February 15th 2017, NLB CIP

Doing Business in Slovenia – Dutch Perspectives on Entrepreneurship and Business Culture

Round table discussion moderated by Ladeja Košir Godina

  • Martin P. Hayes, Finance Director at Heineken Group’s Brewery Laško Union
  • Jacob Westerlaken, Managing Director at International Insurance Consortium (IIC)
  • Ulla Hudina Kmetič, Economic Analyst at European Commission Representation in Slovenia
  • Andrej Lasič, Director of business operations with key clients at NLB

On Wednesday, February 15th 2017, we organized a fantastic event with with deep support of Embassy of the Netherlands in Slovenia. The main feature of the event was an eye-opening discussion moderated by Ladeja Košir Godina with speakers: Martin Hayes of Heineken group’s Laško Union brewery; Jacob Westerlaken, of International Insurance Consortium; Ulla Hudina Kmetič of The European Commission in Slovenia and Andrej Lasič of NLB. All speakers were able to share their experiences of operating in different business cultures. After engaging the audience, a  special emphasis was made on how business culture has been developed rather different in Slovenia and the Netherlands. Our esteemed guest Dr. Peter Kraljič helped the audience to understand what the historic sources for these different business cultures are, he exaplained how these aspects have gradually but deeply affected society as a whole.

The evening began with an opening speech from Martin Hayes in which he mentioned his vast experience of working for Heineken in the Netherlands. Despite the small geographical distance, the move to the Netherlands was almost a culture shock. This was mainly because contrary to the British, the Dutch are extremely direct when engaging in conversation. In his opinion in that aspect Slovenians are similar to the British where there is polite rerouting of the words chosen in conversations. Martin pointed out that he quickly adopted the Slovenian habit of dressing in full suits with ties for business meetings when he visited Slovenia for the first time. He then instantly regretted it as it was almost 40 degrees during the record breaking hot month of July 2015. As well as the formal dressing habit, he was also surprised by the strong perception of hierarchy. This is something that is almost nonexistent in the Netherlands, where the lowest level worker can have a conversation with CEO.

Soon after the other speakers joined Martin on the stage. Being a Dutch entrepreneur with vast international experience, Jacob Westerlaken quickly confirmed all Martin’s perception of the Slovenia business culture. However, Jacbob pointed out that compared to the Netherlands “where nobody listens to manager at all” or Russia “where everybody listens to managers but nobody thinks for himself”, Slovenia could be the right balance of achieving company goals while still having an open mind. Jacob also shared his disbelief when he saw how much stress is put on the yearly review of who earned the most in the year. Together with the Martin they came to the same observation that there is some sense of envy to success in Slovenia, this was later confirmed by the other two speaker as well.

As an economic analyst at the European Commission, Ulla Hudina Kmetič mentions that the Slovenians are both conservative and risk-takers depending on which segment we take into account. She mentions that on the demand side, especially the startups and SMEs are definitely risk-takers. She refers to the many new Slovenian startups that became very successful over the last years. According to her research however, the supply side of finance, especially equity market is more underdeveloped compared to the Netherlands. She mentions the Netherlands as an example to strive for where capital market is much more evolved. Ulla Hudina also presented the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) and gave examples of equity funds in the Netherlands that have benefited from the EFSI support. Such opportunities could be explored also in Slovenia.

Andrej Lasič has not been operating in the Netherlands himself, however he confirmed that the Dutch business culture and approach to business is very direct. Andrej was involved in the acquisition of Laško Union Brewery by the Heineken group. According to him the process was done in a very professional and efficient manner. Comparing the countries with regards to banking sector, he mentions that Slovenians are conservative with favoring bank deposit savings by 90% over other savings or investments. The Dutch are relatively more in favor making small investments as a proportion of their savings rather depositing It all at the bank.

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