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A Bridge to the Balkans - with a British Twist


The United Kingdom and Slovenia: while the two countrieshave had good diplomatic relations since Slovenia's independence and meet eachother in the halls of the EU, by most accounts their relationship could bestronger. British foreign direct investment accounted for only 2.2% of all FDIin the country, or only 12th on the list, and though it is the third largestcountry in the EU, the UK is only 10th on the list of destination countries forSlovenian exports. Recently a group of British businessman and Sloveniansrepresenting British interests came together to form the first official BritishChamber of Commerce in Slovenia (BBCS) in order to strengthen commercial tiesbetween the two nations. Directly following the Queen of England's first-evervisit to Slovenia, we sat down with businessman Kevin Morrison, the Presidentof the BCCS, to talk about business, the Balkans, and bringing a bit ofBritish-style fun to the Slovenian business environment.


Please give me background on the BCCS project. What are the roots ofthe chamber? Who is involved?


We received an invitation tovisit the British ambassador's house for a meeting in late 2007 to discuss theidea of opening a future British Chamber of Commerce in Slovenia. The originalidea came actually from Prince Andrew when he visited Slovenia in mid 2007. Ithink most people thought that Slovenia was too small to have a bilateralchamber with the UK, because we don't have a huge trade but it's growing. So wegot some Brits together, and some Slovenes representing British companies also,and made the decision to start the process. I took the "poisonchalice" and was elected to establish the chamber and become the firstpresident.


What challenges did you face in establishing the chamber?

Quite a lot. Basically we lookedat the idea of what type of organization we should have, whether we should havea more informal business club or really have a zbornica - a chamber of commerce. We decided to go for the moredifficult version because it is perceived in Slovenia – rightly or wrongly –that a chamber is a much more serious organization. We were only the secondchamber established based on the new zbornica laws, so not really many lawyershad any experience setting up a zbornica under the new laws. So it was a bittrial and error, a bit stressful, but TAXGroup – who are one of our founding members – wereextremely helpful and professional so we managed to get there in the end. Wehad the official opening in 2008.


The website says that the chamber is focused on "business with aBritish twist," how does that "twist" manifest itself?

People from all othernationalities like to be involved in something to do with the UK whether it'ssports or culture – at the end of the day these are all businesses now. Sowhenever we try to do business we try to do it with this British twist, whichmeans for a Slovenian company we'll try and find them a UK partner. For one ofour members in Slovenia, this is more appropriate, we'll try to find thembusiness in the UK or with a UK partner and if we can't do that then we'll tryto find them business with one of our other 28 members all across Europe.


We'd like to help Slovenianbusinesses do business in the UK and also outside of Europe. The reality isthat we have 2 million people in Slovenia. The strength of Slovenia is thelocation and also the historical ties. So when we talk to British companies wesay, "Don't think about 2 million people and small trade – the growing butsmall trade – think about the potential for trade between the two countries,the potential in the region, and also the potential for the Balkans andSoutheastern Europe." For me – and most Slovenians probably will tell you– we probably missed the boat. We probably missed a lot of opportunties in theregion. We probably could have been a huge influence in the Balkans... Here wesell Slovenia as the best location for regional head office for the Balkans;for the British companies who might be a bit nervous about jumping intoBelgrade or Sarajevo, we say 'come to Ljubljana.' We have an EU-friendlyenvironment. We have historical ties. The language is not a barrier, and wehave partners and contacts. I think this is one of the key potentialopportunities for Slovenia in general.


What activities or events do you have planned for the next few months?

Well, we've got a few interestingideas for events... There's about 75,000 contracts up for tender for the LondonOlympics 2012. This is a once in a 30 to 40 year opportunity so we are going totry to make the most of it and hopefully help some Slovenian companies get somepart of that cake.


What are your greatest hopes for the chamber?


The best hope is that we can makeourselves something similar to the British Chamber of Commerce in Poland. To methey epitomize the fact that a chamber of commerce should be all aboutcommerce, it should be all about business and less about politics. Theyco-brand events; the British Chamber in Poland, that's quite a brand and a lotof companies like to be associated with them because it gives their events ortheir products some extra value.


So we'd like to build a brandwith the British Chamber in Slovenia, but I try to keep things quite simple.For me, we should do more business for the members and also, at the same time,try to enjoy it a little bit more. There's a good Scottish saying that"You should be happy when you're living because you're dead for a longtime." We should apply this to business. We spend longer every dayworking. I'm working 14 hours a day at the moment and if you don't enjoy atleast some of it, it's a pretty unhappy business existence. So we'll try andmake it – dare we even say it in business? – enjoyable.

Author: Camille E.Acey
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