Jelena Bulatović, Executive Director of SAM: 15th anniversary of the Serbian Association of Managers

We want Serbia to be a better place to live and work in, not only for us but also for the generations to come

The Serbian Association of Managers (SAM) was founded in Belgrade in 2006 and today has over 400 members who successfully manage teams of more than 70,000 employees, in companies that generate nearly 10 billion euros in revenue annually. This year, the Association is celebrating 15 years of operations which was the reason why we wanted to interview the SAM’s Executive Director, Jelena Bulatović.

Jelena Bulatović, Executive Director of SAM

SAM is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Looking back, how much has the SAM, as an organization, changed since its inception?

In essence, the Serbian Association of Managers’ mission has not changed much since its inception until today. I would rather say that it has become more focused. When the SAM was founded in 2006, our mission was to contribute to the improvement of the business environment in Serbia and boost the capacity of managers through dialogue with relevant institutions. Even today, we strive to improve the business environment, but we do so by sharing know-how and experience with the managers who create it, as well as with those who will become managers. We want Serbia to be a better place for life and work, not only for us but also for the generations to come.

How important is to promote managers in their individual roles, given that human resources are one of the most important, if not the most important segment of the company?

It is extremely important to understand that it is up to us, that change starts from individuals and that we cannot expect and wait for the environment, society or world to change for us to change. The same goes for companies. That is why the individual is at the core of the SAM’s mission, who, thanks to their constant progress, improves their company and society as a whole. We want to promote that individual and validate the managerial profession. Companies have realized what it means to have loyal and dedicated managers and employees especially during the pandemic and that their people are exactly that, not an expense, but the most important resource they have. We need to constantly invest in people, facilitate their progress and help them to develop their skills and reach their full potential. That is why it is important for us, as an association, to help managers to be better, and to enable young people to acquire skills and knowledge that will help them progress further to lead companies and society in the future.

As an organization that brings together individuals, not companies, what does the SAM do?

The goal of all business associations is to improve the business environment, and that is what all of us, in the business community, deal with and strive for. What sets the SAM apart from similar associations that have companies as members is the strong focus on the individual, i.e. constantly working on improving and empowering that individual. The professional development and education of managers and young people are extremely important to us and a lot of our activities are focusing on that. It is also important for us to provide managers, accomplished and successful business people and leaders with a platform where they can share their knowledge and experience, and give back to society the knowledge they have acquired. There is nothing more valuable than listening directly and talking to, say, a successful entrepreneur who has developed his/her business from a small firm to a large company. Or with a manager who is the CEO of a multinational company and who started his career 20 or 30 years ago.

“We need to constantly invest in people, facilitate their progress and develop their skills and their full potential”

This is a huge advantage that our members have. We organize meetings and events in various formats – from business breakfasts to podcasts, special evenings and lectures, mentoring programmes, entrepreneur programmes, the SAM Academy, etc. In the end, the SAM is extremely successful in connecting and networking, because in addition to exchanging positive energy and sharing a pleasant atmosphere, these meetings are also for establishing new contacts and friendships and finding new jobs and new joint businesses. Our network of members and our reputation are our strengths and we are especially proud of that.

During the pandemic, you held successful workshops and you continued to transfer knowledge. What were the biggest challenges?

In the year of COVID-19, we provided great support to our members and the wider business community and we reacted very quickly. Only four days after the state of emergency was declared, we had the first online conference after which we were giving advice and useful information on a weekly basis, as well as providing continuous support to the business community. We also launched new educational and informative programmes to support and share knowledge, because, at that time, it was extremely important to transfer the knowledge and advice to those who did not have headquarters abroad and procedures for such situations, on time. That is why we had daily communication with our members, informing and connecting them, and they also encouraged, supported and showed solidarity with each other.

Preserving the health of employees, business processes and jobs, as well as partners’ companies that have been working with for years was the biggest challenge. The pandemic-induced crisis has demonstrated that only those companies that reacted and adapted quickly found a faster way out of the crisis. As an association, led by our president and the Board of Directors who have shown both speed and readiness to react, I think we did well. We know that our members felt this because the number of SAM members did not decrease even during the pandemic, and we are still growing. The loyalty and trust that our members have given us and continue to give are priceless.

You also launched the SAM Academy, a new programme designed to educate managers, this year. What are the Academy’s goals?

We are very proud that we started the SAM Academy in this jubilee year when the Serbian Association of Managers celebrates its 15th anniversary. We believe that the exchange of knowledge and experience, learning from other people’s mistakes and learning from best business practices is the greatest value that an association of managers can offer to its members and the wider business community. This is what guided us in devising the SAM Academy. The Academy is a truly exclusive educational programme, because of all our lecturers, and we have over 30 of them, come from the business world. These are leading, renowned managers, entrepreneurs and company owners, with domestic and international experience, who manage the most successful companies in Serbia.

“Only four days after the state of emergency was declared, we had the first online conference after which we gave advice and useful information to the business community”

The SAM Academy is intended for managers and entrepreneurs and is also open to participants who are not SAM members. The Academy’s goal is to empower participants to one day manage companies, people and business processes through the synergy of exchange of experience, knowledge and the best examples from corporate and entrepreneurial practice. The lectures are devised in line with the latest educational trends in managerial practice, which are primarily focused on the future of business. We want to create leaders and drivers of change in companies, businesses and society, and we want, as the slogan of the Academy says, to create leaders of the 21st century. Such a modern curriculum, along with top lecturers the from business world, set the SAM Academy apart from similar educational programmes on the market.

What are your plans for this year and further on? 

Managers and companies still need support in this post-pandemic time, so we are going to continue with activities aimed at sharing experience, knowledge and advice, and holding conferences aimed at sharing best business practices. By the year-end, we will focus our activities on celebrating 15 years of the SAM, during which we want to highlight the most important values ​​of our Association, experienced successful managers and entrepreneurs, but also managers who developed under the auspices of the SAM and subsequently became very successful business people in Serbia and the region. We hope that the epidemiological situation will allow us to get together and connect because networking and in-person meetings are something that we all especially missed in the previous period. Either way, we are continuing to plan all our activities, and the circumstances will dictate the way of their realization. We are ready for all options. In the end, we hope that, in December, we will be able to gather again at the SAM Gala, to give out the SAM Awards to the best managers out there and thus to leave the pandemic behind.

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