Vladislav Lalic is a native of Belgrade who has spent his entire life traveling the world and moving, but always going back to his roots. His and his wife’s wish came true in 2009, when he started living in Belgrade as the Vice Chairman of the Managing Board of the Foreign Investors Council and the Regional Property and Expansion Manager for Southeast Europe at IKEA.
– Moving marked a good part of my life, though I’ve always liked it the best in Serbia, in Belgrade, with all its pros and cons. I was looking to go back here with my family. I am married and I have two sons, one of whom was born in Turkey, whereas the other one was born upon our return to Belgrade – Vladislav begins his interview with eKapija.
He was born on September 22, 1969. His father is Vojislav Lalic, a lawyer, but much better known as an eminent journalist, as is his uncle Borislav. His mother was also a legal practitioner, whereas his younger brother is an architect.
Even though he moved a lot as a child, Vladislav says that he remembers his childhood as a carefree time in his life. He finished the first four grades in Belgrade and then continued his education at an international American school in Sweden, where his father worked as a reporter.
He then finished high school in Zemun and graduated with an economics degree at an American faculty in Greece, where his father worker as a Tanjug correspondent.
– I returned to Belgrade in January 1991. In April, I applied for a contest at IKEA, which had a start shop at Hotel Hyatt at the time, which had opened in March 1991. However, due to the sanctions, it closed in June 1992. IKEA then promised that all their employees will have an opportunity to work at the company again if it ever goes back to Serbia. It has fulfilled that promise – our interviewee says.
Vladislav spent the next 17 years abroad, working for IKEA. He spent a year in Slovenia, five years in Romania, seven and a half in Turkey and three in Spain. He was the purchase manager for the territories of the Middle East, Central Asia, Egypt and Turkey, and he spent the last three years before returning to Serbia as the purchase manager for Southwest Europe – Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, France and Belgium.
His job brought him back to Belgrade, when IKEA decided to expand its operations in the region. The department store in Zagreb, as well as an outlet center, were the first to open, followed by facilities in Belgrade and Bucharest. The plan for the next year includes Ljubljana and the opening of the first department store in Ukraine, in Kiev. Also, the opening of a retail park in Belgrade, right next to the IKEA department store, is planned.
As Vladislav emphasizes, a man must know where he comes from.
– I’m from Belgrade, my father is from Montenegro, and I consider myself a Serbian. I was born here, and the most important thing is how a person feels. That’s how I feel and that’s how I’ve raised my children, along with my wife. They need to know that they are from here, that they are Serbs, while, of course, respecting all other nations – Lalic emphasizes.
Although no country compares to Serbia for him, Vladislav has the fondest memories of Turkey.
– The place where you were born has its special characteristics and cannot be replaced. Still, I have very fond memories of Turkey, not just because my elder son was born there, but also because of the country itself and its people. My experience, both private and professional, was great. It is a wonderful country to live in, and the people there are very open and quite similar to us when it comes to the mentality – Vladislav says.
He especially emphasizes how disciplined and hard-working the Turks are. IKEA has made great results in this promising country, when it comes to business, and in a relatively short period too, form 1998 to 2005, when the income multiplied.
– The results speak for themselves. Professionally, we have had great results as a company, and those can only be realized if the other party can meet your demands and follow you – our interviewee believes.
Moving from country to country has enriched Lalic’s vocabulary and the knowledge of various languages. In addition to English and Swedish, he is fluent in Romanian, and, as he says, he always needs to brush up a little on his Spanish.
Life and work are a marathon, not a sprint
His father and his uncle taught him that working hard is a privilege if you love your job. Thanks to their both being journalists, his horizons expanded and he realized that living abroad had its advantages, although he kept returning to Belgrade.
– You meet new people and your experience becomes richer. You become a person which sees things differently. You acquire experience and curiosity, which is an important characteristic in journalism. It is a great virtue and I don’t believe I’d have acquired it to the extent that I have if it weren’t for my father’s profession. He still writes, although he’s entered his eighth decade – Vladislav says.
He remembers that, while he was growing up, the house was full of newspapers. He still buys them, especially when flying.
Vladislav believes that doing what you love and what you are educated for is a privilege, especially if the values the company fosters are close to your own value system, as is the case with him. He believes deeply in four principles.
– Hard work, perseverance, discipline and humility are the essence and my personal philosophy. I’m taking about systematic work and not giving up when you encounter problems. It’s not important whether you fall, but how quickly you get up – eKapija’s interviewee believes.
He says that many aspects of sports can be applied in business, especially when it comes to discipline.
– Discipline is very important. You make sacrifices consciously, you persevere and you don’t get discouraged. You have to keep both feet on the ground, as success is relative. You shouldn’t fly too high, as humility is one of the most important virtues a man can have. Life and work are a marathon, not a sprint. That’s a very important thing to remember. You run at a certain tempo, which is supposed to get you to the finish line as soon as possible, but which should also allow you to persevere, which is very important – Lalic explains.
In line with his principle of humility, he doesn’t want to emphasize particular business successes, but says that he is proud when he does his best and that it’s up to others to estimate whether it’s been successful.
– I am proud of everything we’ve done in the region and I can highlight the Belgrade department store, which was the realization of some of my dreams and ambitions from over 25 years before, professionally, emotionally and personally. When a man does his best, results will follow and goals will be met. You do need to have some luck, but you also have to provoke it and take risks – Vladislav believes.
Balance between the professional and the private can be achieved
By acquiring experience, a person can adapt their obligations and make a balance between the private and the professional life. That is our interviewee’s experience. He is convinced that it is not sustainable in the long term for anyone to only work all the time.
– I try not to work on weekends, as my working day is long, and the weekend is for my family, friends and for myself. Still, it depends on the person. This formula allows me to achieve my business goals, while on the other hand not neglecting my family.
In line with that, he tries to play basketball with his friends every Sunday morning. He is a great sports fan and he believes that people can apply many of the personal and professional values to sports.
He is a great fan of Red Star Belgrade and he has transferred what he calls his irrational love for the club to his sons as well. He himself inherited this kind of fandom from his grandfather. Red Star Belgrade was one of the many things he missed abroad.
– I love Red Star Belgrade and I watch a lot of games, especially soccer and basketball. Attending matches with my friends is a ritual. I truly missed that part of my life, and some things can’t be compensated for. I can’t root for Galatasaray, Real Madrid, or Steaua, only for Red Star Belgrade. It is, after all, the most important of all the unimportant things! – Lalic notes and adds that this year’s Champions League draw was very exciting.
FIC advocates improvement of business climate
Vladislav Lalic has another function as well. He’s the Vice Chairman of the Managing Board of the Foreign Investors Council (FIC).
The FIC is an independent institution which brings together over 100 large foreign companies with many years of operations behind them. So far, they’ve invested nearly EUR 34 billion in the Serbian market. They employ over 100,000 workers.
– We don’t represent the interest of only one company and we don’t solve the individual problems of one company. Instead, we advocate an improvement of the business climate, in order to make it sustainable, competitive and attractive to other investors – Lalic says.
He adds that the significance of the FIC also lies in the fact that these companies have been recognized as those that comply with high ethical standards in their operations. That also pertains to the way they treat their employees. They are a good example for others, because they have a high business standard.
– The FIC is important for the dialogue with the relevant institutions, primarily the government, to which it gives constructive recommendations through 11 committees. These are experimental and detailed activities, and they pertain to regulations, by-laws and so on. Through the White Book, which we publish once a year, in November, we are trying to point to the areas which should be improved and we structurally follow what happens in the areas where we’ve recommended some changes – Vladislav explains.
He adds that they have an open relation with the government as its partner and that their interaction is based on respect, understanding and acceptance. Still, they are not quite satisfied.
– Through the White Book, we give recommendations for how the business climate can be improved and we measure how much progress has been made in a certain area or whether any progress has been made at all. Essentially, what we managed to do last year amounted to one third of the recommendations where certain progress has been made. That’s not satisfactory for us and we believe that it should be at least a half, that is, for there to be progress related to every second recommendation – Lalic says.
For this purpose, a task force was founded with the Government of Serbia two years ago, which should unify the activities of the relevant ministries and the FIC committee, so that the recommendations would be addressed in a more organized fashion.
– Unfortunately, the task force has not been operational and we hope that this will change this year. We have defined eight priority areas, and there’s only been substantial progress in the field of real estate and inspection supervision. We should be more efficient and the recommendations should lead to more substantial results. Digitization, bankruptcy proceedings and foreign exchange operation regulations are the fields where moderate progress has been made, but when it comes to taxes, labor rights and food safety, there has been no progress. We would like this to change. We hope and believe that there will be progress, as this will directly lead to a better business climate. This is in the interest of all investors – Lalic says.
Each year, the Council has a meeting with the IMF and with the EU. As our interviewee notes, the IMF follows the White Book-related activities very carefully, and the FIC will visit Brussels this October.
– We would like to see progress in three fields: sustainable financial consolidation through the corporatization of public companies, a consistent implementation of laws and an increased transparency in public consultations. This would lead to a quicker growth of the Serbian economy, which is sustainable and stable already, but not as big as it could be. That would contribute to a quicker development, improved competitiveness and the raising of the living standard. All these things are related – Vladislav Lalic believes.
When it comes to the Financial Times report, which puts Serbia in the first place regarding the number of foreign direct investments, Lalic believes that this is down to a combination of factors.
– There’s the fiscal discipline, fiscal consolidation, and the macroeconomic stability is a good sign for investors, both foreign and local, which should have equal treatment and equal conditions. All investors like predictability, knowing what they can count on and having risks be as low as possible. There’s definitely been certain progress, which has led to an increase in the number of foreign investments. A large number of infrastructural projects and other commercial projects are being carried out. Among others, we have investors from China and Japan, Shandong Linglong and Toyo Tires. The favorable investment momentum should be used the right way and a basis should be formed for a long-term sustainable economic growth through a further improvement of the business climate and environment. I believe that nothing can compare to a good example. If there’s a satisfied investor, which is looking to increase the number of investments or recommend others to come here, it’s important for their experience to be good, as it makes it easier for others to make a favorable decision too – Lalic concludes.