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Global Crisis as an Inspiration for Success


Interview: Marko Simić, Business Partner at Global delivery centres of the Zühlke Group

Adapting to the tectonic changes caused by the global pandemic marked the past year in the business world. Some companies did not survive, some surfaced after the initial shock, some are still fighting for air. How and where to go next? Will the business world ever go back to how it was? What did 2020 teach us? These are questions that the global business community still wants to answer. We talked to Marko Simić, Business Partner of Global delivery centers at Zühlke Engineering, about the challenges that have been overcome, but also about those for which companies have yet to find solutions.

Insight in brief

"Although it may sound strange, 2020 was one of the most successful years for Zühlke Engineering Serbia: we moved into new offices, rounded off the business year with a record low ‘churn rate’ of 9% and the largest ‘profit share’ since the founding of the company."

When the line is drawn, where was Zühlke before the crisis, and where is it today? And how did it get there?

Although it may sound strange, 2020 was one of the most successful years for Zühlke Engineering Serbia: we moved into new offices, rounded off the business year with a record low ‘churn rate’ of 9% and the largest ‘profit share’ since the founding of the company. If I tell you that we started with 113 employees in March 2020, and that in May 2021 we welcomed our 133rd, it is clear that our work was at no time in question, that we did not stop for a second. Globally, the number of staff in the Zühlke Group has increased by almost 10 percent. What is the key to that success? Everything we achieved was mostly thanks to the dedication, understanding, sacrifices and top-quality work of our staff. Of course, there was a significant impact from the good economic reactions of the countries we work with, as well as our opening of the Asian market. Over the past year, Zuhlke worked with 70 of his engineers and consultants on the complete development and architecture of the NHS (UK National Health Service) Covid-19 application, as part of a contact testing and tracking program in England and Wales. In addition, we have started cooperation on application development with three large banks in Singapore and Hong Kong.

In March last year, there was probably no company that dared to predict where it would be a year from then. From the position of an IT company operating in 10 countries and on two continents, how did you see all this at the beginning?

The pandemic and the historical economic decline in all the world’s developed countries have created an atmosphere of general fragility and uncertainty. Of course, no one could have predicted with certainty which door would eventually lead out of that labyrinth. In such times, it is very important for a company to provide stability and security to its staff – both financially and psychologically. Our strategy was for all of us to focus on increasing productivity and reducing all work that has no long-term consequences for the business and professional development of the staff. It quickly became clear to us that such an approach was correct. At the same time, we emphasized the constant psychological support to our staff through many internal and external workshops, we intensified open one-on-one conversations with HR and meetings with line managers to make our people feel protected and safe.

In the midst of the global crisis Zühlke, as you mentioned, also found itself changing internally. Opening new bases in Europe and Asia, intensifying growth, moving the Belgrade office to new premises are just some of them. What did you learn from it all?

A lot. We learned how to navigate Zühlke Serbia through a crisis such as a pandemic and how to deal with economic shocks that can be compared to the Great Depression of 1929. We learned that in every crisis lies an opportunity: large and conservative companies have opened up to remote working, which will open many more good opportunities for companies working from Serbia. We have confirmed to ourselves that the current difficulties must not prevent us from looking ahead, but that we must use them as inspiration in the search for answers for the future.

Are you close to finding those answers? What is the future?

The key word is hybrid. In a year, we went from one extreme to another: from the assumption of physical contact to a complete transition to virtual communication. Humans are social beings and with the improvement of the health situation we will for sure slowly return to each other. No digital channel and tool can replace the energy exchange that takes place live. On the other hand, working from home, from a cafe, a so-called co-working space or a summerhouse can be a very convenient and occasionally more than welcome change. So we believe that the future is somewhere in the middle. That is why in December 2020 Zühlke made a strategic decision to move to the concept of a hybrid workplace and fully support remote employment. I am sure that this is a trend that will be seen in future, not only in the organization of workspaces and not only in the IT sector, but also in many other industries.

How is the year ahead? What are your team’s plans for 2021?

Very dynamic. We have launched many changes in the company as an investment for the future and now we need to carry out all these changes well. We are planning further intensive growth, and that is always a big challenge. Right now, we have several open positions for Embedded, Java and Mobile engineers and we expect new reinforcements to our already great team of 130 colleagues. We will also continue to improve flexible employment models, which give our staff the opportunity to create their own working model in accordance with their current needs in life, through "ready" and "recharge" options. Zühlke Serbia is still unique on our market in that way. The economic crisis is not over, and it is difficult to predict when it will be. We will continue to follow the situation closely and be ready to respond. At the same time, like everyone else, we are preparing for a gentle return to what we call ‘normal’ - and that is the return of people. I believe that for many it will be a light at the end of the tunnel.

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