As most people, Darko Mirkovic was advised in his youth that he should finish school and get employed at a big, stable system that will provide him with security. However, Darko was more attracted to various forms of independence. He therefore decided in 2008 to become an entrepreneur and founded the business consulting and employee professional development company Alterna International. His seminars have been attended by over 40,000 people and he has also held over 1,200 training courses in business skills for various companies, with an emphasis on the sector of banking and insurance.
– Most people are looking for a steady job with a fixed wage at companies founded by those who never sought the same. Over the years, I’ve realized that security is not in any kind of a contract with any company, but deep inside of me – in my knowledge, skills, contacts and positions. Everything that is given to us by someone can also be taken away. There are cases where they can take away from us even what we created ourselves. However, what no one can take away from us are the people that trust us, the knowledge we’ve acquired and the self-confidence to start over.
What is the most important thing that you learned in the part of your career that you spent at corporations?
– I learned how complex a business can be. It is important for each part of the business to function well in order for the end user to be satisfied. I learned how important corporate culture is in developing a sense of belonging and loyalty, how much the management can influence my motivation or lack thereof in achieving business results, how important education is in developing a business (of all things that a company has, it is only the value of people that can grow).
I assume that, for that reason, business education has become your further direction of development?
– In my career in corporations, the success of my results depended on whether I would choose and train my people well. For that reason, I picked each member of my team carefully, then patiently worked with them on acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills. During these years, I discovered in myself the potential and the desire to train people and I also saw that the trainees reacted very well to my way of training. It was that fact, the fact of mutual satisfaction, that was the springboard for my later orientation to that kind of entrepreneurial activity.
How did it feel to leave the corporation and head into the unknown? Was there fear or doubt? Did you question yourself?
– Of course. It is not easy to leave the known and head into the unknown, but a great sentence helped me the most: Good is the biggest enemy of the best.
I was in a good position in this corporation, but my dreams and ambitions were far beyond my reality. At one point, I looked at the management vertical above me and started wondering at which position is the fulfillment of my dreams. I was not sure what the answer was and that was enough to realize that I should seek the realization of my dreams in individual projects, regardless of the fact that they carried a certain amount of risk.
What is it like to cooperate directly with the famous Brian Tracy, who has been on the list of the 10 most demanded speakers on the planet for 30 years now?
– Brian is a remarkable personality. His greatness is reflected in the fact that he can explain very complicated things in a simple way. From the day we met in Belgrade (we were signing an agreement on strategic cooperation), we have had a very good and close relationship. During the years of cooperation and a number of various conferences throughout America and Canada, I had the opportunity to meet his wife and children. I am delighted by how relaxed that family is and how open they are to talk about everything. When I read his book and his biography at the end of the book for the first time 20 years ago, it seemed to me that it was all very far away from me. Only 15 years later, this same man is calling me his friend and is recommending me to other people.
Today, you work with a lot of different companies in the entire region. What are the fields in which companies most frequently require your services?
– As each man has his own story, so is each company unique in its own way. Understanding the challenges that the company is facing or the aim to upgrade a certain sector is my primary task. It often happens that the management detects one challenge that needs to be solved and then, after we analyze the problem together, we discover that we need to work on something else altogether. People often see the consequence and want to put out that fire first, but the key is in finding what caused it.
Sales is the sector that needs to be stimulated and upgraded in each company, especially now that the approach to the client has changed. The way we make contact with our clients has changed today. Previously, clients were seen as a group of people which needs to buy and use the product, which is why an aggressive sales approach was used, with the support of strong ads. Today, the communication with the clients is increasingly two-way. The client’s opinions and reviews leave a stronger impression on others than any ad or marketing approach. Today, closing a sales deal is not the end of the sales process, but the beginning of long-term cooperation and trust. Today, the sale begins when the client says YES, because that’s when you really need to start trying to have the client remain convinced that they have made the right decision in the long term.
Leadership is the next challenge, because there are still many managers who lead teams using a carrot-and-stick approach. There are still many managers who only use the authority of their position. It is a challenging task to have such groups and individuals go down the path of becoming leaders through results, then to go to the next level, where they become leaders by creating leaders, finally acquiring the leadership authority of their personality. At the end, it’s enough to say their name and that says it all.
Motivation is one of the big challenges today, in the times of turbulent changes. People want instant success, instant advancement. This especially pertains to young employees. Many of them believe that, just by being present at their job, they deserve a lot. Many are waiting to see what they will get in order to decide what they will give. There are companies which invest in employee motivation a lot, without getting the desired result. Sometimes it takes a lot of time for people to realize how all motivation is in fact self-motivation and that what motivates people inside is much stronger than any kind of external motivation.
Individually, I work with a lot of people in CEO and Executive positions, as well as business owners. The most frequent challenges are how to create top leaders in the team, how to make a good balance between the private and the business life.
While we were researching your work, we got a lot of excellent comments and recommendations. Is there someone that you haven’t managed to help achieve an improvement?
– Of course. No one is omnipotent. Those are mostly people who have very set-in attitudes and who can only see what you’re telling them through their own prism. The only truth is the one they’ve created in their mind and any other view is not right. When I was younger, I would get into deep arguments with such people, but I eventually realized that my desire for some kind of an improvement to happen to them cannot be stronger than their own. It’s not natural. An excellent Chinese proverb helped me realize this. It goes: When the student is ready, the teacher simply appears!
You have trained over 40,000 people in companies throughout the region so far and you reference list of clients is remarkable. You are active in many fields. What are your next steps?
– Last year, we acquired the copyright for the regional magazine Svet osiguranja, and this year we started publishing the Svet bankarstva i investicija magazine and launched the financial-business portal Bonitet.com, which has recorded a very high number of visits in only several months. Our desire is, on one hand, to contribute to financial and business education of a wide auditorium and, on the other hand, to influence the quality and the credit rating of the providers of financial services. The entire project is of a regional character.
As for education, Alterna International already has a great team of top-quality professionals, who will continue expanding the impact we’ve already made, in line with our key professional values. Personally, I am preparing to develop a new direction of professional development that I’ve reached through the experience I’ve acquired by working with many companies and a constant personal learning and development. I want to leave in the market something that will survive me, something which will benefit many future generations.