EBRD Annual Meeting 2015: Company Stories

By Axel  Reiserer

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The (R)evolutionary Road: Company Stories Made Real
The opening panel of this year’s EBRD Business Forum “The (R)evolutionary Road: Company Stories Made Real” achieved something previously thought unthinkable: a gripping discussion among four high-profile panelists in front of a packed audience – and all of them in agreement.
What united Gokalp Çak, Thierry Déau, Vaja Jhashi, and Ruben Vardanyan was the conviction that the private sector is and remains the main driver of growth in the transition region. But in order to succeed entrepreneurs need the right environment.
This was set out in the opening address by EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti who said to an audience of some 200 business guests, delegates, academics, media and other interested parties: “Encouraging and fostering entrepreneurship has been at the heart of the EBRD’s activities from the start. Our mandate has a very clear private sector commitment because we see it as the driving force of the kind of economy we believe serves societies best.”
In the speech the President not only set out what the private sector does for the economy and society, but he also outlined what the private sector needs to flourish: “A stable economy needs an effective state and sound political and economic governance institutions – not to rein in the economy, but on the contrary to create an environment in which the creativity and innovative power of companies is systematically fostered.”
Following the President’s remarks the panellists described their personal career and the development of their company. They looked back at the changes the private sector underwent in the EBRD region over the last 25 years from different angles and perspectives.
Asked what was needed for further progress Ruben Vardanyan, Founder, Chairman, RVVZ Foundation, said: “Of course finance is important, but it is not everything. Without vision and dedication no business can survive. If you do not know why you want to sell a product to a customer, how would he?”
One of the themes that emerged during the discussion was the paradox between companies struggling to recruit talent and high levels of youth unemployment – particularly amongst graduates – across many parts of the EBRD’s regions.
This substantial mismatch between the skills of young people leaving school and the requirements of employers creates a major challenge to business growth. “Finding – and retaining – skilled and motivated staff is the key to the long term success of a company - and the key challenge for our business”,  said Gokalp Çak, Vice Chairman of Netlog.
Whilst some companies invest directly in training of their new recruits, there is a general recognition that the private sector needs to engage more pro-actively with the education authorities to shape technical curricula and emphasise the need for soft skills training. 
This engagement is challenging though, as highlighted by Thierry Déau, Founding Partner and CEO of Medidiam: “Working with government is like being near the sun, if you get too close you burn, but if you stay away too far you freeze”.
Asked about obstacles for the development of the private sector, the panellists mentioned access to finance; lack of adequate skills of the workforce; the difficulty to find reliable and competent partners ‎in official institutions and the capacity to retain employees in a growing market.
However, as Vaja Jhashi, President and CEO, Trans Oil Group, put it: “This is clearly a sign of a competitive market and it forces us to constantly improve to remain on top of things.”
The panellists answered the final question of moderator Jonathan Charles, the EBRD Director of Communications, as where they see the private sector in the EBRD region in 10 years from now in similar vein.
All were confident that there will be further significant progress towards stronger businesses and more resilient economies. The explanation provided by Mr Çak was simple, yet compelling.  
“We want to see our companies grow and we want to see our region grow,” he said. “We have a lot to do and that means we are hungrier to succeed.”
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