homepage_name! > Editions > Number 136 > Interview - Dejan Turk VIP

Dejan Turk – CEO, Vip Mobile and A1 Slovenia

Innovation is part of our DNA

Over the last three to four years, Vip has recorded great results in all areas: we’ve increased the number of users, territorial coverage, we’ve employed new colleagues, become the first family-friendly company in Serbia and strengthened the image of an innovator and operator that changes the telecommunications market and society for the better. When you achieve such great results, it makes sense that expectations are big and that all eyes are on us.

1. Mr. Turk, how did your career develop before you reached the position you are in today? My career path has been exciting and challenging from its beginning. I inherited the love of management from my father who was my first business role model. I started my career as a manager of a McDonalds restaurant, then advanced all the way to the position of Executive Director of the chain of restaurants for Slovenia and Croatia. After that, when I began working for Si.mobil (now A1 Slovenia), I stepped into the world of telecommunications by taking over the management of the marketing and sales sector. From there I advanced to the position of Chairman of the Management Board, and then I took over the management of Vip and A1 for Serbia and Slovenia. I have been lucky enough to spend the greater part of my professional career in one of the most dynamic industries of today, in which you have to be different, quick and innovative in order to survive and be successful. I think that each one of us, when choosing our profession, needs to keep in mind the higher cause why they are engaged in that specific job. For me it is enabling people to connect to each other wherever they are. Telecommunications offer way more than that today, which I am especially happy about. Originality, innovativeness and difference make us richer, primarily as human beings, and then as professionals who improve everyday life in the new digital era. 2. Ever since this whole coronavirus story started, we’ve been reading and hearing how, when all this ends, there will be a time of the so-called “new normality” both in business and in life. What is your view on this? I deeply believe that any change is positive and human society has demonstrated several times through history how quickly it can adapt to new living conditions. We learn and we get the best out of every situation. Only six or seven months ago, none of us could have predicted the scale of the pandemic at the global level nor its impact on health, the economy and the human psyche. If you asked me back then whether we would be able to work from home as a company of 1,300 employees, of which 800 work in offices, I’d say never. Today it is our reality. The pandemic has shifted the adoption of many worldwide trends into fifth gear, especially in the field of digitalisation. A provision of a number of services have moved to the virtual environment and more and more industries, private businesses, banking and other sectors, as well as administrative, educational and health institutions are showing a tendency to move to online operations. E-commerce is also thriving and I believe that the human habit of buying online will stick in the future. Serbia has also opened up in new segments that are going through intensive development on the world stage, and for which conditions have just been met in our country. We got the first pioneer in the field of telemedicine, the DokTok platform through which the people of Serbia can get free consultations with their selected doctor and whose development was supported by us. Online education has also progressed quickly in the past couple of months. It is a matter of day when more advanced functions will become present here, such as the option of multiple participants writing on a board at the same time and showing multimedia content during lectures, which is being widely used in the countries in the region. The negative aspects are related to alienation of people. Quarantine alienated us a bit; we communicated using network channels, which is a great option when our health and safety come first, but we are social beings and we miss direct contact with each other. Serbs are an extremely social nation, and I think it was hard for people not to be able to see relatives and friends. Also, the cancellation of public gatherings in the form of concerts, cinemas, and theatres made us miss them as well. 3. What business results did Vip mobile achieve in the previous year? Can you give us any forecasts for 2021 and to what extent has the pandemic interfered with the business plans of Vip mobile? Over the last three to four years, Vip has recorded great results in all areas: we’ve increased the number of users, territorial coverage, we’ve employed new colleagues, become the first family-oriented company in Serbia and strengthened the image of an innovator and operator that changes the telecommunications market and society for the better. When you achieve such great results, it makes sense that expectations are high and that all eyes are on us. The new circumstances and change in user habits has resulted in the need for us to adapt quickly, adapt operations and redefine our offer of products and services. Our response to the first, and possibly the biggest challenge—an increase in mobile traffic—was an additional investment in the network. We provided our users with free chat add-ons and business solutions. By monitoring market needs and wanting to reduce the burden on the healthcare system, we supported the development of the DokTok platform, the first online medical consultation platform. Moreover, we launched the first virtual store in Serbia and thus provided users around the country with an advanced and personalised user experience, as the Vip virtual store is a synthesis of online shopping and visiting an actual store. The state of emergency has largely changed our internal procedures, as we were able to provide work-from-home conditions for more than 800 employees in just a couple of days, including our customer service colleagues, which was especially challenging. Throughout the next year, our operations will adapt to the development of the epidemiological situation, economic developments in the world, in the region and in Serbia, and their impact on small and medium enterprises and people’s standard of life. I am an optimist by nature, so I believe that we will come out of this situation better and stronger. 4. What is going on with further foreign investments into the local economy from the perspective of Vip mobile as the largest greenfield investor in the country? Ever since we came to Serbia, we have invested more than a billion euros and there is no reason why we should not continue investing in the upcoming period. The market share of Vip reached over 25 percent in 2019, which is why it is important for us to continue this sustainable growth in the upcoming period. A challenging period is behind us indeed; both the world economy and the local one have been impacted, but Serbia’s reaction to the crisis was good. The local market demonstrated great performance in the previous months and there are currently no indicators that foreign investors will give up on long-term investments due to the crisis caused by the pandemic. Serbs are a hard-working nation, and the cost of labour is still among the more favourable ones compared to the region, which is why I believe Serbia is on its way out of the crisis better than other countries. It is important to maintain a predictable and transparent business environment, implement reforms and that legal security exists. 5. During the state of emergency you have provided users with numerous benefits to support them overcoming quarantine challenges. What was a part of Vip’s customised offer and what were the reactions of users? The need to enforce social distancing highlighted the importance of telecommunications in everyday life. People needed to be in constant contact with their friends, family and be informed about current events. That put a very responsible task in front of us, as operators. Our main focus was on how to increase capacities and maintain the quality level of the service. We were available to our users at all times through customer service and online communications channels, and of all our centres, only the necessary ones worked, with shorter working hours. Instead of coming to a sales center, we enabled them to do virtually everything online, thus taking care of their own health and safety, but also the health and safety of our employees in our stores. Furthermore, we initiated a new page within our web site, which contains all the relevant information and recommendations related to our services, network and the measures we implement on a daily basis. Also, all our users were able to use free chat applications by activating the Net za Chat add-on, were able to use Eyeson and Exoscale platforms for business meetings and to call numbers of epidemiological services and access covid19.rs and RTS Planeta webpages for free. 6. You are considered as one of the most innovative companies that constantly improves the market in the users’ best interests. You were the first to allow complete freedom of communication by introducing unlimited minutes and messages to all networks. What makes Vip mobile a different story compared to competitors? When I took over the management of the company in 2015, I wanted Vip to be recognised as a company that provides the best user experience in Serbia, as I honestly believe that people and internal culture are what makes a difference in business. Our different story starts from the inside, from people who are committed and have a deep emotional belief in our philosophy that it is important to have fun while we work hard to create the best user experience for life in the modern digital age. When developing a new product or service, we are always thinking whether we are actually solving a problem for them, whether we will make their lives more meaningful, easier or fun, and whether we have chosen the best way to do it. That story keeps living through the users and their experiences. We like to move boundaries and be the initiators of positive changes in society; innovations are a part of our DNA, but our different story would not be what it is if it wasn’t for the synergy between our employees and our users. Companies that have profit making as their primary objective are not sustainable in the long run. 7. You have paid a lot of attention to parenting. What are the benefits to your employees in that domain, thanks to the “Family Friendly” certificate? What has Vip done to deserve a spot among the most attractive employers in Serbia? Over the last couple of years, the balance between work and private life has become one of the most important topics in the labour market. The introduction of the state of emergency and working from home has shed a new light on this problem and again raised the question of whether we spend too much time at the computer, and too little time with family and friends. Vip is the first company on the Serbian market that introduced flexible working hours, and our employees were able to work from home one or two times a month even before. Our employees are entitled to 5 additional paid days off for the birth of a child, maternity leave for moms and dads that we pay up to a full salary amount, two weeks of work from home during the period of a child’s adaptation to kindergarten, and a day off when a child starts the first grade of school. Moreover, there are days at work that are intended for socialising with family members and we also organise internal gatherings during our “beer day” or even a festival. The “Family Friendly” certificate and the status of the most gender-sensitive company in the eyes of the business community confirmed that we really are a big family and that the business game is first won in the labour market, and then in the product and services market. 8. You started from scratch in 2007 and you built a new mobile operator in Serbia in just six months. How many people do you employ today and how many users do you currently have? When we started working in Serbia 13 years ago, we not only started from scratch, but we were also in a very unfavourable market position. There were already two mobile operators, so we had to fight twice as hard to get the affection and trust of each user. In spite of that, we started setting high goals for ourselves from the beginning and we managed to exceed them, thanks to the dedication of our employees and the relationships we have been building with users. Thanks to that, today we have 1,400 employees and over 2.3 million users. 9. Vip mobile takes care of the community, initiates and supports a number of activities focused on the improvement of quality of life, preservation of cultural heritage, support for sport... How do you manage all that? Our business culture includes responsibility towards the community in which we are developing and doing business. The responsibility means that, besides understanding the needs of employees and users, we also understand the general interest matters; we take the initiative in solving them and we offer innovative solutions based on the use of advanced technological and information tools. The pleasure that results from the shifts we make together, from what we are able to preserve, from those whom we support and motivate, inspires us to continue going in the same direction. 10. Tell us something about the new trends in the telecommunications industry and what they will bring in the future (telemedicine, robotisation of work, working from home...)? We are witnesses of revolutionary and technological changes at a global level, and the telecommunications industry is a perfect catalyst for that. Working from home was also possible before, but only this year have people realised that it is sustainable, and even more productive than regular work. I believe that this will guide us towards the adoption of a hybrid model of working, a mix of working from the office and working from other locations. The biggest changes will come with the introduction of the 5G network since the speed of data transfer and processing will allow some segments of the industry, for example land, river and air traffic, to be fully automated, while other segments such as medicine and architecture will function more precisely. In addition, a 5G network brings creative potential to every industry and provides the option of improving the business sector in a communicational, logistical, organisational and product sense. On top of all that, time savings and a significantly higher flow of information can increase the scope and speed of business in all sectors. Even though the technological advancement is starting to develop at tremendous speed, I am not afraid that technology will ever replace humans. In order for a technological innovation to be truly practical, it has to be in the service of humankind. 11. What will you remember 2020 by, and what are your expectations for next year? The period behind us is interesting and it has paved the path for new habits. Now I can say with certainty that we have accomplished our mission successfully and that we have overcome something I call a business disruption in the market, while keeping our vision of being there for our users, progressing in business and maintaining the positive spirit and energy of our people, which is the most difficult thing when you are not in contact with them. I’d like 2021 to be more calm in terms of economic and social circumstances that will support the further digital development of society. There is an exciting year ahead of Vip, in which we will primarily try to develop further and be better than the competition in all fields.