Confindustria Bulgaria President Pietro Ghia: For Italian Business Bulgaria Is the Very Center of the Balkans
Interview with Pietro Luigi Ghia, President of Confindustria Bulgaria, the association of Italian business in Bulgaria, for the "International Survey: Bulgaria-Italy" of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency).
Mr. Ghia, could you give a brief description of Confindustria Bulgaria?
Confindustria Bulgaria is the association of the Italian business companies in Bulgaria. The association represents around 250 companies divided in three main groups: big, medium and small-micro companies.
All our members are Italian companies; nonetheless also Bulgarian enterprises can join us as aggregate members. The aggregate members can enjoy our community and create new and contacts for their present and future business.
Around the 60% of the total members are SMEs, but the association represents also big corporations such as Unicredit Bulbank, Generali, Enel, Edison and Italcementi.
The activities of the members of Confindustria Bulgaria are worth 2 billion euro of direct investments and 1.3 billion euro of turnover. This is not all: the member companies provide more than 20 000 jobs.
About the structure of the association let me say that there is a General Assembly which is the main body of our organization and is composed by all the members. This body is convened at least one time per year. Every three years 11 members of the General Assembly are elected to form the Managing Board which organizes controls and coordinates the association's activity.
The Managing Board's meeting are public and are organized one per month. The staff of the association is coordinated by a Director, who is nominated by the Executive Council and who manages the activities of the association.
Finally, to improve the links with municipalities and with national and local authorities, the Managing Board elects the Territorial Representatives, a group of entrepreneurs that on a voluntary basis represent Confindustria Bulgaria at the local level. Up to this moment we have representatives in Varna, Burgas, Plovdiv, Pleven, Blagoevgrad, Sliven, Vidin and Sofia.
What about the history of Confindustria Bulgaria?
Confindustria Bulgaria was founded on the 13th of April 2000 as Consultative Committee of the Italian Entrepreneurship in Bulgaria (CCIIB) thanks to the Embassy of Italy. The Managing Board was formed by 12 Councillors, six elected from the General Assembly and six nominated by the Ambassador himself.
In the next three years the number of members increased, and reached the total of 50. The main goals of those years were in particular to get together the Italian companies in Bulgaria and to create a strong organization to increase the Italian presence in the country.
In 2003 the association became more and more autonomous and Renzo Martinelli, one of the founders of the Committee and a very active Italian businessman from Trentino region, was elected President.
In 2006 the number of members reached 100 companies and the association moved the headquarters from the Embassy to an independent office. In the last years our association started to change: a collaboration agreement with Confindustria Italia was signed in April 2009 and the Committee changed its denomination becoming Committee of Italian Entrepreneurship in Bulgaria (CIIB).
2010 was a key year for the association: in February CIIB started the process to set up Confindustria Balcani, the federation of the Italian companies in the Balkans. On the 25th of March Confindustria Italy approved the request of membership of CIIB which became Confindustria Bulagria.
In Italy, Confindustria is one of the most important social partner and has over 150 000 member companies, which provide employment to over 5 million people with combined revenue of EUR 500 B.
What is the activity of Confindustria Bulgaria?
Confindustria Bulgaria has a huge set of services for its member companies. First of all, the association provides all its members with a daily support in all the logistic activities that might be important for an Italian company working in Bulgaria. In the last years we signed agreements with a great amount of trustworthy partners (hotels, car renters, software providers).
In many cases, some of our member companies offer their services to the other members of the association at a discounted price. This is the case of really specific typology of services offered, for instance in the field of insurances and workplace safety.
This package of "first aid" services is highly important for many of our members that need a reliable environment for their economic activity. Moreover, the services provided from one of our members to the others let our business community strengthen its internal links.
All our services will be soon re-organized through the foundation of a new branch of the association that will work specifically in this area: "Confindustria Servizi".
Another core activity of Confindustria Bulgaria is connected with information. As a matter of fact, we provide our members with a daily newsletter in Italian that allows them to better understand what is happening in the country.
Predictably, the main two topics of our newsletter are economy and politics. Nonetheless, every week we devote a special issue of our newsletter to other aspects of the Bulgarian life: society, culture, sports. In fact, the Italian business community is much more than just a group of investors randomly attracted by Bulgaria: we want to be a lively part of the public arena of this country.
Following this goals, Confindustria Bulgaria periodically organizes official visits to the different districts of the country. Through these visits, the Italian business community has the chance to meet the main local decision makers – mayors and governors – and to present its projects and its activities.
Up to this moment, all the local authorities that we met appeared happy to share their opinion about the development of their regions with us and with our members.
What are the next goals of the association?
I became President of Confindustria Bulgaria in March, when my colleague and friend Massimo Bartocci resigned in order to fulfill his duties as the Chairman of Confindustria Balcani – the federation of the Italian Business Associations in the Balkans. I have already proposed to my colleagues of the Managing Board of the association a brief program of 4 points for the next months.
First, we want to enrich and improve our services for both our members and the Bulgarian companies that want to cooperate with our business community. Second, we will try to enlarge our membership to 300 companies making Confindustria Bulgaria one of the biggest foreign business associations in the country.
Third, we aim at securing to Confindustria Bulgaria and to Bulgaria itself a central role in the start up of Confindustria Balcani.
Fourth, we will try to be a more and more significant part of the Bulgarian society and to enforce our relations with the other social partners, the national and local authorities.
A first step toward this direction was made a couple of weeks ago when we appointed our "sectoral representatives", members of the association that will voice the opinions of Confindustria in different sectors of the economy.
A major part of their job will be accomplished in collaboration with the special committee of KRIB.
I know that those are difficult targets but I am confident that we will be able to reach them.
You mentioned "Confindustria Balcani", could you be more specific about it?
Confindustria Balcani is the Balkan association of the Italian companies and was founded last October at a special ceremony in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. It is part of Confindustria, the main domestic organization of the Italian entrepreneurship and it aims at creating a comprehensive approach to the Balkans markets.
Our idea is that the whole Balkan area from an economic point of view can be one of the most interesting regions for the Italian companies that want to make business outside the country.
The federation gathers together all the Italian entrepreneurs operating in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Romania and it will be soon extended to Albania and Croatia.
As I have already mentioned, for the first three years of its existence, Confindustria Balcani will be managed by Massimo Bartocci, former President of Confindustria Bulgaria and member of our Board. Therefore, we can say that, for the Italian business, Bulgaria is the very center of the Balkans.
Indeed, Bulgaria is one of the main pillars of Confindustria Balcani not only because of its geographic placement but also because of its human potential, the mutual exchange with Italy, and the experience gathered by the Italian firms working here.
Besides being the chairman of Confindustria Bulgaria, Pietro Luigi Ghia is also a successful businessman...
My personal history is strictly connected with Bulgaria. In the 1990s I decided to move to this country: I thought that it had the right features to strongly grow and develop after the transition period. I started from Sofia, and then I moved to Plovdiv where I currently live.
In this charming city I founded the perfect conditions for the Italian companies: good human resources, will to improve the business environment and a great industrial potential. At the beginning it took time to make my Italian colleagues understand that Bulgaria and in particular Plovdiv were the right places to start a new business or move part of their production.
Gradually more and more Italian companies comprehended this simple truth and the first success cases convinced the more skeptical ones. Now I am the CEO of around 40 Italian companies in Bulgaria and my team – formed mainly by Italian speaking Bulgarians – perfectly supports me in dealing with this enormous amount of work.
Manufacturing and constructions are the two main sectors in which we operate but new interesting opportunities are emerging in other fields, for instance agriculture and energy.
Our community is huge and is now getting even bigger. It is not surprising to hear people having a conversation in Italian in the streets of Plovdiv: indeed, many Italian managers and technicians work now in the city.
Furthermore, the city perfectly oriented its attention toward our business community. Now it is relatively common to find young and skilled Bulgarian managers that remarkably work for our companies. It is just another example of the great chance of economic cooperation between Italy and Bulgaria.
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"As I have already mentioned,... Confindustria Balcani will be managed by Massimo Bartocci, former President of Confindustria Bulgaria and member of our Board. Therefore, we can say that, for the Italian business, Bulgaria is the very center of the Balkans."
Well, it's nice to flatter the Bulgarian public like this.
"For the Italian business, Bulgaria is the center of the Balkans"...then why are Italian businesses so much more active in almost all other Balkan countries? In Romania and Albania for example the number of Italian companies is 10-20 times bigger than in Bulgaria.
Ok, he just wanted to be polite and say something nice. The facts are not always that nice.