlds.
The biggest challenge is always: can you do it? Will you succeed and leave your own mark? These are the questions I always ask myself. I believe, if you are in the right place, surrounded by the right people, nothing will stop you from succeeding and overcoming all obstacles. For now, I am happy where I am, spending my weekends watching football games and my evenings, well, kicking ass in Top Eleven. I’m still working on pushing the business development forward and securing the best future for the company, but that story hasn’t been written yet, it is still in the making. We had big expectations for 2020, hoping it would be more productive than its predecessor would. Yet, it brought with it the most radical changes in the world of business – some suffered great losses, while some chalked up significant gains.
What is your outlook on the pandemic that has marked this year for all of us and how has it affected your business sector?
The pandemic has imposed a new way of life on a global scale, shutting people into their homes and changing their habits, be it for better or for worse. Everyone is spending much more time online these days, and even those who previously had little experience with online entertainment have now embraced gaming as a new pastime. The rise of the gaming industry has been recorded worldwide as gamers are spending more time than ever playing their favorite games – a fact which is shown by the increased revenue that game development companies are reporting. At Nordeus, we work on business development daily in order to meet all of our players’ requirements. I believe that, in this time of mandatory physical distancing, games do, in fact, bring people together and provide entertainment on a different – virtual level.
What are your plans for the future, in your personal and in your professional life?
You never know where you will land, but I do like to land on my feet. Where my career will take me is an adventure that I can’t predict. Will it take me to a new country, to a new place, or back home? I am not even sure where home is anymore. I’d like to continue doing things that make me happy and that put a smile on my face every morning, things that I feel passionate about, for causes that will allow me to make a positive impact. I guess it is hard to say where I will end up, but for now I am here and I love what I am doing; there is no need to speculate too much about the future. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I’d had a rock-solid plan.
“You never know where you will land, but I do like to land on my feet”
If someone had asked me, 20 years ago if I would one day work in the mobile gaming industry, I think I would have just laughed. Some things just have to happen spontaneously. Now I have an amazing opportunity in Nordeus that makes me smile just thinking about it. I have a new challenge before me to embrace in my professional life, so I am currently enjoying being at just the right place, at exactly the right time. As for my personal life, well – I have to stay true to my Swedish nature and keep my personal life, personal. Those who need to know will know.
What do you love the most about Belgrade, Serbia, and is this your home?
Admittedly, it wasn’t love at first sight. Some things you have to give a bit of time to grow on you and, for me, Belgrade was one of them. When I first got here, it was hard for me to get used to the differences – in Sweden, everyone is highly organized and strictly punctual, whereas Serbian let’s just stay it was different. In Belgrade, you have to love the spontaneous way of living, you never know where the evening will take you, though usually, it’s a kafana you end up in. Here you know all your neighbors, while in Sweden there’s social distancing even without the Coronavirus in the picture. They’re just two completely different ways of living.
Now, as I mentioned before, I’m not sure I know where home is for me. Though I will always have a special place in my heart for Gothenburg, as I was born and raised in Sweden, Serbia is my mother country and I’m willing to give it a chance. It’s certainly growing on me.
Being so young and working in NYC has taught me how valuable it is to be at the right place at the right time. I was lucky to start my career in advertising with brands such as David Yurman, Mikimoto, to work on the launch of Vera Wang perfume.
By Ruža Veljović