Sotiris Kostouros, General director of British American Tobacco in Serbia, believes that passion for work is the basis of success, which is confirmed by the business of the company he is leading
To what extent and how big is the challenge to take part in writing a new chapter in the tobacco industry in Serbia?
The tobacco industry is going through a thorough transformation, which is a consequence of three factors – new technologies, fragmentation of consumers and the influence of change on health. BAT is playing a key role in this transformation and is one of the leaders of innovation in introducing products potentially less harmful for consumer health into the market, with the most modern new generation device glo – which heats, and doesn’t combust tobacco. Serbia is one of the first countries in the world in which this innovative product has been introduced last year. It is a product that will benefit everyone – consumers, society and the industry. It is estimated that by 2050. half of all consumers will use new-generation products, with harm reduction potential compared to classic cigarettes. Opening of new chapters, especially in this industry is a huge challenge, but also a responsibility.
Based on your professional experience and the position you are occupying, what is your impression of consumers in Serbia? What attracts them? What do they best react to?
Serbia is famous for the strong smoking habits of its population, and by some of the latest researches, we have around 2.6 million smokers. Our business strategy puts in the heart of every product our consumers and every year we improve and change depending on the market dynamics, changing consumer habits and local market trends. The largest number of our consumers are users of cigarettes and that is why we are continually investing and upgrading our core business products. BAT’s factory in Vranje is one of the most modern ones in the region and over the last 15 years we have deployed a significant amount of resources to modernize it. On the other side, there are those who want some new experience, new alternatives, interesting design, and have health considerations. For them, we have created glo, a sophisticated, yet simple to use the device, that offers an experience similar to smoking, but without ash and unpleasant odur that has greatly reduced risk potential.
How would you describe the Serbian market from the angle of the industry you are dealing with? What is it’s specificity?
Given the fact that during my career I had the opportunity to work on other regions such as Italy, France Greece, UK and Baltics, I have to say that Serbia is a very dynamic, highly competitive, forward-looking market which embraces changes and has a lot of potentials. The biggest global “players” from the tobacco industry have invested in factories in Serbia, so it isn’t surprising that this market has a high level of competition and that makes it a very exciting place to be.
Do you have your own professional motto? What is the first principle you keep in mind?
Have a few, lately, my motto is “if you are depressed you are living in the past, if you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are in peace you are living in the present” by Lao Tzu. On a business context, I believe that, especially when working for big multinational, is very easy to lose sight of entrepreneurial spirit, the motivation of taking calculating risks, failing fast but still go out the next day and try something different. This is something that, especially in a world of rapid changes, must be kept in the core of our day to day business
What are the most important expectations of your closest associates? What do you consider the most important characteristics of a good team?
Passion towards work, truthfulness towards themselves and others, the will and humbleness to constantly learn and improve, the ability to speak their own mind and the courage to be hard on the problem but soft on the people and last but not least to operate with a high standard of integrity and ethical business code. The closest associates need to understand each other, embrace team diversification and to be able to be leaders in their own field of expertise and inspire others through their individual set of skills and professionalism.
What impression do you have about Belgrade, since you entered the current professional position?
During the last 20 years, I had the privilege to live and work in different locations, such as London, Rome, Paris, Athens, and Riga, and had the opportunity to travel and experience different parts of the world. Every place has something different and unique to offer. Belgrade, however, is special and it reminds me sometimes the city that I grew up, Athens. There is a similar spirit, important historical monuments, unique energy and atmosphere of joy. I have worked in many countries, but rarely I had the opportunity and privilege to meet such friendly and warm-hearted people as I have here. I enjoy the walks in the heart of Belgrade, the laid back vibe, the outgoing and inclusive culture. All that makes the combination unparallel to any city I have seen before.
BAT can undoubtedly be characterized as one of the socially most responsible companies in the Serbian market. Which activities would you point out? During all these years we have invested more than a million euros in socially responsible projects in Serbia. Because of this, we are very proud to be ranked amongst the carriers of corporate social responsibility in Serbia. Last year, as an example, we have invested considerable resources in the complete renovation of the city swimming pool in Vranje, and we have made a very valuable donation of computer equipment to the City of Vranje, which was distributed among the institutions that needed it the most. We are also proud of our project of preventing the sale of tobacco products to minors, which we carried out in cooperation with the National Organisation of Consumers in cities throughout Serbia.