Interview with mr Veselin Jevrosimović, founder, owner and president of the COMTRADE GROUP
Persistence, vision and a quality team guarantee success
On behalf of The Collection magazine, Sofija Aćimović spoke with Veselin Jevrosimović, founder, owner and president of the Comtrade Group, one of the first and largest IT companies in this part of the world.
Photo Courtesy of Mina Dišljenković
Sport in your heart – sport from a young age. How did it all start and where did athletics come from? We deliberately ask this question at the beginning, because the “no quitting” motto is valid in both sport and business (at least when it comes to you).
I got into athletics as a boy. I remember watching the Olympics in Moscow and being thrilled when Kozakiewicz won the pole vault gold, in a discipline which the Russians dominated at the time. The very next day, I decided to start training athletics and became a member of the Red Star Athletic Club.
Sport from an early age taught me an extremely important lesson: at key moments and in critical situations – quitting is not an option.
Both business and individual companies are continiously evolving: over the years, we’ve learned that various circumstances can surprise you and bring down something you’ve been building for a long time. But the thing that has always kept me calm, brave and confident is the fact that no one can take away your knowledge. As long as you have that, you’ll always know how to get up and move again. Whatever I was going through, I never thought about giving up. I simply believed that, if I was persistent enough, I’d get the results that I want. In the end, it turned out that I did – and that I still do.
Miami, Dusseldorf, St. Petersburg … HP, IBM, Microsoft … $ 12.5 billion, 50 companies in 40 countries – all at the age of 30. Impressive. What did that timeline look like?
Exciting – and full of challenges.
I went to America when I was 19, to attend college. There, I met my business partner with whom I started my first big business with computers, which were then becoming a very sought-after commodity in America, but which were in short supply in the rest of the world. After a while, we decided to expand our business to Europe, and in Dusseldorf in 1986 we bought a computer equipment distributor who had a contract with HP. At the same time, I invested in the ownership structure of one company, which through a series of successful acquisitions became the second largest IT company in the world, with an annual turnover of 12 billion dollars.
In 1991, in what was then Yugoslavia, I started a company – Comtrade. I used the business contacts that I already had and managed very quickly to make the company the largest distributor of IT equipment in the country and the first distributor for HP, IBM and Microsoft. The collapse of the single market was a great challenge – but also an opportunity, so Comtrade began a regional expansion that culminated in the largest Serbian investment in the Slovenian market, when Comtrade bought the largest Slovenian software company Hermes SoftLab in 2008 for 40 million euros. Although we were already experienced in the field of system integration, this purchase definitely ensured that software was a key direction for the future development of Comtrade Group.
Photo Courtesy of Comtrade Group
You’re a member of the World Economic Forum, the winner of many awards and prizes abroad, as well as an honorary citizen of Boston. Can you describe all these awards in a little more detail?
It feels good when your work is recognized by relevant people and institutions. However, I’ve always strived to do the job the best that I can, without thinking about awards or recognitions as a goal. Throughout my life, I’ve invested all my energy in endeavours that I truly believe in: that luxury is the greatest reward for me.
What do you think a good manager looks like today?
A good manager has complete trust in the people they work with: that means giving them maximum freedom within the scope of their duties. People’s horizons should be constantly expanding – we are all working for the same team, and the manager is just one link that must know how to do their job well. Of course, a manager can’t do everything, and still less know everything.
In short, a good manager should know how to work smart, and also how to work well with their team.
Comtrade Group currently has more than 5,000 employees, a significant percentage of whom are software engineers who develop solutions for world’s most successful companies.
That’s right – that’s why we have the luxury of choosing our customers. However, due to the amount of work and the fact that our engineers are always actively working on projects, we constantly have vacancies.
For that reason, 10 years ago, I started an IT college – ITHS, and then the IT high school – ITS, which are the largest private educational institutions for information technology in Serbia. I believe that today we have to train our own engineering staff.
You’ve also opened an office in Dublin (after Ljubljana, Boston and Belgrade). What are your plans for the future?
The Irish market has proven to be very innovative and geared towards the adoption and development of new technologies, resulting in their well-developed global position in IT. Therefore, we decided to open a new office in Dublin, which will be specifically focused on data management and protection, as well as artificial intelligence.
I believe that, today, the companies of the greatest value are those that offer everything under one roof – software, hardware and robotics; these are all fields that will, in the future, more often be “united” within a single product. For these reasons, Comtrade’s goal is to become more involved in developing its own products, so that it becomes less dependent on external factors.
What does the term digitalization mean to you and how do you see the development of artificial intelligence in the future?
Today, almost all companies are in some sense technological. Businesses need a stimulating environment, and digitalization is opening up numerous opportunities and creating the right conditions for innovation and new business processes. Robotics and artificial intelligence are of particular importance here, because they enable these organizations to be leaders in the market.
That’s the direction of the future – almost all of the most successful world technology companies are investing in the development of artificial intelligence, at a time when civilization is rapidly moving towards comprehensive digitalization. Successful companies in the digital age must be able to extract value from the data at their disposal, and artificial intelligence enables them to do so.
Photo Courtesy of Comtrade Group
How do you see the problem of hiring and retaining staff in various industries such as medicine, hospitality, transport and finally IT?
It’s completely natural for the labour market to change. One occupation starts to fade out, another becomes more sought-after, and completely new forms of work begin to emerge. In the IT industry, which is dynamic and which is developing at an incredible speed, this process even more pronounced. In the global IT market, we are currently facing a great shortage of workers in various fields – from programmers and software system architects, to engineers in charge of IT infrastructure. In order to retain workers and attract the best talent in the market, companies need to adapt to market demands and offer their employees new, more flexible and agile models of working.
Photo Courtesy of Comtrade Group
We see that many well-known companies from the world of IT, the hotel industry, real estate, and sectors, are investing in various projects in the region. Is the ex-YU region ready to play such an important role in the global market?
In the last 15 years, the ex-YU region has proven that it’s very capable of adapting to and adopting global business practices and trends, which is confirmed by the growing foreign investment in various industries across the region.
As someone who recognized the potential of this market a few decades ago, I know that this part of the world is a fertile ground for the development of quality business ventures and entrepreneurial ideas. That’s why I actively use the experience I’ve gained while working across several continents to contribute to the further business growth of many regional companies.