Romania’s foreign legion

Newsroom 12/03/2012 | 12:08

They’re highly skilled, valuable and hard working. They have made a name for themselves on the local market, which was their passport to a top management position abroad. Romanian executives who have bagged high-status roles abroad tell BR how they did it and the ups and downs of their relocations.

Anda Sebesi

Being an executive at a multinational company was and still is a huge challenge, especially during the current economic crisis which has hit the entire international scene. To make the company you work for more prosperous and to ensure it posts increasing results from one year to another in hard economic times is a big responsibility that any CEO or top manager carries on his or her shoulders. But to be an expat executive is even more challenging, as the company you run may have a different organizational culture than you are used to. Plus, the country you have moved to has its specifics, from potential for growth to consumption behavior and purchasing power, as well as the individual business environment and political conditions.

Many of the multinational companies that entered the local market years ago preferred to have expats run their businesses in Romania. But as the business environment developed and Romanian executives proved to be highly skilled and valuable, they too started to snap up such roles abroad. And Madalina Uceanu, senior HR advisor at Career Advisor, says that companies in Romania are now replacing their foreign managers with homegrown talent.

Many Romanian executives are running multinational companies or have reached senior roles abroad. Marius Persinaru, formerly Xerox’s vice-president of DMO channel operations, was recently appointed chief commercial officer and general manager for technology and services for Central and Eastern Europe, Israel and Turkey (CIT). He joined Xerox Romania 15 years ago, going on to hold various management positions in logistics, tech support and operations. Persinaru led Xerox Romania and the Republic of Moldova between 2004 and 2009.

Also, in June last year, Calin Dragan, general manager of the operations of Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company at that time, was promoted to operations manager, corporate officer and executive director of operations and business transformation at Coca-Cola Japan. Company representatives said at the time that the move was part of the practice of developing talent in the Coca-Cola HBC system. And last fall, Nicolae Chidesciuc, the chief economist at ING Bank Romania, told local newspaper ZF that he was moving to JP Morgan London. He had spent about four years at ING and another five at the National Bank of Romania (BNR) and was one of the most prominent financial analysts on the local market.

These are just a few examples of Romanian professionals who have gained their “expat status” through their local track records. But how has the current downturn influenced the trend of appointing Romanians to top management positions? The most recent data available on the market found that at the end of 2010 about 2,000 out of over 2 million Romanians working abroad were running companies or divisions of large international groups, reported Business Magazine. The same publication said that while Europe was the usual destination of managers in FMCG, the pharmaceutical industry and financial services, it was mainly professionals from the IT industry who were working in the US at that time.

Some specialists say that fewer Romanian executives are working abroad compared with 2007-2008. But according to Adriana Dutescu, director of the Bucharest School of Management’s Romanian-Canadian MBA program, things are looking up. “There is a pronounced trend of Romanians reaching top management positions in other countries in the last few years as a result of the particular experience they gained on an emerging market with a high risk and their individual performances. And we expect this trend to continue in the near future,” she says.

Uceanu says that the field depends more on the company and less on the industry. “IT is the only industry that exports many Romanians, but not necessarily managers. I think that the local outsourcing industry has contributed a lot to the retention of specialists while many of them worked on foreign projects,” says Uceanu.

Financial motivation

Generally, higher pay, the desirability of an international career and promotion prospects are the main reasons Romanians choose to relocate. But the remuneration depends on each multinational. “Often the salary is between the level in Romania and the money that an equivalent local candidate in a similar position would command. But exposure to another market, both from a personal and professional perspective, is also important,” says Uceanu.

In addition, an MBA can increase the salary that a graduate can earn if he or she relocates to a foreign country. “Based on information from our graduates, there were salary increases of a minimum 30 percent on average in the first five months after graduation. But there were also cases when the salary increased by 50 percent,” says Dutescu.  She adds that according to their statistics about 30 percent of graduates reach top management positions abroad six months after their graduation. “The percentage increases to about 35-40 percent one year since completion of the MBA program,” she says.

Expat hurdles

Loredana Butnaru, current executive director at Marelvi Impex, was offered the role of sales and marketing director at the Gorenje office in London in 2006, just before she graduated from the Romanian-Canadian MBA program. In that position she was in charge of implementing the sales and marketing strategy, which included launching new products, establishing the product range, promotional, media and PR activities, events, catalogues, flyers and concept stores. She also coordinated two of the most important clients.

“I decided to go to London for two years and then come back to Romania in order to use here what I had learned there,” remembers Butnaru. “My first challenge was to go to another country. I was 31 and a young Romanian woman who had come to teach English people how to do business. I was respected but they didn’t want to change anything and whenever I suggested something the answer was negative. I had to work for 10-12 hours a day and weekends to learn the market, the customers and the way of doing business in order to find arguments to prove I was right,” says Butnaru.

Adrian Kamenitzer, head of project and structured finance, credit risk and policies department, at European Investment Bank, has a different concept of the expat. “In my team there are members from six different countries. So who is actually an expat? In a way it is easier for me because perhaps I have the capacity to appreciate an international environment more than my colleagues,” he says. “My wife is from Finland, my daughter was born in England and we live in Luxembourg. Maybe we should accept that the concepts of ‘expat’ and ‘local’ are no longer as important as in the past.” Kamenitzer has held his current position since August 2011 and runs a team in charge of credit risk management analysis of the projects the lender develops, especially in structured finance.

Climbing the ladder

Generally the call offering promotion and relocation to another country comes from the company headquarters. While for some the move abroad will be permanent, others plan to come home once their tenure is over. Butnaru of Marelvi Impex was one of the latter.

“My initial plan was to stay for two years. I stayed two and a half years in London and then I decided to come back to Romania but not necessarily because I had planned to do so. My job wasn’t challenging me, there was no prospect of promotion and I knew that I had more chance of using my knowledge and experience in Romania,” says Butnaru.

Others found a foreign career path more rewarding. “For me it was a combination of work and good luck. Although it wasn’t easy and I had to work very hard, I was lucky to benefit from some opportunities over time. The MBA program that I followed opened a new career for me,” says Kamenitzer, who graduated from the Romanian Canadian MBA program. He worked for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and then had the chance to relocate to London, before continuing his journey. “From the EBRD I moved to the European Investment Bank (EIB) in Luxembourg, joining a new team where I could use extensively all that I had learned before, possibly enjoying an advantage over other colleagues,” says Kamenitzer.

Generally promotion to a top management position abroad comes as a result of the need to offer additional motivation and to develop a professional who could return to his or her country in a higher position than the one they left. “The level of performance is the first criteria considered when it comes to an international career. $5 deposit casino This is closely followed by the stability of that employee inside the company that will give her or him the international position,” says Uceanu of Career Advisor.

Butnaru says that the biggest factor in her employer’s decision to transfer her to London was that she had made a name for herself at international level through her successful marketing strategy and actions implemented in Romania. Meanwhile, Kamenitzer believes that it is important to know your precise goals. “I knew pretty clearly what I wanted and I refused several offers that didn’t suit my way of being or passion, even though they were very generous financial offers. I agreed to start something with less generous financial conditions when I felt that it was what I wanted to do,” he says.

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