Executive Interviews


“We have aspirations to become a multinational retail player” --Interview with the general manager of a sporting goods retailing company in Macedonia-- (2/2)




*This interview article is divided into two parts and posted separately.
This is the second part of the article.
< Part 1>

Sport Vision Dooel Skopje
Mr. Igor Trpkovski (General Manager)


Many business people from abroad including the emerging countries have participated in AOTS training programs. Positions of the targeted audience vary with the programs, and there are some programs aimed for top executives.


We conducted an interview with a general manager of a company which retails, produces, and distributes sporting goods in the Balkan region.



--How do you view the current status of your business in the global market?

At present, we are operating in the Balkan area, including ex-Yugoslav republics, now independent states (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia and Montenegro), plus Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Kosovo. We believe we have built a strong base for further expansion into the EU market. The company has well established practices of initial and ongoing support for new markets, with on-site opening support, access to management training and assistance with creating supply lines, marketing programs, purchasing and regular visits from the HQ.
With regard to our future plans, we are considering extension of our retail operations in two new markets with a population of 90 million people.
--Are you planning to expand your business overseas? What does your company consider important and wish to focus on to lead your business overseas to a success?
As mentioned previously, the company has strategic plans to expand its retail operations in two new markets with population of 90 million people.
Regarding the expansion of our business overseas, including Japan, it will not happen in the near future. Since the pattern of expansion begins with small-scale takeovers into nearby and culturally similar countries, the company is focused on expanding in near markets.
In order to succeed abroad, we have to have a strong domestic foundation. Our key success factors are competitive pricing, skilled workforce, wide product assortment, developed marketing activities and distribution channels. Furthermore, we are constantly trying to provide adequate resources, capital, training programs and support systems to assist the business abroad. In order to capitalize from the potential growth in the emerging markets, the company has to choose the right “architecture”. Current internationalization exposes the benefits and obstacles during the process and enables the evaluation of test scenarios for marginal analyses, turnovers, market-share, profits and risks.
--Please tell us about the current market environment of your business in your country.

We have competitors but I cannot say that they are a major problem, since we are relatively large and have a bigger market share than they do. They have run their business for about 15 years and have stores all over the country and in this sense they are our competitor. However, I consider the competition as healthy for any business as they keep motivating us to be better each day.


--Business customs of your country may differ from those of other countries including Japan. Please use a few episodes to explain your distinctive differences from them in terms of the mindset for working, business culture, and national characters.


I have learnt that business relationships in Japan are based on trust and honesty but in my country, or in other European countries, they are based on contracts and clauses so you better not rely on trust. You have to sign very strict contracts with legal protections and penalties and you need to be careful to do so since the business environment is not so stable. From my point of view, this difference, what is the base of business, is the biggest one between my country and Japan. However, face to face management based on trust works from time to time in my country as well. For example, we have one correspondent bank which always takes good care of us and if we need a larger amount of money sometimes we can just informally agree to borrow/lend money during a five-minute coffee break and then make it official and transparent, because there is mutual trust; we know them very well and vice versa. I would be happy if we could always rely on trust like in this case, but this just doesn’t happen often. My personal opinion is that we, in the business community, should work more on integrity and honesty, which are very important traditional values.


--What are the points that you have kept in mind to develop human resources in your company? In other words, how do you wish to improve your engagement with the matter in the future?


A company’s expansion means understanding, managing and adjusting to an entirely new set of demands. Organizational growth always creates a company that is much more complex – one that needs new infrastructure and a much more sophisticated management team. At present, the company is a mini-national international retailer, where all key management decisions are centralized in the headquarters. For successful transformation into a real multi-national company, the company needs to change its organizational structure in order to conduct all key business functions in multiple countries, where management is decentralized - decisions are made and problems are solved at lower levels by employees who are closer to the problem, and sectors are operated and managed as truly local entities. Some researchers warn that having local managers on the ground is not enough unless those managers are actually given genuine authority to make decisions without having to go back to HQ and check them first and then go back. For best practice, local managers should be empowered to make decisions and solve problems, but, using the resources and synergy on a corporative level and connected on a common technology platform. The first step would be strengthening the HR department in order to develop and train managers for international operations who can bring an international perspective. Furthermore, well-defined organizational structures establish the roles and norms that enable companies to cope with “pain points” while expanding into new geographies, and therefore it is well worth the manager’s time to examine existing company’s structures to see if they are flexible enough to support the new initiatives.
Growth naturally creates new interactions and processes, expected and unexpected, and often at a fast pace and to manage them, the managers must have “ambidextrous” capabilities which will enable them to take the initiative beyond the confines of their jobs, to cooperate and build linkages across the company and to complete many tasks in parallel. Therefore, the changes have to be initiated from the highest hierarchical levels with consideration of strategic goals, people, availability of resources and new administrative procedures.
--What is your impression about Japan and Japanese companies? Please share with us an episode or experience that surprised or touched you.
Japan was a truly fascinating experience! A great country with amazing people - always kind, thoughtful and willing to help. Great harmony and the coexistence of the futuristic and traditional at the same time.
I have almost “felt” the “clash” between western and eastern society. The behavior, norms and values, the way of communication, doing business... it is all very different and certainly in a positive context. On the other hand, I also felt that despite all the differences, we share the same fundamental human principles that serve as perfect common ground for mutual understanding and collaboration.
During my stay, I visited four Japanese companies (3 SMEs and Toyota’s Tsutsumi Plant). My notions are that efficiency and safety are on the highest levels possible. Evidence how great Japanese companies have successfully globalized and given me the impression that Japanese management principles are still some of the best in the world.
Thank you very much for your cooperation.


*This interview article is divided into two parts and posted separately.
This is the second part of the article.
< Part 1>