Beograd, Pravda, Page: 22, 6. oktobar 2008.
Investing Half a Billion in Serbia
Sagiv Meger, general director of Plaza for Serbia, is enjoying his stay in Belgrade and announced new projects in our country
Author: A. B.
Sagiv Meger is a young energetic businessman who came to Serbia a year ago as director of Plaza Center. He is so far pleased with the collaboration with officials, but he is cautious with the promises he makes. He thinks that it was possible to come to Serbia even earlier, but that “not all conditions were met at that moment.” Before Belgrade he spent four years in Angola where he was director of a company in charge of more than 50 projects.
Many economists describe Serbia as a country that is unstable and full of challenges. Why did Plaza still come to our country to invest?
First of all I have to say that you are right that this country is full of challenges, primarily because it is a developing country. As far as your claim that Serbia is unstable, luckily for us Plaza has 13 years of experience of doing business in such markets. I will mention Hungary, Poland, the Ukraine, and other countries which were in worse condition when we arrived than Serbia is today. However, bearing in mind that the numbers show that this country is making progress, but also that the Serbs still do no have the right place where they would go to enjoy and spend quality time, we found our place under the sun, because we are specialists in creating such places for people. People in Serbia have the same needs as those living in developed, western countries. Luckily for us we have much experience in how to offer this to people in countries such as yours. And that is a lot of experience. This is why we are coming to Serbia with more confidence than other foreign investors are. We even think that we are coming lightly late.
Why then didn’t you come earlier?
We tried to, but it wasn’t right moment. We have a specific view of the market and what we want to invest in. We don’t go to buy any location at any price. For example, four years ago we wanted to buy the building of the Ministry of interior which was destroyed in the 1999 bombing. However, we have only now succeeded in achieving what we wanted in this purchase.
How much has Plaza invested in Serbia so far?
EUR 80 million to this moment, but we recently officially announced that we would be investing half a billion euros in Serbia in the next three to four years.
How many people are involved in the development of Plaza?
It is difficult to say, since this is a complex team consisting of employees from all the countries that we operate in! Engineers, architects, economists, workers, local staff… As far as the Plaza in Serbia is concerted, the office that you are presently in is certainly not like the ones you were used to in the former Yugoslavia, with a huge number of employees and huge buildings. We believe in creating small teams with high-quality expert and competent people. On the other hand we are also talking about people such as contracted subcontractors who will be involved in the development of our projects. There we can already boast large numbers and people that work for us. One of the good things that we do in countries that we invest in is that we make the people that work with us grow and develop with us. We do that with the workers, with subcontractors that can learn a lot from us. We truly try to have a positive impact wherever we go.
You are presently working on three projects in Serbia, which are rather large. Are you planning more projects?
Had you asked the same question seven days ago I would have perhaps answered slightly differently, but I can now tell you that my answer is yes – we are planning. You see, the global market that has struck the global financial market has impacted many and demanded certain conservativeness. However, considering that we are a very strong company which does not live in dreams and doesn’t give a distorted image, we are planning on being a key player in Belgrade, but also realizing projects in other towns in Serbia which have a population greater than 80,000, and which are feasible according to our estimates. We are a company takes many financial risks, but we always do that following a serious assessment of the situation.
Which towns are these?
I don’t want to list them individually, but I’ll tell you that we are considering towns throughout your country where the population gravitates.
Does that mean that you will soon be the ideal employer in Serbia?
We believe that people that come to work at Plaza have many, many reasons to be pleased, because we treat them all with respect, appreciation and invest in them. Starting with the first person that you see when you enter our offices, to engineers, and those holding the most important positions. I am certain that this is the right place for all young and expert people in Serbia.
Well, considering the fact that Serbia is a country in transition, what about other people, not so young, who are highly-qualified, but are without job in this period?
You are touching on a global problem, don’t think that this is a situation only here. I’ll tell you immediately that we don’t look at all whether our employees are 20, 30, 40 or 60 years old. If they have the abilities and are prepared to learn, if they are honest and loyal, then there will be a place in our team for them. If you look at the list of employees specifically in this branch of Plaza, you will see that I’m not just saying that. I personally don’t think of skin color, religion, age. When someone comes in for a job interview, you look only at their abilities and characteristics.
When will the present projects be completed? Visnjica and the building of Ministry of Interior Affairs, Plaza Center in Kragujevac?
The center in Kragujevac will take 18 months. The project in Visnjicka Banja will take as long, when the realization is started. As far as the Ministry of Interior building, that will take a bit more, but no longer than 24 months. Projects the size of the one in Kragujevac take 14 months, but at this moment we don’t know enough about the subcontractors, and I don’t want to give irresponsible statements, so that is why I have a little reservation.
So, after the projects you will start further development?
No, we are working in parallel and planning other projects in the cities that I have mentioned to you.
What is the difference between the Israelis and the Serbs, considering the fact that you are coming from a completely different environment?
Even though, as you know, many describe the Serbs as being lazy, I cannot agree with such a claim. Everywhere in the world, including here, there are people that like to enjoy life. What thrilled me in Serbia is the fact that Belgrade is full of people every night, that it never sleeps. We are similar in that! Perhaps it will surprise you but I think that the Israelis have many similarities with the Serbs. They have suffered a lot, fought a lot, and want to live a full life. The Serbs are very warm and friendly, attentive. Unfortunately I have also encountered a few that are not like this, but I know how to manage such situations. Finally, as an Israeli I feel very well here. Wherever I’ve been with common people, with associates, with Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, President Boris Tadic, politicians, anyone – I felt Serbian hospitality.
Well, it is a fact that politicians in Serbia are rather attentive and wonderful when it comes to words, easily give promises. What are they like when it comes to actions? Do you have a problem in collaborating with them? It wouldn’t be honest to say that there are no problems in business, but that is a normal occurrence when you are involved in a business such as this one and such problems appear in all countries where we work. What I must say is that we don’t expect at any moment that politicians, local as well as high-level, will break the law because of us. I can even say that officials in your country are better than in other countries.
Belgrade must change a lot
I believe that the new Mayor of Belgrade, Dragan Djilas, faces great challenges, which he will have to deal with. The legislation on construction is very complex, the procedure for obtaining all the necessary permits is very complicated… In any case, many things must be done so that Belgrade will become more open and more receptive to investors. I believe that the country is on the right tracks.
Do you fear that politicians say one thing but do something else?
You know, we are at the very beginning of our development in Serbia. As far as Kragujevac is concerned, we have had good experience, the delays were minimal and justified, and as far as projects in Belgrade are concerned – ask me in six months and then I’ll be able to answer. I’m an optimist for now.
I like Serbian cuisine
Have you tried our cuisine?
Luckily I am a man that likes to eat exactly the way you eat in Serbia. Before this I lived for years in Angola where I got used to a “meaty” menu. The only thing is that when you eat as you do here you gain weigh, so you have to work out more. But, alright, when you must, you better.
Can you choose a specialty?
One interview is too little for such a good cuisine as yours.
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