Pavel Ezekiev: Foreign Investment Agency Should Work as Marketing Department
Mr. Ezekiev met Martina Iovcheva
Q: What are you planning to change in the way the Foreign Investment Agency works to attract foreign investment to Bulgaria and how would you improve the way BFIA presents Bulgaria abroad?
A: I believe that going forward BFIA should function like a marketing department of a large corporation, which has a broad client base. In difficult times, we should not lose sight of any of our clients but should have a particular focus on the ones that are likely to generate the most significant revenue stream. So far, Bulgaria has spent a lot of time and effort in many directions. This is natural in a situation where investments are badly needed and one cannot afford to miss any opportunity to get investments. Unfortunately our marketing resources are not sufficient to allow such a broad marketing campaign. Therefore, in the beginning I plan to focus on twenty or so prospects with the highest likelyhood. I would rather see five deals close by the end of 2003 than spent time chasing many more with uncertain outcome.
Q: Which prospects are you referring to?
A: I prefer to avoid disclosing names at this stage. I will be happy to let you know all details once we have achieved real results and have signed contracts. In my previous capacity as a foreign investment adviser to the Minister of Economy Mr. Vasilev I have been working with a few companies from the US, UK, Spain, France and Japan. We maintain a good contact and I hope to have some results by the end of 2003.
Q: Where do you see the greatest challenges in your work?
A: The BFIA will need more real authority and power. The real issue will be whether my people will be spending their time in a productive manner or they will have to depend on another few layers of administration to see through the final results. I believe that our focus and successful completion of only a few deals will raise our profile within the government and will generate more support. Of course, a burning issue is our budget since apart from doing marketing we actually have to support existing investors with legal and other consulting work. This is quite a workload for twenty-five people with one office and one car. I have some indications that the Ministry of Finance is looking into our budget and will their best to help so that I can get more qualified people. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of keeping happy the clients, ie the investors we already have. If we are not doing this part of our homework well, I do not see us being capable of attracting others.
Q: What do you believe are the most attractive sectors for attracting foreign investment to Bulgaria?
A: These are the sectors where investors can currently achieve best product pricing and best cost structure relative to their next best alternative of an investment location and markets. In Bulgaria, I believe such sectors are real estate, leisure, power generation and transmission, financial services, capital and consumer goods
I also see Bulgaria moving fast forward in technology and biochemistry as I already see quite a bit of interest in these industries coming from foreign companies.
Q: Is your forecast for foreign investments for 2003 rather pessimistic or optimistic?
A: As a former investment banker I would rather prefer to work with pessimistic scenarios. When bankers assess a funding proposal they tend to look at the worst-case scenario for the business. Anything better is simply good news. During the past five years Bulgaria has been attracting between US$300 million and US$ 1,000 million per year, including privatisations. However, we are reaching the end of our privatisation program and beyond the ongoing deals in the telecom and tobacco sectors, all we have left as large volumes is in power generation and distribution. Therefore, I believe we should be able to generate in the vicinity of US$500 million per year in terms of Greenfield investment.
Q: How would you comment the allegations for violations of the law in case of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company and Bulgartabac privatisations?
A: The negative developments in these two deals are having a negative impact on our prospects for new foreign investment. Bulgaria is a small country and is not too well known abroad. Business owners and top management do not have the luxury to read in depth about Bulgaria. If the only news they hear is that Bulgaria is a place where big deals don't get done, you can make a guess on how likely they are to come to look for opportunities here. They are not going to analyse the news. They do not have the time.
Q: Many of our readers are foreign businessmen. What would you tell them to convince them to invest in Bulgaria?
A: Bulgaria is market where you can find very well qualified labor force at a significant discount to the entire European market. We have free trade agreements with all European countries and much of the world. We have reliable industrial manufacturing suppliers and availability of raw materials for any manufacturing activity. We have a very business-minded government, which listens to businesses and is responsive to their needs as they develop. As a small country, we have significant advantage in terms of information flow and networking, which helps speed up business start-ups. We can also offer great quality of living and a healthy lifestyle thanks to our rich nature and cultural life. All of that currently comes at an amazing low cost. I have friends from abroad who do not have businesses or work in Bulgaria but have acquired property just to be able to enjoy the local life. People are hospitable and friendly. Our summer and winter resorts, food and wine are becoming well known far beyond Southeast Europe. I lived in the US, UK and France and chose to come back after ten years for all of these reasons. My circle of foreign friends who are here for the long term include people from Spain, France, South Africa and New Zealand - countries where many go to live in pursuit of good life.
Q: You have worked for well know foreign institutions. What actually made you return to Bulgaria?
A: The reasons are quite simple although taking the decision was very difficult. It took me well over three months to decide and I was close to changing my mind even in the last minute because my last boss made it very difficult for me to leave. I came back to help my country, be closer to my family and to work for the things that really matter to me. Working in a large company often involves working for people you will never meet. I felt I needed to give back to my family and my country.
Q: What will you wish to all Bulgarians for the New Year?
A: More faith in our ability to live better in the future.
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