Aliquo in Belgrade
Photography and text: Marina NIkolic
After the Interview was finished, Simone Apolloni says that he hopes that the content has substance and is not just empty talk. At the same time, the Italian businessman talksin fluent serbian with temporary italijan emphasis, or better said sound. He and his wife Lana are a good example of people with a lot of international experience who decided to live where they simply feel better. Double-sided success entitles them that it is possible. Before coming to Belgrade Simone Apolloni studied economics in Italy and worked as an industrial project manager, but also in Thailand, Russia, Switzerland and Brazil. In Swiss he finishes his MBA, where he meets Lana, his classmate. Lana, a girl of serbian origin also completed previously economic studies in Italy in and worked at Philip Morris in Belgrade as a budget controller. During their master studies they visit Belgrade together few times and Simone quickly gets an opportunity for business. Then finally, they decide to go back to Belgrade after Switzerland, where Simone opens soon a well going bureau forindustrial management and consulting.
WEAST: Mrs Apolloni, did you always had an affinity for sweats and how it became a second career?
L.Apolloni:. There was always some love and hobby ever since I was very young. While studying economics and finance, I had a italian roommates and so I collected recipes their mothers and grandmothers kindly gave. We lived as students in this small town in Tuscany. The Italians went home on weekends and when they returned they brought insane good cakes and pastry. When I came to Belgrade. Simeon and I got a daughter. Then I realized that my life would make no sense in one multi international corporation where I use to work and for which I was educated, So I concluded that I could open my own pastry shop. Here I did find myself completely. Although my past work experience helps me very much in everyday business.
WEAST: Is Italian culture similar to Serbian? You also lived in Switzerland, how did the difference felt?
L.A: Well the difference between Italy and Switzerland is huge. Between Italy and Serbia not so much. Mostly of course in the way of simple life aspects , how people work and socialize, what kind of family relationships are they living, they way they celebrate and similar.
WEAST: You're originally from Belgrade? Did living in Italy and Switzerland changed you?
L.A: YEs, it did a lot and in a good way. One of the important things is that I've decided to come back. In Serbia lots of people don't understand this, most of young professionals tend to immigrate to Western Europe or America.
WEAST: Why is that? What is the unique thing in this region?
The connection between people is authentic around here, maybe it's because we've been through some tough times. Mutual help is present in day to day life.This kind of connection, openness and support is part of everyday life and progress, so did I grew up, so did our parents. We are now in a situation in which we are parents and see that such a social structure like this has its advantages. But I think the way we as a nation, we don't have the same mentality to be a good part of the way of western functioning. There will be always something raw around here, which is not a bad thing.
WEAST: Mr. Apolloni did your perception of the Balkans changed since you arrived?
S.A: Honestly I did not had some particular perception of the Balkans nor the expectations when I arrived. But I think the encounter generally is not easy for people who are accustomed to living in the West. Perhaps it was a bit easier for me first because I think that mentality in the central and southern part of Italy is very similar to the one in the Balkans. I was born 80 km from Rome. Second because I was already used to live in different countries and more complicated ones, like Brazil. Brazil is a beautiful country, but very difficult for life and business, especially in terms of security, which is not the case here at all. As far as my perception tells, of course, at the beginning it's harder, you do not know the language, do not know the people and how the weather goes, but after a while it's all easier. Today I consider Belgrade to be my home.
WEAST: In your successful consulting “Aliquo Group” you have experience in the meantime with lots if international clients who come here. Does specific cultural problems occur? For example, such as the perception of time?
S.A: Again, it depends on where are you from. If you're a Swedish, Dutchman or Norwegian for you everything here is difficult. And speaking about perception of time, if you can deal with the southern part of Europe, Italians, Spain, Greeks and even France, then you would get along here also. Everything's clear at the outset and way of functioning is quite similar, business and life in contrast to the northern part of Europe. Depends on what you're used to (laughs quietly).
WEAST: Are there some possibilities here which don‘t exist in the West?
Simone Apolloni: There‘s a lot. I have accepted last year an invitation to an interesting event. I had an opportunity to speak at the university here in Belgrade and exchange thoughts with students. The main topic was: “What is the experience of a foreigner who lives and works here”. I was very sad to hear that most of the young people in Serbia have their primary objective to flee from Serbia. But not everything is great abroad.I can say what‘s going in Italy, for years now, a country which is full of natural resources the economy collapses slowly in the sense that there is no reform, no innovation, everything works in an old way. On the other hand, Balkans is a region which is the last part of Europenot fully integrated within the European Union. And specificity because of this delay it is the part that needs a lot to be done. Infrastructure, highways, economy, which particularlyneeds be reform and get on to its feet. It‘s filled with factories that were abandoned and waiting to be activated. If you look at it and compare very clear the statistics from where FDI gives information (Foreign Direct Investments ), in recent years, you will see and understand the business opportunities coming up in this area.
WEAST: So, eastern europe gets up from its cliches? This structure works less, chaos and poverty. This is changing?
S.A: Look at the reputation Poland had in Western Europe 15 years ago. That changed. The same will happen here. Why? I m witnessing the slow change,: since 2008 I until today, it's been 8,5 years. Perhaps the people who live here can not see the slow change but things are getting better indeed. Not that the speed in which people would like to have that change. Corruption for example, decreased drastically. On a construction site, in earlier days if inspections came it was known that they are expecting something from investors or from you as a project manager. Today this is no longer happening. I know through my job, that industrial infrastructure and economic center of former yugoslavian industry was mainly here. Only this awareness, this by these factories, that "know how" the older generation can pass to reactivate industrial production. This is an invaluable asset. I want to say: it's not like we have to a built everything all new. Knowledge, know-how and infrastructure existed and it is easier to reactivate than make new all over again. I think this is a decisive aspect.
WEAST: You speak fluent serbian and are well integrated part of the environment. You're no longer a stranger here. Did your life here has changed?
S.A: Yes, and I'm grateful for that. I learned that to balance between work and private life. Other advantages are also important to me. In the West, to take Italy for example, and its most productive part, the northern part. There are factories on almost every corner, almost every family has its own private business. Everybody are focused only on work, work, results and money. It produced an inpersonal way of life, raw contacts and open interaction became rare. While it is still preserved here, at least that part. It means a lot to me, honest socializing.
Meanwhile with a quite good revenue and several employees Simone Apolloni also speaks fluently serbian language. Lana decides to change her occupation and dares to open her own pastry shop withold italian recipes in Belgrade. The fact of coming to a country with a more difficult economic standards than the one they both finished their master studies, especially for someone from witheconomic background seemed daring. I was personally interested in the perception of the two of them, after experiencing other countries and ways of life. Both appear as a strong personalities, talking calm but loud enough, laughing also.
WEAST: Simon you are came to Serbia, primarily for private reasons?
S.A: Yes in my entire career I worked as a project manager and travelled a lot. After finishing the economic faculty in Rome, I went to work as a project manager in an italian company, but they often send me abroad to open branch offices. At one point in 2006 I decided, after a working in Brazil, to do the MBA in Switzerland. During that time,I met Lana in my class, meanwhile my wife. With her I came 2 times to Belgrade for a visit as a tourist and also I went to meet some Italians who live in Belgrade. At the same time, this was a period when a deal between the state and Fiat and "Zastava" was happening (“Zastava is car brand from yugoslavian times). The reconstruction in Kragujevac started with one of the Fiats factory. One previous company has recommended me to stay and lead the project, it was a reconstruction of the "quality centre" (that was the name of Fiats part of the factory). We started to work on this project , I stayed all the time here in Belgrade. Thereupon I got an another offer to do a project with another company, and when I saw that there are a lot of foreign investors coming, I spot the opportunity to stay in one place, open my own business and not travel around the world to work.