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Riko Boss: Slovenian Firms Not Bold Enough in Conquering Foreign Markets (interview)

Ljubljana, 13 July (STA) - The boss of an engineering company which does most of its business abroad believes that Slovenian firms are doing very well on foreign markets, but they lack boldness and they are hampered by the reluctance of Slovenian workers to go abroad to manage projects.

"Slovenian companies are very successful on foreign markets. Every firm knows that the Slovenian market is too small and that this boundary to growth needs to be torn down. Only foreign markets can do that," Riko boss Janez Skrabec has told the STA.

He says the "natural" markets for Slovenia are neighbouring countries and the Balkans, where Slovenian brands, know-how and reputation are much better regarded than anywhere else in the world, especially in Riko's line of business.

"Slovenia has always been very successful in selling technology East, to the countries of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Riko is trying to retain this advantage, especially in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia," he said.

Riko is specialising in industrial engineering projects, in particular in Russia, but given the dire state of the car industry it expects to generate the bulk of its revenue with energy projects this year.

The company is in the midst of building a hydro plant in Macedonia and a huge project for Russian car maker Avtovaz is being discussed. In pre-fab houses, another key business, it has multiple projects ongoing in France, England and Italy.

But much like other Slovenian companies, Riko faces obstacles in trying to expand further afield. "Quality of life in Slovenia is very good and there has always been enough work. In our business in particular few people are willing to go to foreign countries for several years, especially places more chaotic than Slovenia."

Indeed, Riko is having problems getting people to manage projects in Macedonia and Russia. "What will happen if we conquer markets that we are trying to enter now with the help of business diplomacy, for example Libya, Algeria, the Middle East? I find it hard to imagine that Slovenians will be thrilled to go there. But there's no success without enthusiasm."

Quizzed about the business environment in Slovenia and government reform plans, Skrabec said he was not thinking about these issues and did not expect anyone to do anything for him.

Summing up his philosophy about the rule of the state, Skrabec quoted 14th century Uzbek leader Amir Timur, who said that the state's most important task is to make sure the merchant travelling from Samarkand to Constantinople gets there safely.

"Most Slovenian politicians and businessmen do not think this way. The state must become an enabling state providing a level playing field for all," he said, adding that he was a big advocate of the state selling its stakes in companies and banks. "This is rational for a small country. Small countries need to be open."

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