GE Executive Cristian Colteanu: Regional Approach Can Be Game Changer for Bulgaria
Exclusive interview with Cristian Colteanu, General Electric (GE) Regional Executive for Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova for the Bulgaria-US Survey of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency).
How long has GE been present on the Bulgarian market? Could you provide a brief account of the history of the company's operations in Bulgaria?
GE is a diversified global infrastructure, finance and media company that is built to meet essential world needs. From energy, water, transportation and health to access to money and information, GE serves customers in more than 100 countries and employs more than 300,000 people worldwide.
Since our entering here in 1995 several GE businesses started operating in the Bulgarian market. Currently, GE's local presence consists of a representative office and several registered businesses.
GE has been the supplier of technologies for healthcare and energy project as well as GE Capital has co-invested in several major real estate projects, such as the Mall of Sofia, Mall of Plovdiv, and the Sofia Airport Center.
The Sofia Airport Center is the first LEED (green building) certified project in Bulgaria. GE Energy has provided top technology to various projects, also resulting green house emission reductions.
Our Healthcare business has been providing state of the art technological products and solutions to many of the major hospitals in Bulgaria. Our Lighting business has provided energy efficient lighting solutions to municipalities and schools.
How many employees do you have in Bulgaria currently and what are your plans for future development?
We have been constantly growing our presence in Bulgaria, based on the market needs. We expect that our business in the country would grow.
Do you perceive Bulgaria as a strategic market to GE's plans for business and investments?
Bulgaria as well as other countries in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region need to build a modern infrastructure that can increase their competitiveness.
Our goal is to create growth by matching the country's needs with GE's equipment and services. GE is a company offering a variety of world-class technologies in energy, transportation (aviation and locomotives), healthcare, lighting and water treatment, solutions that stay with a country for decades.
Opting for the best available technology means a competitive edge for a country today as well as compliance with tomorrow's environmental requirements.
What is your expert opinion for the Bulgarian economy as a whole and its importance in the Balkan region? What are Bulgaria's strengths?
It is obviously a difficult time for the entire region, not only for Bulgaria. However, we must not forget that Bulgaria has a good geographic position, natural resources, well-educated human capital and a low level of taxation – all of these enhanced by a stable political environment. It also has a clear commitment to improve legislation in key infrastructure areas. These are assets that the country can use to attract international players and recover faster.
On the other hand, the use of EU funds in an impactful way must be a priority and I see that the government has ambitious plans for the next two years with the target to increase funds absorption to match the 25-30% rate that we see in other EU countries.
Bulgaria should also see itself in a more regional context. GE has been advocating for more collaboration among CEE countries when addressing key challenges like energy or healthcare, as well as exchanging best practices regarding EU fund absorption.
Do you think the current Bulgarian government policy keeps the investors on the local market? What would you recommend that the Bulgarian government do in order to attract more investors?
Investors are always looking for the rule of law, stability and predictability, clear legislation and an open attitude to dialogue with private partners.
This includes global companies, like GE, who have a lot to offer in terms of expertise, knowledge and resources and they are willing to put these to work if there is a clear economic vision on the long term and political will to move things in the right direction.
When do you think Bulgaria and the region will to catch up with the other European countries from the region, in terms of infrastructure?
Infrastructure is a key element in the development of a country. It attracts investors, it helps cut costs and it creates a wide range of opportunities for the state and its citizens – jobs, tourism, investments, and better healthcare services.
Considering the current European context, as I said, the regional approach can be a game changer. Countries of the region should focus more on finding the right partners and use their experience when developing a 21st century infrastructure. If the public and the private sectors work together it is beneficial for all parties. We are confident about Bulgaria's potential.
Let me emphasize that international investment decisions are not based purely on labor costs or current currency values, but on competitiveness, market potential and innovation ability. GE has already tapped into local talents in the region.
For example, based on local competencies and intellectual capital we have built a technology center in Poland that has grown in ten years from 20 to 1 000 engineers working on world-class technologies for our Aviation, Oil&Gas and Energy businesses.
Is GE developing its corporate social responsibility projects locally? Is the company supporting any educational or academic initiatives in Bulgaria?
We are big believers in supporting local communities, and we participate in a number of corporate citizenship projects. An example is our continued support for Junior Achievement Bulgaria, an affiliate of the world largest non-profit economic educational organization.
Since its inception, more than 100 000 students in Bulgaria have benefited from their educational programs. We believe that education is key for the future of Bulgaria.
Given the global trends and the development of the European market, what energy fields do you think it might be a good idea for a country such as Bulgaria to emphasize – i.e. nuclear energy, renewable sources, natural gas?
I believe it is essential for a country to develop a diversified resources portfolio and energy mix. As we like to say there is no "silver bullet" solution to a country's energy challenges.
We believe there is room for significant improvements in energy efficiency in Bulgaria across the entire energy chain: production, transmission, distribution and utilization. One of the most immediate opportunities for improving energy efficiency is the development of high-efficient co-generation, both in district heating and industry.
In the near term, we believe wind presents significant opportunities for Bulgaria provided the government puts in place a framework that encourages investments and a line-of-sight into return on investments in the sector.
Once renewable development becomes significant, the need of a smarter grid and of course more flexible generation capacities becomes critical. Also in Bulgaria there is a potential for biogas and biomass usage development.
What kind of role do you see for the American companies to play in the Bulgarian economy?
Bulgarian-American trade has grown steadily over the last decade and I believe we will continue to see growth in the next years as well.
I cannot speak for all the American companies operating in Bulgaria, but as far as GE - a global company with US roots - is concerned we can offer our partnership as a supplier of top technologies. We also conduct transparent business all over the world.
What is a company like GE bringing to the table in such a challenging economic environment?
GE is partnering globally with governments, companies, universities, to tackle some of the biggest world challenges.
For example, we announced plans to buy about 25 000 electric cars in the US in the next five years. This would support the development of an entire industry, which protects the environment and creates jobs around the world.
Our ecomagination program, which reflects GE's commitment to invest in s future that creates innovative solutions to environmental challenges, has very specific targets for the period 2010-2015: double R&D spending to USD 10 B; grow 2X of GE's growth; reduce GE's energy intensity by 50%; reduce water consumption 25%; inspire a competitive energy future.
What are the lessons learned from the recession by that you think may be relevant for Bulgarians and worth sharing with us?
The recession reminded all of us that it is time to think, reassess, reevaluate, redefine and realign. The crisis and the recession are not only a part of an ordinary economic cycle but also a process of global reset resulting in a new world economic order which will require actions from everyone including governments, companies or NGOs.
One of GE's greatest strengths is the ability to adapt to change. Since late 2008 we have taken strong actions to protect our company during this recessionary cycle and we chose to focus on our core competencies while continuing to invest the same amount of money or even more in training our people, in technology development and thought leadership.
We have been sharing our crisis management approach with our partners, governments and companies. Since then we have been working even closer with visionary governments all over the world who want to build green economies and sustainable energy and healthcare sectors.
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