You’ll always come back to Belgrade because of its energy with which it’ll draw you in its own rhythm. You pay dearly for every mistake in this business, so discipline and humanity must be the top priorities. Our interviewee grew up on the streets of Zvezdara, but his lifeway took him all the way to Sheffield, where hi graduated in master studies economy. His professional path also required a journey – after working for several big companies, Dejan Aleksov finally became Managing director at BENU pharmacies in Serbia in 2015.
How do you describe Belgrade and Serbia to your foreign friends and colleagues? Where do you take them first and what are their impressions?
Belgrade is one of those cities to which you always return. It’s equally alive night and day, from Monday to Sunday, which is very unusual. You become a Belgradian as soon as you step in it. And being a Belgradian is not something you’ll find in your ID, it’s an energy of our city which simply sticks to you like a magnet and which draws you into its own rhythm. It’ll win you over with all of its imperfections. That’s why it’s not important where I’ll take my guests and what I’ll show them. They leave Belgrade with a strong impression that it’s different and that in has that ”special something“.
Serbia is a bit more complicated story. I try to convey to them my impressions because I travel a lot and I’m aware of all the differences and specificities of other towns. Our pharmacies do business across the country and I’ve been in every one of them. I have a clear picture of all the pros and cons, but also the potentials that Serbia has.
What are some prejudices about Serbian people that you come across? Are there any justifiable?
Foreigners are surprisingly well informed due to the speed of exchange of information. My experiences re more than positive. Prejudices are slowly going down in history. You can fact-check everything today so we don’t need to much of an effort to show and give our best. That’s the only way of fighting the extremes. They are everywhere as well as in Serbia.
Stereotypical comments about the good sides of Serbia are tasty food, pretty people, successful athletes… what would you add as equally important, but less visible?
Resourcefulness. I think we still prefer making something on our own than buying a finished product. And even when we do buy something, we need to make it a bit more Serbian.
What’s in your opinion unique about Belgrade spirit and where and when can it be felt?
Belgrade spirit has no definition. It’s a peculiar feeling of love, belonging, openness. A lot of thigs are mixed in there and no one has discovered the secret spice of Belgrade.
Serbia is often talked about as a country of paradoxess – it’s facing a lot of problems, but it also provides plenty of opportunities. Do you agree?
That’s true, but it depends on the path we choose a lot. If you set your goals clearly, you need to work on yourself at the same time and you always need see the broader picture. Paradoxes and obstacles sometimes hurt but they also teach us about patience and persistence. Some life and business choices simply have to wait for the right moment. Timing is of essence. But you need to know discipline.
Is there a part of Belgrade with which you have a special bond?
Zvezdara, for sure. That’s where I grew up and in which I’ve formed. I adore that labirynth of small streets framed by the Boulevard, Cvijićeva nd Ruzveltova street. That’s my safe zone. My children are today growing up there as well and they’re discovering the same shortcuts I’ve used on my way to school or on my way back from the city in the early hours as a teenager. But I guess every Belgradian has a sentimental story about the hood in which he grew up. I had the luck of staying there as well.
You started out in wholesale companies and mobile telecommunications and now you work in Benu pharmacies. Are there any special challenges or is business today the same no matter in which sector you work?
Every industry has its uniqueness and challenges which you discover, sometimes sooner, sometimes later. I had the privilige of gaining my experience in leading international companies and different business sectors. Despite the differences which you discover, the most important thing is the same in every industry – the way you manage and lead – human resources, basically – and how you manage your financial resources. If you’re succesful in these fields, you’ll learn the rest.
Your company is doing business in Serbia since 2014. Are you satisfied for now? Are pharmacies open for their clinets and are they proactive enough in their approach?
BENU is a fast-growing chain. We started out with thirty-ish pharmacies and now we are ten times bigger. This sudden growth entails a certain level of turmoil, but also new energy which people coming in the company inevitably bring. My main task is to reconcile the differenes and to recognize the advantages, because that’s the only way we can go forwards and improve even more. Pharmaceutical business is a responsible one and you pay dearly for every mistake. That’s why the quality of service and pleasure of our clients are equally important. It demands a lot of effort, constant education and an inevitable dosage of humanity which clients expect when walking in a pharmacy. Our greatest asset are our fellow citizens which feel BENU as their own. That means that they trust us and that w’re an important part od their lives. A part of their family. Can you get a better compliment?
How do you evaluate pharmaceutical market in Serbia and how do you think it could be better?
It’s very complex, not only in Serbia, but in more developed countires as well. Even in EU, where there’s the same or similar set of regulations fot almost all fields of business, there are different regulations country by coutry. That’s partly due to history, and partly due to the fact that pharmacy is very conservative, less exposed and less attractive to decision-makers. It shouldn’t be inferior to other business spheres and the whole market has to fight for articulating the market strategy which would for its cause choose affirmation of healthy values. It’s in every society’s best interest to have pharmacies, as agents of health care, recognized as the place where patients can be users of basic health services too. That would both unburden primary healthcare and give the citizens affordable healthcare. Market consolidation is often seen as merely one pharmacy taking over the other, but users can rarely see that process up-close. Market consolidation is also a form of bringing order to the market, prices, regulations and grey flows of distribution. We in BENU pharmacies also work on projects for the future. Users are provided with an even more comfortable approach to our services through different apps and online services. That can enable additional market growth. I intentionally leave probably the most important thing for the last – employees in BENU pharmacies. We’re devoted to working with people. Our employees convey this value, not only with the company, but also with themselves, their families and the whole society. When comparing Serbian market to the others in the region, there definitely is a great potential. How fast we can fulfill it depends on consolidating the factors which I’ve listed. We at BENU pharmacies will always be ready to give out best on our own micro-plan.
By: Slavko Stefanović