Source: eKapija | Sunday, 19.02.2017.| 16:37
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Karolina Mihailovic, co-owner of Marina Company – Entrepreneur who used to act side by side with Bjelogrlic, Lakovic, Jovanovic...

Karolina Mihailovic
She acted in her first professional play, Zivot Jovanov, during her studies, in 1992, at Zvezdara Teatar. She played the character of Tanja side by side with Dragan Bjelogrlic, Predrag Lakovic, Danilo Lazovic, Dragan Jovanovic... The play was directed by Darko Bajic.

Karolina Mihailovic (maiden name Cimesa) belongs to one of the most famous generations taught by Professor Vladimir Jevtovic at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade. Her class also included Natasa Ninkovic, Nela Mihajlovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Vojin Cetkovic, Nebojsa Glogovac, Boris Pingovic, Danijela Kuzmanovic and Danijela Ugrenovic.

Even though her first attempt to enroll at the faculty was successful and even though she received the scholarship offer by the National Theater following her graduation, she did not remain an actress. In 1996, she exchanged the life on the stage for working in an office by founding Marina Company, a stationery distribution enterprise, with her husband.

Work, stability and order

She was born in Resnik, but she moved to Germany, where her parents worked, when she was in the second grade. This would turn out to be one of the key moments in her life.

– I had a happy childhood, but a much different one from what it’s like today. My parents, like many people at the time, went to work in Germany for a short period of time, but stayed there permanently after all. I followed after them – Karolina Mihailovic begins her interview for eKapija.

In Germany, she graduated from a ballet school and a law school at the same time, but still decided to return to Serbia and enroll at the Faculty of Economics in Belgrade.

– At the time, studies were free for all students who passed the entrance exam. My parents agreed that I should return and enroll at the faculty as a logical extension of my secondary education, whereas they remained in Germany. When I returned, I was shocked. It took three months to have a grade written down in the student I.D. card and we had to chase our professors down the halls, which I found offensive. I was used to the way students were valued and treated as equals in Germany, which I believe is not the case in the Serbian school system even now. If you’ve passed the exam and shown that you possess the knowledge, it stands to reason that professors should treat you with respect, as is the case in Germany, but not here – says Karolina, who sticks to the values and standards of doing business acquired abroad.

Due to this and, as she says, “the anarchy”, she literally escaped from the Faculty of Economics.

“I was bothered that the professor would read our diaries...”

Having become disappointed with the Faculty of Economics, she decided to enroll in acting studies.

– One day in June, I went to get information about the acting studies at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts. It turned out that it was the final date for the submission of documents. I somehow managed to persuade the dean to wait for me to get my documents back from the Faculty of Economics and I applied for the exam test the next day. I had only seven days to prepare – Karolina remembers.

From her days at the Academy
Acting was and remains very popular and she found herself among several hundred people impatiently waiting to display their skills before the commission. As Karolina says, it’s something that each candidate will remember for the rest of their lives. She prepared Pablo Neruda’s “Your Laughter”, Katica’s monologue from Radovan III and the character of the partisan woman from Mesa Selimovic’s Mist and Moonlight.

– Informally, I prepared a small Charleston-themed musical, which allowed me to show that I could be resourceful on the stage. I believe that the commission liked it and that it was crucial to my being the second on the list of candidates – Karolina explains.

– The first on the list was Nela Mihajlovic, which I still hold to be the best actress.

She says about the famous Jevtovic’s class that everyone got along very well, as shown by the fact that many of them have remained close friends.

– I am probably the only “renegade”, the only one to not remain loyal to the profession, although it was me who started working first – Karolina laughs.

She still maintains good relations with her classmates, although there’s not a lot of time for socializing, as both actors and businessmen lead lives which require lots of sacrifices.

– It may look glamorous from the outside, because they get numerous parts and are very popular as a class, but they work hard and earn little. An actor’s life is in no way easy. I’m glad that they’ve accomplished their dreams and that I keep hearing others talk about them as stand-up people. It makes me happy – Karolina says.

During the studies, everyone kept a diary of emotions and thoughts, which only Professor Jevtovic was allowed to read.

– I was annoyed that students were not allowed to make any calls, as well as the fact that the professor was the only one allowed to read our diaries. I later studied the Stanislavski method and realized what the professor had wanted to achieve, but when you’re young, you’re rebellious and immature and not capable of that kind of depth of thought – Karolina explains.

With Dragan Bjelogrlic in the Zivot Jovanov play (Photo: arhiva Zvezdara teatar)

German language as key to success

After her graduation, she was offered a scholarship by the National Theater, which she rejected. In the meantime, she got married and had a child and, as she says, her priorities changed accordingly.

– There are very few female characters available, although Zdravko Sotra has changed this for the better in the past years. I realized after graduation that the profession did not meet all the expectations I had had during the studies. I have always been independent and confident and I’ve always known what my capabilities are. At the time, I found myself in a system I wasn’t fully comfortable with, as there are many factors influencing an actress’ work. I didn’t want to depend on others and I do not regret my decision.

When she stayed at home, taking care of her child, she found herself incapable of passively waiting for an opportunity and she started thinking what she wanted to do. At her friends’ suggestion, she addressed German companies producing stationery, as Germany was and still is the center of the industry.

– My friends convinced me that no one spoke better German than me in Serbia and that I should make use of that. I wanted us all to stay in Serbia, despite it being the 1990s, which saw young people leaving the country in droves. My husband is a medical doctor and, at that point, he had been volunteering all over Belgrade for four years, so we realized that we needed to take matters into our own hands and become independent.

In 1996, they founded Marina Company together, when Karolina managed to earn the trust of the Stabilo International factory. They were the first representatives of this German company in the market of Serbia and Montenegro.

– We had established a good partnership with Stabilo, regardless of the sanctions. They were truly supportive of our efforts to work professionally. Furthermore, the knowledge I had acquired in the law school proved to be very useful. Initially, we were going from shop to shop, promoting a trademark which was not too well known locally at the time – Karolina says.

Predrag Lakovic and Karolina Mihailovic (Photo: arhiva Zvezdara teatar)
Years of successful work allowed them to spread their distribution network to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania. In addition to developing and strengthening the position of the leading brand Stabilo, they’ve also established cooperation with a range of quality, renowned brands, such as Durable, Comix, Kum, Global Notes, Novus, Dahle, Amscan, VP International, Boden, Romus, Wedo, Scout, Metezger, Elba, Ritter-Pen, Riethmueller...

She didn’t find it hard to exchange acting for a family business.

– Each contact and conversation can be considered a kind of stage performance. I was very thorough in character analysis during my studies, and this job requires the same thing, as each customer is a certain character. The customer is sacrosanct, and that’s what everyone in the company adheres to – Karolina explains.

Even though she and her husband ventured into the uncertain world of business during the 1990s, she believes that it wasn’t a risky move. It’s much harder today, our interviewee says, as people have grown much poorer and are looking to save money any chance they get.

– In each household, money is counted twice before color pens or felt-tip pens are bought. It’s an area where people are really looking to save money. In general, spending on working with children in schools gets restricted the most. It’s different in Germany, when children get everything they need at the beginning of the school year, and there are lots of creative items there.

Nevertheless, she believes that, regardless of all, the school and office equipment market in Serbia is fairly developed, that all famous world brands are available and that quality is paid attention to. Even after the crisis of 2008, the field managed to thrive, as children always need school equipment.

– Marina Company represents high quality European trademarks. Each day, we analyze target groups and who each product should be marketed to. We have been greatly impacted in a negative way by the introduction of public procurement procedures in which the price, and not quality, is the only criterion. People sometimes bring office material from home, as the equipment provided at their work places is inadequate and of low quality.

The market has also been changed by the appearance of shopping malls, as Stabilo has found itself favored in modern chains thanks to its popularity among people, our interviewee says.

Starting a working day with the Bible

With her husband Dejan
Everything is secondary to business in today’s world, Karolina believes and says she has very little time for hobbies. She mostly travels on business, attending fairs and similar events. Outside her job and the company, she only has ten days off a year, which she uses for going on vacation with her husband and three sons, aged five, 19 and 23.

She says that she is old-fashioned when it comes to choosing her business associates, looking for honest and down-to-earth people with characteristics necessary for a given job position.

– We grow attached to our employees and they usually spend a lot of time in the company, the fluctuations are not big. The loyalty is mutual. Salaries have been paid regularly since the day the company was founded and are in the range of the average salary in Belgrade. We are constantly trying to enhance our relations with our employees – Karolina Mihailovic says.

Our interviewee reveals that her working day begins around 6 am, when she drinks coffee and has half an hour for herself. She often spends her mornings reading the Bible.

– My generation has been shortchanged when it comes to faith. We are, in fact, the interim generation which grew up without Orthodox Christianity. Now I’m trying to fill the gaps in my knowledge.

Afterwards, she prepares her youngest son for the kindergarten and goes to work, where her day at the office starts at 9 am. Karolina’s work day consists of reading the mail, coordinating all activities, monitoring the marketing and sales, as well as supervising the operations of retail facilities.

– The most important thing is to decide to make time for the closest friends and the family, in addition to doing business, which can depend on various circumstances. I always manage to find time for them. I’m glad that our sons wish to continue the family business and that we’ve managed to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit. Our eldest son is bringing his economics studies to an end and will probably start working in our company after he acquires certain experience.

“Life is unpredictable”

Karolina points out that she likes to “give everyone a chance” and that she decided, although with some skepticism, to read the books of Jelena Bacic Alimpic.

– I used to harbor some prejudices toward her and her books. Without planning to, I decided to buy her trilogy at the world fair and was delighted with how soulful her writing was. I believe that Jelena might be a person which shouldn’t speak in public and let her work speak for her instead.

She often returns to theater, which, as she says, has been marginalized in our society. Recently, she watched her close friend Dragana del Monaco perform the titular role in Carmen at the National Theater. Dragana was the principal bridesmaid at Karolina’s wedding.

– I enjoyed myself so much. I realized that I had matured a lot and remembered some of my performances on that very stage. The National Theater seemed enormous to me and I worried whether my voice would reach the back rows. That night, I realized that it would have, but that’s how life is – unpredictable.

Still, our interviewee doesn’t see herself on stage in ten years, but in a new office facility instead. She plans to keep developing the company in the coming period, to increase the number of retail facilities, as well as to enhance the wholesale business by introducing new brands.

– I would like to be able to say in ten years that we have the most successful retail chain, the kind that resembles the European ones. It’s a pity that Sumadija, Savremena and all big stationery shop chains in Serbia have been ruined through privatization and turned into counter halls of banks and insurance companies – the owner of Marina Company believes.

Sanja Sojic

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