This year, SGS is celebrating 20 years of its operations in Serbia, and Marinko Ukropina has been leading this successful team, which has been growing in numbers year after year, for two decades now. With a degree in electrical engineering, he had already developed a successful business of his own when he got an offer from SGS in 2001 to be the managing director of the branch for Serbia and Montenegro. As he points out, he needed some time to think, but he decided to accept the challenge. Going out from his comfort zone proved to be just the right thing, and since then, the company has gone from having only a handful of employees to a team that now has over 230 employees and over 200 regular external associates and is a leader in the control, testing and certification market in the entire region.
– Twenty years ago, when I, as a co-owner of a very successful private company, got the offer from this global company, a leader in its field, to take the position of the managing director for Serbia and Montenegro, I faced quite a dilemma, for at least two reasons. The first one was that I would leave the company I had created and which was at the time the leading consultancy for quality management systems and business upgrade, and the second one was that the SGS branch office was yet to be formed and then developed. It required going out of a relative “comfort zone” into uncertain challenges. I decided to accept the challenge, led by the slogan “winning is an attitude”, which SGS used in its marketing campaigns as a sponsor of the large trans-oceanic, sailing team Alinghi.
I chose that path and I haven’t regretted it, because these 20 years have been marked by constant growth, development, increase in the number of employees and, finally, reaching and maintaining the leading position of SGS Belgrade, not just in Serbia, but on a regional scale as well.
Is there something that you would change? What would you advise your younger self from 20 years ago, when you assumed the position of the leading man of SGS in Serbia?
– In the past 20 years, there have been plenty of challenges which required making decisions that could have considerably influenced the operations of SGS and its further development. Decisions which resulted in loss of contracts and could have jeopardized the existence of the employees. I primarily mean the pressures and expectations, whether from the clients or all other interested parties, in order to influence the results of our controls, tests, certifications and supervisions. Unfair competition, without adequate competences, accreditations and credibility, additionally complicated the market. There have been crisis situations, when unprincipled pressures would be made public, which could have jeopardized our brand. In those cases, we remained consistent with our basic principles of business integrity. So I would mostly not change anything, because it has been confirmed that success can be made by following ethical principles, complying with the regulations and business codices in a business environment that is anything but easy.
In all this time, how has the market changed? Have you had to change as well?
– There’s plenty that has changed, primarily due to the arrival of foreign investors and their demands toward partners and suppliers, which have to do with the quality and safety of products, services and processes. Also, banks have followed that trend and conditioned crediting on additional protections and a mandatory engagement of SGS as a neutral supervisor. We have mostly changed in the segment of constant innovative solutions, development of new services, which enabled us to always be several steps ahead of the competition.
What is your “recipe” for a long and successful presence in Serbia’s business scene?
– In addition to the already well-known requirements of competence and knowing one’s job, I would point out the ability of systemic strategic thinking, consistency and determination, as well as compliance with indisputable principles, without a compromise, such as integrity. All this requires being constantly proactive and innovative and having a lot of energy in our turbulent business scene.
In your opinion, which characteristics make for a successful manager?
– There are plenty of factors that make a manager successful. I will highlight some: innovation and responsibility, strategic thinking which needs to be turned into concrete actions, securing authority through competence, which results in trust, readiness for cooperation and flexibility, decision-making efficiency, energy…
For which SGS services is there the most interest currently?
– For seven years now, SGS has been a reliable partner to the Government of Serbia, as the carrier of the public authorization and the provider of the service of marking the oil derivative products. It is the most successful national program in fighting illegal trade, which has enabled over 30% of fuel quantities to be legalized, bringing over EUR 800 million in additional tax revenues to the Serbian budget. The quality of fuel has reached European standards, which has directly influenced the positive results in environmental protection and the protection of consumers (car engines). It is a real example of how an independent and neutral company, which carries out its operations in line with the highest ethical, business and technical standards, can contribute to the interests of all interested parties.
For a long time, SGS has focused on health protection and safety of employees. In the midst of the pandemic, are companies in Serbia paying more attention to this segment?
– Through certain changes made during the pandemic, the Republic of Serbia has established a legal framework in the fields of health protection, that is, workplace health and safety, so business entities had to set certain measures, protocols and procedures in order to minimize the risk. The organization certified for the ISO 45001:2918 standard, Systems of Management of Workplace Safety and Health, need to have an established proactive process for the identification and assessment of dangers in this area, to the end of planning and implementing adequate measures of prevention. It is very important to insist on controlling the implementation of adopted measures.
SGS chose to digitize its services back in early 2015. Is the number of requests for the certification of IT solutions increasing due to the pandemic?
– We haven’t noticed any substantial trend of increased demands for certification in line with the requests of the basic standards ISO 27001, Systems of Information Security Management, and ISO 20000, Information Technologies – Service Management, due to the pandemic. Also, when it comes to the standard ISO 22301, Security and Resilience – Systems of Business Continuity Management, we haven’t noticed any increase in the number of certification and education requests. Understanding and implementing this standard can help organizations a lot when it comes to managing the operations during and after a crisis situation. However, it is to be expected that, after this pandemic, there will be a better understanding of the importance of setting up a systemic approach, not just formal, but essential as well, and that there will be a much greater implementation of international standards, as the best confirmed practices.
From you angle, what makes a company successful?
– A clearly defined business system based on the principles of long-term sustainable development, where competent experts have an opportunity to use their creativity, dedication and constant development to achieve goals in a safe and reliable business environment.
The strategic goals of the company’s development can only be achieved if you have an actively involved and very motivated team with a constant energy of each individual member. Of course, the team leader needs to set a personal example every day for solving challenges and overcoming crisis situations, which cannot be avoided.
How do you see the future of the market of control, testing and certification? Where does SGS fit in?
– The changes in the market, considering the complexity of the situation on a global level due to the pandemic, are so fast and require large innovative potential of the employees at the organizations. In that sense, the requests of the current or potential clients for SGS services are crystalizing as well. Our services in the segment of food safety, such as checks, education and certain laboratory analyses, are always current. Also, successful companies are increasingly upgrading their processes through the constant assessment of the harmonization with the regulations, technical standards, EU norms, internal standards of companies etc, which is very important and which also influences the development of our services, in the segment of improving the business of our clients. The interest in checks and education, adapted to client requests, and for consulting services to the end of improving operating performances, is growing.
The interest in services of equipment control during the manufacture and before the delivery (Supply Chain Services) has been at a high level recently. Finally, and no less important, in the time of global economy, the services of equipment certification, as well as consulting services related to meeting the regulations in Serbia, but also in other countries in the world where there’s a need for the delivery of goods and equipment from Serbia, are extremely important.
What are the company’s plans for the upcoming period?
– The further improvement of the national program of marking the fuel through the full automation and digitization of processes. SGS Belgrade has developed devices and software apps which will not only upgrade the national program, but also act globally in all SGS projects worldwide. I can emphasize with pride that our branch office has become a Competence Center in the leading world company for control, testing, certification and verification.
We are also planning development in the field of ecological testing and investments in a top-quality laboratory, as well as participation in projects such as Renewable Energy Sources, Long-Term Sustainable Business and Circular Economy.