ZOFIJA'S for Tough Times STORY Simple Philosophies

ZO F IJA M A Z E J K U KOV I Č

Zofija Mazej Kukovič Zofija's Story. Simple Philosophies for Tough Times.

CIP - Kataložni zapis o publikaciji Narodna in univerzitetna knjižnica, Ljubljana 929Mazej Kukovič Z. 005-055.2 MAZEJ Kukovič, Zofija Zofija’s story : simple philosophies for tough times / Zofija Mazej Kukovič. - [Velenje] : author, 2009 ISBN 978-961-245-725-9 245884928

ZOFIJA'S for Tough Times STORY Simple Philosophies

ZO F IJA M A Z E J K U KOV I Č

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INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MY STORY
My roots.
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Mother and father like Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem .
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The hydro-meteorological station and a cottage in a mountain town
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My first business steps in early childhood . in the early days

The elementary school, the first ski slope and learning methods
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The road to the valley .

My secondary school and first internationalisation An empty house and a stable . Slovenian independence . A profit centre and my first trip abroad .

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A single mother leading a company as it heads towards bankruptcy . Meeting with ‘kings’ and the first big contract in Slovenia . The first meeting with scientists . Information technologies My football story Creating a better world

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Where there’s a will there’s a way . Feelings when you are left alone the 25% shareholder of Esotech

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How i accelerated the plot against me and became
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MANAGEMENT WITH VISION AND COURAGE
At the dawn of the new millenium Fire of life

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Morning minute meetings and care for health . When health lets you down in a crisis . September 11 . Importance of emotions How we can improve . Act for the public good

In times of crisis, motivation is the sport of victory .

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Competitiveness and alignment with the european union On the way to the european union Women in the EU Vision and partnership

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Building a bridge of trust .

CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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INTRODUCTION
I decided to write my first book when I reached fifty. Over the years I’ve written and delivered speeches in front of my close and extended family as well as at political and social events. When I became a CEO in 1992, I decided that I would always speak without notes. Later, as Health Minister of the Republic of Slovenia my fifteen years of public speaking paid off. Reading off a sheet of paper would make it very difficult to encourage people who are in the hospital and sick. Writing my story, I hope to encourage people to know that there is always a way. Big steps forward in life always require hard work, persistence and love. Having wealthy parents with high social status, living in the big city or being a man or woman is not the ultimate success guarantee. What matters is that people love what they do and they enjoy making a difference. This book goes back to when I started my career, my motherhood and my dreams. I had a chance to experience and work through the transitional times of Slovenia and of the company that I managed for fifteen years. While many people think that our success happened overnight, in reality it took a decade for us to get here. I found my way through life as a single mother with two daughters, CEO of an engineering company and an active member in the community. I had an opportunity to be a part of the process when Slovenia first en-

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tered the European Union and world markets, to experience great expectations, defeats and actions that required vision, courage and clear goals. On July 3, 2007 during my business trip in China, I was unexpectedly and abruptly released as CEO. Like a popular Slovenian story, this experience was a heavy burden on a cart driving up the slope of my life, but at the same time it brought me additional strength and ultimately broadened my knowledge. There is no looking back; the path is wide open toward the future.

MY STORY
PA R T O N E

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MY ROOTS
The Počivalnik and Savinek farms were located on separate hills at the foothills of Smrekovec. Lenca Počivalnik and Melhior Savinek married in 1939 and gave birth to seven children. I was the youngest and was born when my mother was forty-five years old. The Savinek (Mazej) family first lived on a big farm called Dretnik in Javorje. An immense old building with ornate ceilings can still be seen there. My great-grandfather, Martin Mazej, married Elizabeta Virtič from Zavodnje. They had six children. In 1900, my great-grandfather, Martin, bought the Savinek farm for his son, Melhior. He married Helena Vodovnik and they had five children. In 1909, my father was born and was named Melhior after his father. The surname Mazej has been changed several times over the years from Mazey to Maze to Mazej. My mother, Lenca, was born to Franc and Marija Goličnik. Our predecessors were living in Šmihel above Mozirje in the Hriberšek home for centuries. In 1895 great-grandfather Jože and great-grandmother Micka gave the Počivalnik farm in Bele Vode to my grandfather Franc and grandmother Nežica. They started farming around 1900. The family grew bigger; their children were Neža, Rozalija, Marija, Franc, Valentin and my mother, Lenca. Valentin was chosen as the successor. He was very literate, a good manager and he built main buildings in Bele Vode. He got married and when his daughter was a year old he was shot by the Germans at Stari Pisker prison in Celje. His wife died in Auschwitz. Lenca married her deeply beloved Melhior Savinek. They built a comfortable home on the land which they received from their parents. During the con-

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My r o ot s , my m ot h e r’ s fa mil y

struction which lasted seven years (also during the war), they lived in Sveti Križ where each year a child was born. In 1948, they moved into a new house where my brother and his wife still live. I inherited a plot of land where I built small house. My children as well as my brothers and sisters and their families often gather in this house, which stands on our traditional land. Today there are fifty of us, but if I take into account the first and the second generation of Mazej and Goličnik families, there must be more than a thousand of us. The characteristics of the Mazej family members are that they are good at trade and that they love animals. If Savinek bought a horse, he would bring the animal right into the kitchen. The characteristics of my mother Lenca’s family are respect and faithfulness. Portraits of the grandfather and grandmother from this family can be found on the main fresco in the Sveti Križ church.

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The Mazej (Savinek) family is known for a historic moment. My father’s brother, Alojz, married into the Brložnik family. He was the biggest landowner in the area before the Second World War. He owned Smrekovec and some hundreds of hectares of land. His life ended sadly. He was a Yugoslavian army officer and was shot in the beginning of the Second World War in Dravograd. His whole property was burned down by the partisans in 1943. The fire also took the life of his eldest son, Karel. Nowadays the old lime trees and the ruins are all that remains of the family house that was once perched on the slope of Smrekovec with a beautiful view.

Father Melhior a r o u n d 19 3 0

Javorje village is located 10 km from my home village, Bele Vode. Zavodnje village is a neighbouring village of Bele Vode in the foothils of Smrekovec. Smrekovec (1577m altitude) is a peak of volcanic origin on the eastern edge of the Smrekovec mountain ridge. The name comes from the pine trees that are covering the region. Mozirje, only 25 km from Bele Vode, is a small town with the beautiful Savinja river and a history dating back to 1106 AD. My sister Ančka lives there today. Bele Vode is a small mountain village of 300 residents (700m altitude) in the foothills of Smrekovec. This was the home of my parents Melhior and Helena. My six brothers and sisters and me, the youngest in the family. I still spend most of my time here today. Sveti Križ is a hill (1054m altitude) 30 minutes walking distance from where we lived in Bele Vode. It’s a beautiful destination considered a holy mountain where hundreds of pilgrims gather each year.

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MOTHER AND FATHER LIKE MARY AND JOSEPH ON THEIR WAY TO BETHLEHEM
It was in the spring of 1955. My brothers and sisters Pavel, Ančka, Jožica, Marina, Lenka and Lojz were curiously looking at their mother, putting on a lot of weight. Only the older ones knew she was expecting her seventh baby. All the women during that time gave birth at home, which is what my mother did with her six children. Regulations changed when I was about to be born so she, being 45 at that time, had to go to a hospital in Črna na Koroškem.

Mother and father at their wedding ceremony

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She and my father walked for almost half a day crossing the hills to Črni Potok before they finally arrived at the hospital in Črna na Koroškem. After I was born, my mother and I stayed a couple of days with my father’s sister who lived in the town. They took me to a local church where I was baptised and then we started with our journey back home to her six children and a worried husband. We spent a night in the only house that stood on the road going back. This is how I contracted lice for the first time as a baby and my brothers and sisters had to take care of it first thing when I was brought home. A few years ago, I walked along that same road with my sisters and brothers. It took us a long time and it was not easy − during the entire hike we were thinking about how our mother was able to manage it during her last days of her pregnancy. And how different it is now only half a decade later.

Mother Lenca a r o u n d 19 5 0

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There were only two sons in the family and when my mother brought me in the house, my oldest brother looked at me and said with great disappointment, “Just another chicken.” This was an old Slovenian expression at the time. Since some of my brothers and sisters were a lot older than me, they treated me like a toy. I made sure they knew I was around all the time by crying and disturbing their work. I was even more annoying when they started falling in love; I always wanted to be around them and listen to their secret conversations. In the evenings my mother used to pray aloud and my father went to bed. We all knew that he was not very fond of daily prayers but nobody dared to say anything. My sisters and brothers always tried to avoid pray while I used the time for planning new tricks.
Črna na Koroškem is a small town of 3600 residents, in the region of Koroška.

THE HYDROMETEOROLOGICAL STATION AND A COTTAGE IN A MOUNTAIN TOWN
My mother’s parents were wealthy farmers and very religious. She wanted to become a teacher, but in the period between both World Wars it was impossible for anyone living in a mountain village to continue with their studies. She was eager for knowledge so she took courses in sewing, cooking and good conduct. She married my father one year before Hitler attacked our country.

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Meeting of of f icial representatives of hydro-meteorological stations, a r o u n d 19 5 0

In 1948, our big family moved to a new house that nowadays could be called an eco-house in Bele Vode. On the outside there were wonderful warm logs and on the inside, it was made of reeds and lime. The floor was made of pleasant-smelling pine wood and the main room had a wood-fired oven. My mother and father were working hard on the farm so we had enough to eat and were able to go to school. The Ljubljana Hydro-Meteorological Institute asked my mother if they could install a weather station near our home and a station for monitoring the surrounding habitat. In this way two of my mother’s dreams came true: she got an opportunity to learn new things and she could do it at home while still earning a bit of money.

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O u r h o m e i n B e l e Vo d e

The station was still functioning in 1981 when my mother passed away. She taught all her children how to observe nature, how the habitats change in different seasons, how to accurately measure daily rainfall and how to keep statistics of all weather changes. Since 1968, we also began using a lightning counter. At that time, I was already following my mother’s work and later my sister Ančka’s work as they cautiously carried out the measurements. I was able to make enough to pay for my books during my school years with recording the measurements and wrote reports for the Ljubljana Hydro-Meteorological Institute. The most pleasant memories of that period were of those bright mornings when I did not have to get up early. I wrote my weather reports from a warm house and marked the amount of snow, rain and lightning from the station. Numerous times I had to step out in the snowy morning and measure the amount of snow at a certain spot. I did the same when it was raining. But I far more enjoyed when I had to observe plants and trees: the first blossoms of cherry trees, the first green leaves of beeches, the greening of larches, the blooming of pines, snowdrops, primroses, daisies, kingcups, and grasses.

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I remember one of the meetings with the weather reporters in Slovenia. In 1969 there were approximately twenty of them. My mother was now an official representative of the hydro-meteorological station and she used to bring me with her to the meetings. At that meeting I first saw M. Trontelj, who was already a very popular weatherman, just like he is today. I found weather forecasting miraculous. I wondered how the weather could be forecasted, if the recording and reporting from our side alone was demanding already. I was very proud that my mother and I were in the same group with intellectuals from the surrounding villages, including priests and scholars, who were also taking care of hydro-meteorological stations in Slovenia. We had annual controls implemented by the institute representatives from Ljubljana. They updated us and verified whether our measurements and observations were accurate enough. My mother and Ančka never approximated percentages, while I must admit that I sometimes wrote data according to past experiences when I had homework to do and didn’t have time to do everything else. I am still keeping some of mine and my mother’s notes so that I can remember how nature and its phenomena looked before human beings started to heavily impact it.

This is when I learned the impor tance of measurements and accuracy, how to write repor ts , to obser ve nature and changes .

Šoštanj is the municipalitiy that Bele vode belong to. It is also known for having the biggest power plant in Slovenia generating 30% of the national energy. Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia.

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MY FIRST BUSINESS STEPS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
In a family with many children of different ages, one learns how to share love and possessions, how to learn from each other and how to protect each other from the world outside. My sisters and brothers were already going to school so I learned a lot from them. I learned how to read and write before I started school. On my first day, I was so excited that I ran the whole way to the old building where our school was located. We only had one notebook, one pencil and our first reading book. On the first day our teacher, Tine, asked us to draw one page of horizontal lines in our notebook at home. To the disappointment of my mother and teacher, I so much wished to do the homework that I drew lines in all the pages and I destroyed my one and only notebook. I had to erase everything because I could not get a new one. But the notebook was never the same again and each time that year when I opened it I saw the crumpled paper. As with all the girls, I wanted to have beautiful things. Ever since I can remember, I admired the high heels that my sisters wore. When I was five years old, I opened a “shoe cleaning shop” one hundred meters from our house next to a small bridge that my father made over the creek. It was just far enough so that no one could see what I was doing with the shoes. First, I cleaned them and then I tried them on and pretended to be a model walking up and down as I sometimes saw on TV. The shoes were much too big for me, but having such a vivid imagination I did not care at all. In the evening I would bring the shoes back into the house, but I would hide my favourite pair in the bushes and take

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With my older sister Ančka, a r o u n d 19 5 9

them with me out to the pasture the following day. There I had enough time and peace to enjoy walking the grasslands wearing the most beautiful pair of shoes. In order to avoid problems with logistics I hid them in a shrub each evening and covered them with leaves so that I could use them the following day. And then I almost got into trouble. It was my sister’s prom night and she was desperately trying to find the shoes I had hidden in a shrub. All of a sudden everybody started to search for the shoes so I did not have an opportunity to bring them back into the house. My

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All f ive sisters: Marina, Lenka, Ančka, me and Jožica

sister had to wear her old pair of shoes, and I could still pretend to be at a fashion show on the pasture. Yet another invention took place when I was in my second year of school and we had a new teacher, Sonja, who had just moved to our village. All my classmates admired her since she was young and beautiful and had long nails paint-

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ed red. I only thought about one thing: how to invent “red nail polish” for myself. My sisters were always nicely dressed and had many admirers, but they did not use any make-up and they did not polish their nails. Therefore I had to use my imagination. At home, I found a white, oily substance that we used for colouring the wall around the wood-fired oven. The children were always sitting next to the fireplace so my father had to protect it several times. I used the colouring that was left as my oil base. Then I took my dry red aquarelle colour, crushed it and added it to the oil base. This is how I invented a nail polish, which I applied to my nails with a brush. When my school friends noticed my “beautiful nails” they also wanted to look like our teacher. I made the same polish for them, and I earned enough money to buy chocolate. My best seller, however, was my homemade chewing gum series. At that time, real chewing-gum was very difficult to get. We used to collect a special kind of pitch from the pines, which was a light pink colour, and we chewed it like gum. But it did not contain any sugar. I found some materials in my fathers basement, put some sugar into the mass and wrap it. It looked like candy and tasted sweet. This became another successful selling product until I ran out of material. Smoking was also part of my youth. I collected clematis with our neighbour’s children. Then we dried it and smoked it and felt very mature. But it was difficult to forget the bad taste that lingered in our mouths, so the excitement was very short term. And then I finally ended up in trouble. My four sisters had a lot of admirers. Those who were turned down were usually very persistent, and they were kind to me. At that time, photos were very much appreciated by boys and I knew that my sisters had many of them. So I took one of my sister’s photos and I sold it to a boy she did not like. It made him very happy, and I earned some money.

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But I did not manage to buy anything because my sister found out what happened and made sure I realized that this was not right. So I had to give back the money and return the stolen photo.

A human being becomes creative when he or she does not live in luxur y; he or she is in touch with nature and enjoys the freedom of creativit y.

THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, THE FIRST SKI SLOPE AND LEARNING METHODS IN THE EARLY DAYS
We lived only a good kilometre from the elementary school in Bele Vode. This was not far compared with some of my classmates who had to walk for over an hour to get there. Sometimes in winter after a heavy snowfall, my brother had to make a tunnel in the snow that went from our house to the woods so that I could go to school. Our teacher, Jože, taught us how to ski in the first year of school. Our school was the only one in the area that provided students with skis with leather bindings and without metal edges. We all learned how to ski and when there was enough snow, I skied the whole way school. The ski slope next to

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M y s c h o o l m a t e s i n 19 6 7

the school was well maintained from daily use. Before skiing competitions, we would prepare the track for the entire day instead of practising skiing and having class. On Sundays, competitors came from neighbouring villages, and we watched them compete. After everything was finished, we got our turn on the slopes. Many times I came home soaked and frozen after a whole day in the snow, but I do not remember ever getting sick because of it. There was a pine forest a few metres away from the school in which there was a big, flat clay playground where we played dodge ball. Other ball games were not really popular. Our school also had a huge sports hall. On Sundays it was used for cultural events. We could watch theatre and admire our local amateur actors including my sisters and brothers. In the evenings we would go there to watch TV as we didn’t have one at home. That was a real miracle to us: to hear and see at the

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same time. When I watched the beautiful anchor women, I wanted to become one of them. A big dream for a girl from a 300 person village in the mountains. This was also the time of Pioneers and Tito’s governance. When I was seven, I was in the second grade. One Sunday morning our teacher took us to Velenje, the biggest town in walking distance from where we live. We walked for five hours to see Tito and Hruscov visiting. When we arrived, a massive crowd of people was already waiting for them. Being the youngest ones, we were allowed to stand in the front row. We had a great view and very high expectations. The girls, who were inside a big circle of people, received big bouquets of carnations which I had never seen before. I was eagerly observing them when suddenly the girl with the biggest bouquet approached me. I wanted to hold the bouquet, but at the same moment a girl standing next to me grabbed the flowers. I was very disappointed. But I forgot all about it when Tito came on the stage and we were all calling out to him, “Tito, Tito, Tito.” We were so enthusiastic about what happened that we did not feel tired; we forgot about the blisters and hunger as we walked 20 kilometres back home the same day. At the end of each school year we usually received awards for being good students. In my second year our headmaster, Jože, gave me a book called, “In the World of Nature” for being the best student that year. In this book I read about the wonders of the world, different animals and plants I never heard of before. I read it over and over again. It was my only source of information about nature from other places in the world. National Geographic and similar educational TV programs did not exist yet. I started to picture Africa and Asia and other countries far away from my home.
Josip Broz Tito was was the leader of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1945 until his death in 1980. At that time the pinoeer movement of the country was very active. The Union of Pioneers of Yugoslavia, was established in 1942.

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THE ROAD TO THE VALLEY
It had been rumoured for some time that we would have to continue our education after the fourth grade in the nearest city of Šoštanj where the programs were more qualitative. It was in the 60’s, during a time of industrialisation when people started moving from rural areas to the cities in search of jobs and what was considered better life. In Bele Vode the last generation of children was about to finish the eighth grade and apparently there were no pupils in the sixth and seventh grades. Therefore it was decided that the rest of the pupils would be divided into two groups. The younger ones would stay in the village school and those who were in the fifth grade would go to Šoštanj. Some of the important farmers from Smrekovec were opposed to the decision. They did not want their children to go to the valley because they said it was too far, and the children should be closer to home so they can help with work on the farm. Only a few of us ended up walking every day to the bus station in the valley. I had to walk much further now. I walked for one hour in the morning and more than an hour in the afternoon as I went up the hill to our village. I did not like to take the bus because I could smell oil vapours everywhere that made me feel sick every time. The majority of my schoolmates were staying in Šoštanj with their relatives while I usually went home every day. By this time, my parents were already alone on the farm as my sisters and brothers were all working in other towns. So I was the only one to help them during the week. I only stayed at my sister’s place in Šoštanj when there was a lot of snow. I was very afraid when I had to leave early in the morning when it was still dark outside. The road through the forest seemed even longer and there were almost no cars in our village so no one could offer me a ride. I was so happy whenever farmers would go to a store in Šoštanj and I had company for the walk. I

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Wor kin g on t h e fa r m

had enough time for daydreaming. When I came home, my mother was cooking and lunch was ready. Everything smelled delicious, and it was so warm by our wood-fired place that I always forgot about the cold. There were animals in the stable, and I loved each one of them. In the afternoons and evenings I helped with the household chores, did my homework and read. At the end of the week, when my sisters and brothers came home, we sang and played. My sisters cooked, sewed and baked, while my brothers helped my father with the work on the farm. When my elementary school was approaching it was time for decisions about what to do. My parents asked me to stay at home, get married, and take care of

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the farm and the hydro-meteorological station. I didn’t want to leave them alone, so I decided to stay. I felt uncomfortable when I talked with my schoolmates who were planning to continue with their education. I knew what was waiting for me and I was ready to accept it because I respected and loved my parents. In the summer of 1968 I was working on our farm and I carried a small transistor on my shoulder, listening to the Beatles and thinking about our life in the village. The Nazarje forest company was looking for temporary workers who would measure the forest yield and take care of the pine plantation. It was a well-paid job and very close to where we lived. I took the job, which had me working in the woods with a group of young people for eight months. We worked hard. We got on very well with each other and had a good time, despite thorn bushes, wasps and snakes. However, for the first time, I wished I had a job where I could learn something new and where I would not be cold all the time and would not have to try to avoid thorn bushes, wasps and other unpleasant things. When winter came, our work in the forest was finished, and I was at home doing random things around the house due to the snow outside. I took my old books and notebooks and secretly started studying the subjects as if I were preparing for an entrance exam in the high school in town. Something was telling me that this is not the life for me and that I needed to go out and broaden my knowledge. I felt terrible and alone as I didn’t want to leave my parents. They were already getting old and needed me on the farm. I was restless for months and then I finally made a decision.

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MY SECONDARY SCHOOL AND FIRST INTERNATIONALISATION
After the long winter of 1970, it was time for me to decide which entrance exam I should take and which school should I attend? My sister, Lenka, who was a teacher in Velenje told me that the first generation would start studying electronics in the secondary schools in Velenje and that the entrance exam was in June. Why should I study electronics? What interest did I have in this subject? I thought of the electric fence that my father bought when the children were no longer at home to watch for the cows. When I was a child, I spent a lot of time as a shepherd, reading books in the pastures, since there was not much other work to do. I thought that an electric fence was an excellent invention. I imagined that I would be able to invent something like that by studying more about electronics, and I took the entrance exams. It was a hot day in June, and there was a crowd of fourteen-year-old kids at the front door of the high school in Velenje where the entrance exams were scheduled. I did not know anyone because they were all one year younger than me, and I felt really uncomfortable since there were only a couple of girls and hundreds of boys. I was nervous about taking the exams. They were difficult, but I passed and was so excited about it. My parents on the other hand didn’t cheer my success and my father remained disapproving for the whole year I was in high school.

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First generation of graduates from the Ve l e n je s e c o n d a r y s c h o o l o f e l e c t r o n i c s

In high school, I stayed at my sister’s place and often babysat her two children. I spent my days studying, cooking and cleaning. Every Friday I went back to my parents’ place. I worked very hard on the farm every weekend because my parents were no longer as strong as they used to be. In winter, I skied, climbed mountains and went to parties. When I was 17 I fell in love. At the same time I broke my leg while skiing and I had to use crutches. And as things were not complicated enough I got pregnant. When I entered my fourth year of high school, I had a belly, which was rather shocking to everyone since it was the 70’s. My parents were very worried and upset. I decide to get married to a man I was madly in love with at that time. I delivered a baby girl I named Mihela in the winter. My teachers and school friends

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W i t h M i r a n a n d M i h e l a , 19 7 4

were very understanding, and I managed to graduate with the third best results in the school. Many times I had to leave early from school to breastfeed. My shirts were sometimes wet because I had so much milk. But that didn’t really bother me, but, in the following two years I could not accept the way I was supposed to live my life, as a young mother and a housewife. I wanted to be creative and achieve something more for my family. I finally decided to leave my husband and return home to my parents and take Mihela with me.
Velenje is a municipality with 35.000 residents next to Šoštanj. It was one of the fastest growing towns in Slovenia after the Second World War because of its coal mining and manufactruing industries.

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AN EMPTY HOUSE AND A STABLE
When I was nineteen years old, I started working in Velenje, a fast growing city due because of its coal mine development. Every morning I rode to work on my father’s motorcycle until I bought an old red Zastava 750. Having a car made my life much easier since I could drive my daughter to kindergarten in the morning and pick her up in the afternoon. I was very sad and confused because of the divorce; I felt sorry for my daughter who did not have a father, and I was alone because I had lost contact with my friends who had gone off to college. I couldn’t afford to go to college, as I had to take care of my daughter and both parents. And then it happened… My father passed away, and my mother, Mihela and I stayed alone on the farm. There was a lot of work, and it was difficult for us women. I worked very hard in an attempt to forget about my hopeless situation. I started studying informatics at night and this became my new passion which I could look forward to. I graduated, got a job with a company called ESO and an apartment in the city. I worked in the department for designing and management of transport technologies, dosage and storage of light materials. My mother didn’t want to leave the farm, so I was commuting almost every day back to the hills with Mihela. And then I fell in love and decided to get married again. By that time, I had lived alone with my daughter for five years, and I learned that I can do a lot by myself. However, it feels nice to have someone who cares about you. We had a big wedding. Mihela was a little bit jealous and wanted to sit between me and my husband during the ceremony. I believed that it did not matter that she

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My f irst car

was the daughter of my previous husband. The only thing that mattered was that we accepted each other and that we were a family. My happiness was short-lived. Only seven days after the wedding, my mother passed away. She had a heart disease, and I always felt as if she was struggling to survive until I, her youngest child, became independent. I had a feeling that she simply stopped fighting. I lost both my parents when before I was 25 years old. I miss both of them still. After the funeral, we emptied the house and sold the animals. It was not possible for us to live in Bele Vode and commute to work every day. I became pregnant for the second time and I gave birth to a daughter, Ina. My happiness at being a

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W i t h B o r i s a n d I n a , 19 8 3

mother again helped me forget a little of the pain of the past events. Home, family and an interesting job in development kept me excited. Not for long though. Something inside me was pushing me to do more. I was becoming more and more interested in the development and automation of technological processes so I signed up to study electronics. I graduated and got promoted at work. Time quickly flew. My daughters were hard working and creative. They were involved in many afterschool activities so I was able to balance my job and home roles. On the other hand, my relationship with my husband became more and more complicated. After twelve years of marriage and many sleepless nights, I decided to divorce him. I had felt the whole time as if I were a single mother despite the fact I was married. My family meant a lot to me, and

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I believed it was a union that enables a wife, a husband and children, to reach their goals in life. Apparently, I had an idealised image, and therefore I experienced even more pain and disappointment. I was left alone with my daughters, ready to fight for their future and for the job that would pay enough for us to have a decent life.
Zastava 750 was a car made in the Serbian Zastava Automobile Factory also know as »Fičo.«

A PROFIT CENTRE AND MY FIRST TRIP ABROAD
When our company encountered financial problems and our biggest buyer decreased its number of orders, the company was reorganised as profit centres and I became director of one of them. We decided to try expanding from the current Yugoslavian market and found Dutch partners to work with. I went to Berlin where we negotiated the renovation of the four-hundred-yearold Hotel Europe in Leningrad. We were offering electrical installation services and control of communication systems, which was only a small part of the whole project but a major step for us. The negotiations lasted two days, and at midnight I signed my first and very important contract as a small company from Slovenia. We reached the agreement for implementation of construction work in Russia that would last three years and would be paid in Swedish crowns due to high inflation rates. I did not know German very well at that time so I had many problems with pronunciation and translation. The project was a very big challenge for us. I

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Co-workers in the ESO Development d e p a r t m e n t , 19 7 7

was worried that there would not be enough work at home so the pressure was on. I somehow managed to draft a contract worth several million German marks. Every few hours, new negotiators arrived to try to convince me that the contract price was too high. I tried not to pull back. That is when I learned that it is good to take chances and walk on the edge. In the end I realised that the negotiations were just a game to test my persistence. When we finished, I was so exhausted that I ran to my room and threw up. This contract was so important for our company because the value of foreign currency was growing on a daily basis. At that time, there was ten percent inflation in Slovenia. We continued our partnership with the Dutch company. They soon figured out that we had a qualified and cheap workforce. We con-

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tinue working in Portugal, Poland, the Netherlands and Germany. When one of our employees was injured in an accident at work, we paid for the damages, which were higher than the amount we earned in one year at that location. Working in East Germany we had to obtain a work permit. The Dutch company did not want to be bothered with the procedure, and we didn’t really know how to manage all the paperwork for a one month on site project. It was our first time in East Germany. We were already struggling with deadlines, for example three weeks for building a sports hall. We had a great deal of trouble getting the necessary permits and trying to follow their schedule. Many times we had to start construction early in order to complete the construction by when we would have to leave the country. Our Slovenian colleagues in Munich would help us get the permits since they knew exactly which construction sites we needed the permits for and how much time we had left for construction. One day the inspectors came for a visit, they stopped the work at the construction site and sent our workers home. There was an anonymous complaint filed against me claiming we were bringing people to Germany illegally. Police came to my office in Slovenia carrying handcuffs. I felt awful. My lawyer and I presented them with a pile of documents, and we tried to convince them of how difficult it was for us to get the work permits and that we were forced to start work early in order to keep clients and survive. The police investigators knew that someone wanted to make a lot of money with the work permits, and he sent them to us so that our company and its executives would lose credibility right when we were having difficult times. So they decided to dismiss the case.

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SLOVENIAN INDEPENDENCE
Slovenian independence was a euphoric and unforgettable time which brought new hope and high expectations for the future. At the same time we knew that Yugoslavia would not let us go easily. On the day of independence I was dining at a restaurant in Velenje with our business partners from Berlin. You could feel the excitement all around. The Head of the territorial defence and the Head of the civil protection units joined us at dinner and we all celebrated independence day together. We promised our German partners that we would help them to safely cross the border since the news was already broadcasting threats from Belgrade. We went home very late that night. In the morning I drove to the city of Trbovlje to discuss the coal transport system at the local coal power plant. During the meeting we could hear the planes of the Yugoslavian armed forces. I hurried home and when passing over Mrzlica hill heard the planes again. I turned on the radio and realized that the situation is serious. The war had begun. I always wished that I would learn about war only from my parents who experienced the Second World War. I went home to pick up my daughters and took them to the house where my parents used to live in Bele Vode. Even though I was still married, my husband was almost always away, so we were used to take care of things ourselves. The house was only a few kilometres from the Austrian border so we knew that the armed forces were not far away. The next couple of nights were especially terrifying, and I was afraid to sleep since I was alone there with the girls. Fortunately things resolved soon and Slovenia was free. The independence of Slovenia was a new impetus and brought Slovenian people new self-confidence. In the following fifteen years the challenges and eco-

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C e l e b r a t i n g S l o v e n i a’ s i n d e p e n d e n c e with my brothers and sisters

nomic situation kept brining all my brothers and sisters together. And as with most families, we went through our own troubles. We lost two beloved members, Mira and Bojan, who died tragically in an accident. The emptiness we all felt after has never gone away.
Trbovlje (population 16,290) is a town and municipality in central Slovenia. It is known for its rich deposits of coal and one of its three power plants with the tallest chimney in Europe.

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A SINGLE MOTHER LEADING A COMPANY AS IT HEADS TOWARDS BANKRUPTCY
Even before independence, in 1989, I already knew that the company I was working for was in stagnation and that there was no future for us. I had a hard time deciding whether to leave or to stay on and watch it slowly sink. As one of the few women in the company, I asked for a promotion to sales director. The business was already divided in two parts, one with progressive views and the other doomed to failure. I knew that I needed to earn money to support my family and that I also needed to ensure that my employees would have jobs in the future. The company was slowly running out of projects and new orders since major markets in Yugoslavia were not there for us anymore. The atmosphere inside the company was increasingly tense. There was still enough work for two thirds of the employees because of orders from the Velenje coal mine. The company’s managers were worried because they would have to let 250 employees out of 800 go. To avoid major conflict, they decided to split the company into two parts: one part that offered services and technologies to Velenje coal mine, and the other part, that was dependant on electrical and mechanical installation services and had no clients. I belonged to that second part. The company was divided on December 31 1992. As there was nothing really to lose anymore I agreed to become the director of Eso Montaza (now called Esotech). The team that split project the company also transferred the majority of debt to our company. The far-sighted law-

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yers gave us some empty buildings without the land on which they stood. We were left without a plan and without machines or equipment. All we had were obsolete, empty buildings which could not serve any purpose. I summoned the reserves of strength that I had developed years ago when I had worked as woman in a technical field surrounded by men. Those early challenging experiences prepared me well to overcome seemly insurmountable obstacles. The 90’s were a decade of transition. Slovenia’s independence brought important economic changes. My experience in sales had taught me that the only way to survive is to broaden your client base and extend your connections. I pushed for foreign opportunities and partnerships with other companies which we could cooperate with. The majority of the employees were experts in the field of mining. They did not really believe in my plan. There were a lot of unemployed people in Slovenia at that time. By now, we felt the other side of our independence. Investments were rare so the only real solution was to find business partners abroad. From our projects in East Germany, Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, I had contacts with a Dutch company, Remco, which wanted to enter the Yugoslavian market. Remco specialized in the construction of sports and industrial buildings. They had shown me the value of cost effectiveness and what it means to pass responsibility and risks to those who have no power. Of course we were the ones without the power because we had no choice but to do business with them, even if we had very low profits. We did not finalize million dollar business contracts; we only received small orders with high risks. Personally, I believed that it was possible to turn things around for the best, against all odds, but only with the full support of my team of co-workers. I

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never thought about giving up, even when a payday came and our current accounts were blocked. I managed to resolve the situation with a contract for maintenance work, a sale of claims or by taking another loan. At that time, my youngest daughter, Ina, was in her third year of primary school and Mihela was in high school. They both needed me to support them emotionally and financially. Neither of them had a father figure to look up to or to reassure their youthful anxieties. But they were both practical and used to living modestly. Our grocery shopping was limited mostly to bread and milk. To save money, we made our own jams, pickles, black currant and raspberry juices, we baked our own bread and we grew potatoes and apples back in Bele Vode. Living like this we were able to survive in a city despite the costs of education and afterschool activities. I did not make a lot of money, and I spent long hours at work but I was very motivated and very driven. Luckily the age difference between my daughters was eight years so they could take care of each other. Mihela could take care of Ina, and when the boys started to be interested in her, Ina was there to act as a chaperone in my absence. Both of them were very supportive of me, and we always helped each other. We were used to sharing good and not so good moments. There were also awkward times, for example, at my daughter’s important school events, like the prom, where both parents were supposed to be present. These were the most difficult times for us; it was at those times we felt that our family was not complete. I heard people talking about me and commenting how I could be the director of a company even if I were not able to have a proper family. When Mihela needed a special letter from her high school to allow her to start working, the secretary demanded to know why she wanted to work when her mother was the director of a company and must make a lot of money. I did

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not have time to go to parent-teacher meetings, and that had negative consequences as well. When Ina was in the fourth grade, she received a failing grade in Slovenian language class even though she has always excelled in her native language. One of our special moments we spent together was when I took both of them with me to Berlin on a business trip. We drove in a very old Renault on the East German motorway that looked and felt like furrows on a ploughed field. We drove 1200 kilometres in 15 hours on an extremely hot day in June. We booked a room with two double beds in a small hotel in East Berlin. I remember how surprised we were at breakfast, because there was so much food to choose from. Ina took a slice of mortadela salami and brought it to our table

Mihela and Ina in Berlin

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in her hands trying to get a taste of everything that was served. We felt this was luxury. We stayed there for one week because the construction work in Berlin had already begun. I had a lot of work organizing the team and meeting with the client. Each morning the girls went to the zoo, to a museum or to big shopping centres, which they had never seen before. In the evening we would meet in the hotel and go out for dinner. I could not take one day off, but we were enjoying our stay anyway. We were so happy when we bought a Barbie doll for Ina and a pair of jeans for Mihela before we returned home. These were both items that we could not buy back home at that time.

MEETING WITH ‘KINGS’ AND THE FIRST BIG CONTRACT IN SLOVENIA
In the spring of 1995 my colleagues and I went to an industrial fair in Hannover. This is still the largest and most prestigious trade fair in Europe, where companies exhibit the newest technological solutions. We met people from Benning, a company from Bocholt, Germany, which we had been cooperating with for some time in the field of high-voltage motors and generators. These are the motors used in the steel industry and in thermo power plants. Our workers and engineers stayed with Benning for training. At that time we were the only ones who had that kind of specialized knowledge in Slovenia. After the fair we went to a hotel where there were many Slovenians. I knew

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only a few of them since I was still fairly new to the business world outside of Slovenia. Hydro power stations, which had to be refurbished, provided an important niche market in Slovenia. I had a difficult time getting to the decision makers for the power plant sector to offer our services. We were a completely unknown company, only recent financial stability and having almost no references in this field. But life is a journey full of surprises. On that spring evening I came to a hotel after an exhausting day at the business fair. In German, was asking the concierge where I could find a phone. A Slovenian man who was standing behind me made a comment saying that if I had problems with communication he could help me. I was a little bit of-

Signing one of the contracts for renovation of the Drava hydro power plants

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fended by that so I shortly replied, “Excuse me, but this is none of your business.” Later that evening I went to dinner with my colleagues. My colleague met a friend from the faculty who joined us. He was a very pleasant person and the director of the Soca hydro power plants group. I was happy to meet him, and I wondered how come we had not met before since our company was interested in hydro power plants. We spoke briefly and then he returned to his table. I asked him who his colleagues were and he said one of them was Rade Koncar, the director of the Sava hydro power plants, and another of his colleagues I had met earlier at the reception. He was the director of the Drava hydroelectric power plants. I could not believe that all the people who were so difficult to find in Slovenia were sitting at the next table. I felt embarrassed since

With directors of the Slovenian hydro power plants in Japan

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the most important among them was the director of the Drava hydro power plants whose last name in Slovenian language was ‘King’. The same man I ran into when I was trying to find a phone. He must have been amused knowing how much I wanted to meet him back in Slovenia. We stayed at that restaurant for a long time, laughing and talking about the business. When we came back to Slovenia I saw there was a public tender for a complete renovation of the Drava hydro plants. I decided to go ahead and bid on it. The majority of people disagreed. They kept convincing me that we were not even able to draft an offer, let alone carry out the work. I was persistent and asked the German company Benning for a reference in the field of electricity generation, and I found another company specializing in turbines who also provided a reference. I was trying to partner with the other two Slovenia-based companies, Litostroj and Hidromontaza, but they both refused to work with us. We were obviously too small and didn’t promise much. We finalized an offer and I went with my colleague, Miran, to the bid opening in Maribor. Only three companies completed the offer and all three of us were there at the Drava hydro power plant office that day: Hidromontaza, Litostroj and Esotech. I still remember that they opened the offers in that order. The first one was for 28 million German marks, the second one 18 million German marks and ours 16 million German marks. All the sudden everyone was silent. I was dizzy with happiness, but at the same time I was worried about how we would actually manage a project as big as this one. The competitors congratulated me, but the client was not really enthusiastic about us. During the next month we signed the contract, and finally the day arrived when we started construction on Maribor Island. The plan was to remove the old power plant and build a new one in nine months. We sent fifty of our most qualified employees from the construction and engineering departments, dressed in

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new work clothes and helmets but with very basic knowledge and equipment. After one month, our client informed us that they would discontinue the contract unless we hired some genuine experts and improved our work. When I returned to my company we had a serious discussion. We decided to significantly improve the system, put measurements in place, start hiring skilled engineers and provide the client with the plans of how things would get better. The project was successful, and in the following years we renovated the entire chain of Drava power plants. Each time a power plant was finished we celebrated and discussed how it all started. We continued working on another Slovenian river Sava. I signed the last contract for renovation before I left Esotech.
Soča, Sava and Drava are three main rivers with hydro power stations in Slovenia.

THE FIRST MEETING WITH SCIENTISTS
Mezica is a small town in the Koroska region of Slovenia that used to be a source of lead and zinc ore in the 19th century. The mine was later closed and a recycling facility for car batteries opened. The environmental impact of both activities was enormous and the degradation of land can still be seen today. People lived exposed to heavy metals and sulphur dioxide for years and in 1999 the government decided to finance a desulphurization project. A number of multinational firms were competing for it and only two Slovenian representatives were among them, Esotech and the Josef Stefan Insti-

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tute, the biggest governmental research institute in Slovenia. We both were offering low price solutions, but our offer was the lowest. Unofficially we were told that if we managed to cooperate with the Josef Stefan Institute, then we would be awarded the contract. For us this project represented a big opportunity because it involved advanced technology that was usually sold only by foreign companies, and it would become a very good reference for our future business. In the 90’s, the research institutes were a world to themselves. There were no examples of successful cooperation with the business sector or knowledge transfer. I invited the management team from Jožef Stefan Institute for a meeting to discuss opportunities for partnership. It was very difficult to convince them to meet us and when we finally sat at the table, it was even more difficult to find common ground. They kept claiming that we are taking on a demanding project for which we lacked adequate knowledge and skills. Although they had a good point, I didn’t want to give up. I presented our arguments and I explained how we could combine our engineering knowledge and on-site skills with their research development and experience with pilot projects. After several hours of negotiations and many inappropriate comments from their side, we finally managed to find common interest. We ended up cooperating on the desulphurization project over the next two years. From 1999 the Mezica Valley began becoming green again and living conditions significantly improved. Since that time, we continued working together with Institute and ended up signing a long-term contract cooperating in the field of environmental protection technologies at home and abroad. With Mezica on our reference list, we were chosen as contractors in Bosnia for two more factories and won a couple of tenders for environmental protection technologies in the steel industry at home. Together we formed the Slovenian water treatment technology platform and established the Slovenian Environ-

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With Dr Andrej Stergar šek, a leading researcher

mental Cluster. We gained our confidence back from working on installation projects only to develop new technologies - and started thinking big, towards the East – towards China.

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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES
Since childhood, when I first admired the functionality of the electric fence, I have been fascinated by technology - first by electronics and later by information technologies. Our company went in this direction as well, developing into an engineering company where information technology played an increasingly important role. The employees at Esotech were given their first computers and training began. Of course, it began with the standard resistance against anything new. We were among the first companies in Slovenia to introduce the use of e-mail,

We w e r e pi on e e r s in t h e f i e l d of video-conferencing technolog y in Slovenia

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internet and network planning. According to the nature of our work, we paid the most attention to project management and IT support. Nevertheless, we wanted to aim higher. Thanks to my daughter Mihela we got involved with video-conferencing technology. We organized a small department inside the company for IT support and sales of video-conferencing systems. We were convinced that time is of the greatest value, and that is why we believed in the future of such time-saving systems. The first video-conferences we implemented were with our on-site teams. Later on we signed a contract with the government to provide video-conference links between Ljubljana and Brussels to negotiate Slovenia’s entry into the European Union. That was a proud moment for us.

MY FOOTBALL STORY
One of my most memorable experiences goes back to the football story. One of our projects at that time was the installation of the spectator stand. Not long afterwards we received an invitation to become a sponsor of the Football Club of Šmartno pri Paki. I was new to this sport, but was impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of the Šmartno people. Life in the idyllic little town of Šmartno with 1000 residents was peaceful, but only until a football match. Everyone in the town was obsessed with the game, from the mayor to the housewives. Maybe this was the reason that Slovenia’s most famous football coach, Bojan Prašnikar, comes from Šmartno. Jaka, who was the project coordinator, was adept at steering the course through the sporting rivalries. He was really good in networking and was

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‘ Tw o h o u s e s a n d a c h u r c h , b u t undefeated in football’, media reported.

somehow always able to get the managers, the mayor and new investors to the same table. In one of these meetings I was invited to become a director and our company a major sponsor of the football club. I admired Jaka for his passion at work, and I didn’t want to refuse the offer. I took over the club and tried to apply what I learned at managing the company during our down times. As a family we would then spend Sundays at football games, and I had yet another challenge to bring enough money together. But in this case, the team I worked with including the coach and players were so different and empowering that I didn’t feel it was an extra obligation. We got to the point where we were playing in the Slovenia Cup finals and all our employees would come and watch the game. We didn’t win at that time, but we did work our way into the first league of Slovenia Football. All Smartno celebrated for days.

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At t h e Wor l d Cup in South Korea

I supported the work of Vojislav Simeunovic, who was the coach at the time. Prior to the final play-off game, I wrote a letter to the players and asked him to read it before they left the changing room. That day, the team succeeded and were promoted to Slovenia’s Premier League. At that point, I stepped down as the president of the club and Esotech pulled out as the main sponsor. We left the club in the good hands of, Era, a larger company which was able to provide stronger support to their sports clubs. Nevertheless, we still stayed in touch with them because of the sincerity and unbelievable energy of the people from Šmartno. I finalized my football story by travelling to South Korea to watch the Slovenian team play in World Cup. The experience was unforgettable, and I am happy that I was a part of the whole story.

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CREATING A BETTER WORLD
We chose this mission statement in one of our management meetings in the early days of our pursuit of environmental protection technologies development. Esotech history goes way back to ESO, the predecessor of today’s Esotech, which was established in 1952 to provide maintenance for mining equipment. ESO later moved into the development and production of mining equipment. The company became a leader in the field of designing mining equipment; it’s most important product was the hydraulic supports for the ceilings of mines. The number of mines in operation soon began to decrease rapidly, and today the only mines still operating in Slovenia are located in Zasavje and the Šaleška Dolina Valley. Because of the declining Yugoslavian market, the lack of contracts and growing financial losses, ESO reached a turning point in 1992. This is when I became the director of the “poor half ” of the company. I didn’t have enough knowledge and experience in that field; all I had was a strong will, ambition, intuition and heart. During the first few years, the company survived by working in the field of technological installations in Slovenia and abroad. Gradually we began to focus on renovating and servicing power plants. By 1996, we had become a leading project developer in the energy industry with the largest market share in Slovenia. The company was developing towards environmental protection technologies and strengthening cooperation between the largest Slovenian research institutes, suppliers and the contractors. Considering that energy production as well as any other industry has a negative impact on the environ-

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Getting the award for Business P e r s on of t h e Ye a r

ment, we saw it as a new business opportunity especially after Slovenia joined the EU. I understood that we can only protect the environment and our own health by changing our habits as humans and that future business strategies would have to be based on environmentally friendly technologies and approaches and not on the end of pipe solutions. After the Slovenian Environmental Cluster was established, the group of companies included in the cluster become an important platform for new technologies, research and on-site management. Slovenia’s entry to the EU provided new opportunities. Esotech was a leading company in the cluster with high

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goals for internationalisation of business and the implementation of new environmental technologies. Our initial plan was to develop small pilot projects at home that would later be developed into larger projects in the international markets. Twenty years earlier, I went for the first time into a mine, where we were developing equipment for new excavations. After hours of walking, I could almost believe the miners when they tried to convince me that there was tea in the mine shafts. Yes, when you are thirsty enough and after working too long in unusual conditions, you believe many things; though it was only a joke on me. Even when I became director of the failed company ESO Montaza, I wasn’t aware of the traps that I experienced later. Like that “tea” in the mine shafts.

From the moment that I took over the management of the company in 1992, it was a process of daily hard work and many sleepless nights . Af ter t wo years , our debts reached zero and we hovered there for the nex t several years . Af ter 1997, we pushed hard in an upward direction until 2001, which was one of our most dif ficult years . And then a fire happened in the largest home appliance company Gorenje where we were working on a maintenance project. At the same time, I was having serious health problems . Both issues resulted in less projects , financial loss and were reasons why banks star ted to withdraw suppor t. We needed another t wo years to recover and then we were able to move ahead with full speed again. We opened new markets in

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ex-Yugoslavian countries , planned projects with the new EU members and star ted our operations in China . On July 3, 2007 I went on a business trip to Shanghai. That was new milestone in my life.

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WHERE THERE’S A WILL THERE’S A WAY
From the interview with Lado Ambrožič, Slovenia National Television RTV Slovenija, February 4, 2007
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! Tonight’s guest is Mrs. Zofija Mazej Kukovič, the CEO of Esotech, an engineering company from Velenje. In 2006, Mrs. Kukovič was recognized as The Delo Business Person of the Year. Good evening, Mrs. Kukovič. Congratulations on this prestigious award. Thank you. You’ve been with the company since the beginning: in the war period, when it was ESO involved with Velenje’s mine and in 1992 when the company separated from the two firms, Oprema and Montaza. You’re an engineer, but you’ve worked as a project engineer, a sales manager and now you’re the CEO of Esotech, former Eso Montaza. Your path to becoming a CEO is impressive. I have convinced people to go ahead with me, shoulder to shoulder, and I’ve encouraged them through my work and persistence that there is something behind my words. That is why we were able to make all those successful steps forward. But the most difficult challenge of my career was taking over a failed company. At that time, it never occurred to me that I would one day become director of the company. I had always enjoyed working as a project engineer responsible for regulating technological processes, and I thought I would continue this job for the rest of my life. At that stage, I had a lot of contacts with our cus-

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Preparation for the interview

tomers and that is how everything started. I began to sell products, not just create them, and this was my first business reality with a great deal of practical knowledge. Around 1990, I went to Berlin, with only a few words of German, to learn more about the business in this market. I knew we had no other choice but to find new markets outside Slovenia. Can you tell us about the process of your transition into a management role in the company? In the early stages, it was important to arrive on time for work at 6 a.m. and leave at 2 p.m. We didn’t have to worry about whether you would get your pay check each month or whether the company was profitable; everyone just did

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what was there to do and went home. Everything was taken care of including social security and medical benefits. But on the other hand we lacked serious challenges and the excitement of creativity. We had very little opportunities to do something new. When the market and economic position of Yugoslavia changed, a lot of companies including ours was all of the sudden facing many difficulties. We used to call it “bloody sweat.” We found ourselves in a situation where there was very little money, where people were waiting to be managed in their daily work and where there was constant pressure on how we will survive for another three months. At that time I didn’t even dare to think in longer terms than one quarter. Month after month I struggled through the same issues, trying to keep the clients and not to show the fears I had inside me. Besides everything else I was a woman, new to the managerial role and without any references in the field. You have become a key figure in the development of Velenje. Velenje used to be a rather dirty town due to its thermal power plant, but now through the vision of people like yourself, Nestl Žgank and Ivan Atelšek, Velenje has been transformed into a beautiful place. Yes, I admire them even today. When Nestl Zgank wrote, or it would be better to say, dictated his first book, titled Memories of the Red King, he critically evaluated the past, which made the book rather controversial. When we opened the Esotech development centre in 2000, he came to see our company. I see Ivan Atelšek as a visionary and he is still very active, even today. It’s inspiring to have role models who have a unique vision and who were able to make these visions into reality by taking an unusual route to make them happen. When I once spoke to Ivan Atelšek, I asked him why women liked working in Gorenje. He told me it was because of the asphalt road that allowed them to come to work wearing high heels. It’s hard to imagine today that four decades ago this was one of the motivations.

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You must start with a unique vision and then you need to convince people around you about this vision, its value and that it’s real, otherwise it won’t work without the support of others. Is this hard to do? No, it isn’t hard if you enjoy what you are doing and like working with people. And I enjoy introducing people to new ideas that they have not considered before. It’s encouraging when you see that they believe you. Of course, it takes a lot of energy. You can’t convince somebody if you are feeling empty; if you are speaking, but there is no passion for the subject. It doesn’t always work out without difficulties though; sometimes those who were strongly convinced only yesterday that we were doing the right thing become sceptical the very next day, asking themselves if they are still doing the right thing. So, you have to start from the beginning, over and over again. Speaking of the implementation of treatment plants and environmental project engineering, what is the situation in Velenje, in your own backyard? For example, how clean is the Paka River? How clean is the air in Velenje now that there are fewer thermal power plants? The situation was really bad twenty years ago. I hope that I put it right 20 years from now, as life goes so fast we are hardly aware of the years flying by. Because of the treatment plants, the closed water circuits, the sanitation of degraded surfaces and water purification, many of the problems have been improved to a satisfactory level. But it doesn’t mean that we have reached the final stage. There are always new demands in the environmental field. Researchers and scientists are constantly researching new substances that could be harmful to our health and the environment. That is why there are so many new opportunities in this field: in waste treatment, water treatment and even in the identification of the emissions, for example, mercury from gasoline. Greenhouse gases caused by heating systems and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions will require a unique approach in the next ten years if we wish to keep our planet a nice place to live.

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You must have quite a broad range of knowledge that enabled you to penetrate foreign markets, especially your success in the Chinese market. You successfully cooperated with some Chinese cities, including Shanghai. Why did you decide to go so far from home? When Slovenia joined the EU, workforce restrictions were adopted. We were a service-providing company, and with this regulation we had no access to Western countries in the EU. Many people don’t know that. In order to develop our company further and ensure our long-term future we had to look for new markets. The Chinese market surely guarantees business opportunities for the next 300 years. You have started learning the Chinese language. How was it working with the Chinese style of doing business? My connection with China is quite a simple story, actually. A few years ago we were in China with a Slovenian business delegation. We attended a couple of different conferences in Shanghai, and when I wanted to get back to the hotel, not even one taxi driver could understand what we were saying and then we drove from one hotel to another, asking where we were staying as if we were illiterate. In brief, I saw clearly that it is a disaster if you come to a country and don’t know even a word of their language. Then it would be better not to go. At that moment I decided to learn at least enough words so that I wouldn’t get lost. Is your home village Bele Vode still as beautiful as it was? Yes, it is. The area is a major drinking water source for the Saleska Valley. The foothills of Smrekovec, as an extinct volcano, are a unique getaway. For this reason I initiated a meeting with scientists and researchers in Bele Vode, and we started the Slovenian water platform. I invited them to come to Smrekovec with an empty bottle and to fill it with clean water to take home with them. It was a good enough reason to start discussions on the industrial and agricultural impact on water in the area and nationwide.

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Your story, Mrs. Kukovič, is actually a story about success and an enviable personal rise. After all there were seven children in your family, and there probably wasn’t a lot of money, and you started to work as a forester as early as your student years. Your success is similar to the concept of the American Dream, where anyone with ambition and drive can make it happen, even if they start out with nothing. To start from zero and succeed and then to fall and rise again is a story valued in America. Europe is more traditional with its concepts of class coming from family money. Everything that seemed hard was really hard and made me stronger. My youth that I spent in those hills was so beautiful that I wish today’s children could have this opportunity too. Money doesn’t matter. Growing up, we were never hungry or without clothes, but what we really had was a loving family, life in and with nature, our own little zoo at home with all the animals on the farm. As I read from your publications, you know how to treat people. I also see that you know how to stimulate them, as every year you select the best secretary, the best installer, the best co-worker. Every year you reward the ‘ best’. But must you be strict as well? Yes. I’m strict when I have to be. Life has taught me that there are no indulgent bosses. An indulgent boss is not a boss. But this doesn’t mean not treating people properly and not trying to motivate them. You have to think about motivation every day. A boss must know that the employees love their work. I was happy when I received The Delo Person of the Year Award and so were my co-workers when they were declared Innovators of the Year or co-worker of the year. Hard work paid off and it was recognized in Slovenian society as well as in the business community. I haven’t met one person in the company who would find those awards meaningless or worthless. The Greeks probably, or the Egyptians, came up with the idea of awarding people to keep them motivated. I don’t refer to awards in terms of money or material value. I think its

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much more important to show people that you care about them in many ways, for example, by asking after their family and showing concern about them as human beings, not just employees.

FEELINGS WHEN YOU ARE LEFT ALONE
July and August 2007
Life can change in a moment. While I was in Shanghai on business, I got a note that I had been dismissed from the position of CEO at Esotech. The news hit me like a bomb and broke me down completely. When I was returning back to Slovenia from China, I felt so defeated that I didn’t care even if the plane crashed. People, who I worked with for the past 20 years and trusted the most, betrayed me. I have gone through many crisis situations in my life, both personal and in business. Divorce at the age of twenty was very painful, but the feeling of being betrayed by my closest co-workers, who I personally employed, promoted to management, arranged loans to enable them to buy shares, and invited to my house in Bele Vode to eat goulash… nothing I had experienced so far in my life prepared me for this. It wasn’t just about the forced dismissal from the company that I had taken on as my own and paid more attention to than even my own children many times. The whole story seemed like a screenplay for a surreal thriller: an insidious dismissal when I was out of the country, intimidation, being followed

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Af ter my business trip to China, I was left outside the c o m p a n y’ s d o o r

everywhere after I came back to Slovenia, public humiliation as the media dragged my name through the mud, being swarmed by employees who still believe in you and want answers, plus the everyday stress when a postman brought me a yet another envelope to my home address. I knew that the main purpose of the whole circus was to break me down so that I would sell my Esotech shares to the new owners. Instead of selling, I continued buying more. Even my family asked me to stop, because they were so worried about the whole situation. I had invested too much of myself into Esotech to just walk away without a fight.

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It is unbelievable how quickly you can fall from a position of being in control as a manager into a hole where you feel like a weak animal. It was the first time I had been unemployed in my life. Looking for a lawyer was a nightmare, which took my last grams of energy. When I was going from one law office to the other, explaining my story and hearing all over again that I should get used to my new situation, I didn’t know who I could trust anymore. I was at my wit’s end when I finally found a lawyer with whom I felt comfortable and trusted that we would be able to manage the case. Tensions and pressure increased until August, when the Esotech scheduled an annual shareholders meeting. All this time, up until August 22nd, I wasn’t allowed to enter the company premises. New guards they hired had been ordered to let me in only if I signed the termination of my employment contract. I stood at the entrance to Esotech watching people leave the building. Some of them shook my hand, but many of them couldn’t look me in the eyes. Some of them were ashamed, while others were too afraid of the consequences of choosing sides. After the shareholders meeting I was invited to do a handover to the new management. I told my team of executive managers who were in the room and who used to work with me since I started as a CEO that I had cared for them very much. “We have shared many hard and joyful moments together. The fact that you weren’t able to look into my eyes and tell me that we can no longer work together, that you did it in my absence, is the hardest thing for me to accept. This will weigh upon you, because I believe that some of you do have feelings. When I launched the takeover bid for Esotech, I invited you to become owners with me. And I did the same for all the employees. I have never excluded anyone. I feel sad and disappointed to know that you treated people who didn’t agree with your way of taking over shares and votes in a violent way and that you did not allow them to have their own opinions. There are at

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least seven of you who get along today, because you think of me as an enemy from the outside. But I am not. Seven people cannot make decisions for everyone; it will simply not work. Through all those months when I was struggling to arrange purchases, gain financial control and develop information technology, you were planning to get rid of me. In only six months we made almost as much progress as it took us the whole of last year. At the last meeting with the employees I assured you that there was no crisis in the business and that the only problems that might arise were in human relations. And that is exactly what has happened.” Despite all what happened in that past two months I had not intention to put them or Esotech in jeopardy. I don’t want to live with hatred because life is too short. I firmly believe that life puts everything in the right place at the right time.

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HOW I ACCELERATED THE PLOT AGAINST ME AND BECAME THE 25% SHAREHOLDER OF ESOTECH
Interview, Brane Piano, National Newspaper Delo, August 2007 (the names in the interview are left out)
In the last selection for The Delo Person of the Year Award, the (then) CEO of Esotech, Zofija Mazej Kukovič, defeated some well-known managers: Jože Colarič, CEO of Krka, and Franjo Bobinac, CEO of Gorenje. This selection probably surprised the media and the public, while the Slovenian business sphere wasn’t surprised at all. Mrs. Mazej Kukovič was the driving force behind Esotech’s success in the field of environmental technologies in Slovenia and Europe, and she even started to pave the way in China. In only 15 years, she built, on the ruins of a mining enterprise, a successful company that heads the Slovenian Environmental Cluster. We were therefore shocked when we heard about her dismissal from Esotech. We still haven’t got any explanation from the Supervisory board or from the new management board. Today, we interview Zofija Mazej Kukovič for her story about what happened. What is your current labour status? After 33 years of work, I am now unemployed. I can’t explain how shocked I am by the events of the last few months. I first received a summary dismiss-

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In July 20 07
p h o t o: B r a n e P i a n o

al from the position of CEO at Esotech and, after a few days, a notice terminating my employment. In the meantime, I wanted to go to the company, but the newly hired guards at the entrance stopped me. They wanted me to sign a document terminating my employment first, otherwise they would not let me in. Of course, I refused to sign it. There were also some changes in the Esotech supervisory board. The president of the three-member supervisory board resigned. Two weeks before my business trip to China, the supervisory board confirmed all business reports and plans. They set up the agenda for the shareholder’s meeting and approved all

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proposals from the management board. Two members from the supervisory board then suddenly changed their minds and concluded that I was jeopardizing the company and should therefore be immediately replaced in my absence. I got on the plane to China on Friday afternoon, not knowing that they just scheduled another meeting of the supervisory board. The worst part is that I wasn’t even given the right to defend myself against their accusations. On Monday morning, July 3rd, the supervisory board dismissed me without notice. Before your trip to China, you offered to purchase your employees’ shares? Even the supervisory board was aware that we had to do something before August and we needed to decide whether we were going to sell the funds of proprietary shares or withdraw them and therefore decrease the company’s initial capital. Selling the fund of proprietary shares seemed like the best option, as withdrawing them would increase the owners’ shares in the company for free. For this reason, at the beginning of June, I offered all internal owners – Esotech employees - the opportunity to purchase the shares from the fund of proprietary shares. As early as June 12, we already realized that the demand was bigger than the offer. The bids were three times greater than the number of available shares. From the conclusions of the shareholders’ meeting, I invited all employees to purchase the shares. But then I realized that the calculations would be very complicated as each shareholder was entitled to receive from the fund as many shares, in the same proportion, as was his or her share in the company. So I applied the clause from the bid, allowing me to withdraw it. Why was there so much interest in the shares? It became clear that there was great interest outside the company. In the past, we had to beg employees to purchase the shares. Over a 15 year period, Esotech went through four or five serious crises, and this resulted in an understandable lack of enthusiasm on their part to buy shares. To provide an exam-

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ple to my co-workers, I was buying Esotech’s shares and investing all that I could afford into buying these shares. At that point it became obvious that something weird was going on. I was not sure what, but I decided to go ahead with my own offer. I publicly announced and asked the employees to sell me their shares, but only if they wanted to sell them. If not, it would be better to keep them and therefore become longterm co-owners of Esotech. At that time, I didn’t know that I had made the right move at the very last moment. I called for a meeting with all the workers and shareholders and explained to them the reasons for my purchase of shares, and I also told them that all major Slovenian banks were supporting me in this move. I told them that I was serious about it and that I wanted the company to stabilize, regarding its ownership and its long-term development. Moreover, I advised them not to sell if they didn’t need the money. Notwithstanding, the majority was still opposed to selling shares. At that time I didn’t know the reason, but now I know that some of the shareholders were already making arrangements with for other options. At that last employee meeting somebody asked me directly about these other options. At that time I didn’t know that my managers who were sitting in the first row at the meeting and looking at me were ‘those other options’. What was the share ownership structure when you announced on your takeover bid? I owned a 12% stake; the whole management team had around 20 to 25%; there was 20% in the fund of proprietary shares, and the rest was owned by the employees. That’s all. We already bought the shares from the state-owned funds in 1998. Did you want to take over the company with your announcement? Not exactly. I only wanted to increase my share in the company.

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Despite your ‘removal from the company’ you, however, managed to buy shares. It’s true. I increased my ownership in Esotech to 25% that summer. I wasn’t aware that my bid and successful purchase of shares actually disturbed the secret plan of my closest co-workers. Banks offered their support, because they trusted me. I also discussed the situation with the president of the supervisory board before I announced my offer. I clearly saw that Esotech needed a majority owner, and I decided to take that risk; it took a lot of courage to do it. If the management team had become a majority owner, it wouldn’t have lasted for long because not every decision can be reached by consensus. What was your co-workers’ plan, the one that you knew nothing about? Who were the main people involved? I found this out after my dismissal, although I had felt something was happening even before. In July, when I was in China, they organized the shareholders’ meeting in order to convince the employees in my absence to sign an agreement transferring the shares to an authorized company, Delta CRP Ljubljana, established by Law Firm Colja, Rojs and partners from Ljubljana. This firm was also responsible for the whole takeover operation. My former management team convinced Esotech’s employees to transfer their shares to the authorized company practically for free. They were told to do so because I was very dangerous and was going to sell the company. People didn’t know what was really going and signed the papers without even asking for a copy. They locked the shares for two years with a high penalty if anyone reconsidered selling them to me or somebody else. I would rather speak no further about the stories that we heard about authorized companies like that one and the frauds they committed. When did the plan with the take over start? It started at the end of the last year (2007), when one of the management people had to leave Esotech. That plan then reached the final stage this year, in

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May, when another member left. The same person then returned to the company after my dismissal and became the new CEO. The Delta CRP was established in May. When those two co-workers were leaving the company, we mutually agreed on paying them both off. The first one is now back and the second one is about to come back as a CFO. The latter also unofficially runs Delta CRP. With my decisions and intuition, I actually provoked and speeded up the events they had scheduled, but with one difference - I became the owner of a 25% stake in Esotech. This makes you the majority owner of Esotech. Yes, and I cannot even pass by the security guards at the entrance. What are your future plans? What procedures are you going to initiate, or you have already initiated? My priority right now is to gather new energy. I’m not afraid to admit it. The worst is behind me, and my family and I have started to set new goals for the future, focusing on environmental protection. In the last few years, I’ve developed network that I can build on, in Slovenia and on an international level. I’m also convinced that we have to come to the bottom of what happened at Esotech and take the necessary legal steps. It’s not just about my personal sense of justice. It must to be done, not only for the company, but also for national interests. The fact that the supervisory board dismissed me while only two weeks earlier it had been completely satisfied with my work and that its members had been informed about every detail over the past 10 years, doesn’t add up. I’m also thinking about my shares in Esotech. In dismissing me, they took everything from me, especially the creativity which I cherished the most. I derived a lot of pleasure out of my participation in developing Esotech into an international high technology company. I ran the Slovenian Environmental Cluster and the Slovenian water technology platform. I was active in nature protection associations in Europe and internationally. I really wanted to

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create something meaningful, something important that would have benefits for future generations. What was wrong and against the law in the procedure of your dismissal? Ultimately, the courts will decide on this. Personally, I see their actions as human baseness. We always had enough money for wages and development. I didn’t give up even when the media announced that Esotech was suspected of the fire in Gorenje Galvana. After 15 years of working together, why couldn’t we have just sat down together and openly discussed our problems with each other and, if we disagreed on certain things, talked about them? This is beyond my understanding. I grew up with one of the supervisors, a member of the supervisory board who sold me his shares and congratulated me; he even asked me why I hadn’t done it before. And a week later he decided to transfer his shares to the opposite side. The fund of proprietary shares remained untouched, but also others were buying the shares. Have they explained to you the reasons for your dismissal? They can justify their accusations by themselves to the authorities, and I trust the competence of the authorities to make the final judgement. I can only say that I have a clear conscience and don’t feel guilty about anything. Everything that I did at Esotech was done openly in front of my co-workers, and each decision I made was based upon what I thought was the best for the company through my 15 years of experience. How can you prove that? With the fact that I gave the internal owners a public offer! I could have been buying them quietly and through stock exchange companies. After all those years you must have a lot of business partners. Are they still in contact with you? Are there any delicate situations?

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The news about my dismissal spread quickly, and the business partners who work with Esotech continued to do business with the new general manager. It’s a business after all. I’ve been receiving encouraging letters and phone calls. People are able to judge other people at least to the point of separating the sheep from the goats. Even if you weren’t one of the owners of Esotech, you probably would still care about its future. Does the new situation influence business operations? I devoted half of my working life to this company, so I don’t want to see it go to waste. The new situation definitely has an influence, but they will have to carry the burden they put on their own shoulders. I believe that the members of the current management board will have difficulties with conflict resolution amongst themselves and infighting. Each difficult situation they encounter will only make it worse. But now they have no other alternative. As for their professional competences and capabilities, I have nothing to say against them, only that I don’t understand them anymore. My management wasn’t loaded with secrets, which means that today they can easily communicate and do business with our business partners even without me because of the level of transparency we implemented over the years. Even though my office was sealed, they had all the data necessary. Purchasing, controlling and other departments have all the information they need to continue working. As a manager, were you too uncompromising? No. I stand for the idea that compromises are necessary. Management of a company isn’t just numbers, but a balance between them and the satisfaction of people you work with. Do you still expect to re-assume an important role in Esotech someday? I haven’t thought about it; however, I don’t exclude anything. I expect common sense and courage from my co-workers. So far not one of the managers

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or supervisors has called me or even had the courage to look me in the eyes when we met. So how do you understand this dismissal in your absence? An acquaintance of mine once told me that it was about human greed. Greed clouds people’s judgement and rejects human relations. Esotech owns a lot of real estate. My strategy was that we don’t sell anything and that we only unite the property. Money disappears quickly, but property is an investment that lasts. Could we say that with the 10 million Euro in revenues and a profit of a quarter million Euros that Esotech made in the first half year, represent an enormous increase which also got people’s attention? In only six months, Esotech made as much profit as it had over the entire previous year. Yes, we had been very successful this year. But, even before I had been reminding the employees that success wasn’t everything, and that problems could arise in personal relations and trust. Such problems would open the door to those who show interest in the shares but are actually after the company’s real estate and don’t care for people and business. Employees began spreading rumours that I had sold the company to a bank and the like. Some people forget that the future is always uncertain. We know, for example, that they will build the 6th block of the Šoštanj thermal power station, that we have signed many contracts in the hydro-energy sector, that from the global point of view, energy and environmental protection are on the rise, but current results are only the reflection of a cycle. It is always followed by a downturn. The investments that everyone discusses today many times get postponed, for a year or two, or three, even. During that period you have to be able to survive and to provide salaries to 200 Esotech employees. Unfortunately some people are short sighted and only see the momentary success and that causes problems.

MANAGEMENT WITH VISION AND COURAGE

PA R T T WO

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In my years as Esotech’s CEO, I wrote monthly ar ticles for our internal company’s newspaper IN FOTECH . This was on of the ways to communicate the changes , challenges and oppor tunities to 200 employees that were usually never at one place. The educational backgrounds at Esotech were ver y diverse so it was always a challenge to bring key messages to ever yone, from the top management level to the people in manufacturing. I wanted to publish some of them that suppor ts major events from the first par t of the book . They are a reflection of the time they were writ ten.

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AT THE DAWN OF THE NEW MILLENIUM
We were all euphoric as the year 2000 approached. We were excited by the endless possibilities of living and creating in a magical year…

Infotech, December 1999
It will definitely be the second and the last millennium we are given to live in. Therefore let’s take each day as a new opportunity. Do not look for new enemies, but rather for new friends. What will the third millennium bring? • Those who know more than the average will survive • A company and an individual will have to act as a learning system • We will have to provide only highly specialized services • The development of modern information technologies will flourish • Environmental protection projects in the field of energy and industry will provide many business opportunities and become a necessity in order to preserve the future of human life on earth. As we approach the third millennium, I hope that our future allows us to use our time wisely so we have time for ourselves, sports and education.

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Taking good care of your health and your mental and physical condition is the most important thing that will ensure you being satisfied with yourself as well as the people and things around you. Overall quality of life is composed of PERSONAL QUALITY for each one of us. It doesn’t come on its own.

FIRE OF LIFE
One Sunday af ternoon, I was hiking around the Bele Vode forests when suddenly I saw smoke blowing from the Šaleška Dolina Valley, from the area of the Gorenje’s manufacturing facilities . Gorenje is one of the biggest expor ting companies in Slovenia , manufacturing home appliances . We have been working with them for years . I stopped and star ted shaking: our people were working there on weekends . Has any thing happened to them? Are they all right? I had terrible images in my head. In that ver y moment, I got into my car, drove to Esotech and called a management meeting. Twent y minutes later ever yone was there. It was aw ful. Af ter an hour we confirmed to our huge relief that our people weren’ t there during the fire and that they were all safe at home. The site was being reconstructed, so nobody knew if there still were people trapped in the flames . We immediately organized a couple of teams and sent them to Gorenje to help. At the

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same time we called together ever yone who was working in Gorenje earlier that day. Nobody knew how or why the fire had star ted. They fought the fire all night. The nex t morning, the investigations star ted. To ease the tragedy, all companies provided discounts on ser vices that had already been carried out at that time in Gorenje. Because of the fire 400 Gorenje employees stayed at home, and our people worked using electric generators . Af ter 14 tiring days , I went to the seaside for the weekend. On Saturday I received a note that Esotech was suspected of causing the fire that day in Gorenje. I lost the ground under my feet. What had we ever done to deser ve such a burden of blame?

Infotech, September 2000
Dear co-workers! A terrible accident has happened in our neighbourhood, and I want to give you more detailed information about it, especially to our colleagues working on-site. On Sunday, September 3rd, a catastrophic fire started in Gorenje, in the Galvana facility and completely destroyed the whole facility within an hour. Thanks to the quick intervention of the fire fighters, the surrounding facilities remained safe. In Gorenje we are currently working on several contracts and it is one of our most important clients.

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We were doing our work with our subcontractors even on Sunday, September 3rd. The work was completed around 5 p.m. According to the written statements of all four participating employees, there were no traces of fire or smoke when they left the company that evening. There were also workers from other companies working in the Galvana facility at the time. According to the Welding Institute’s investigation, our workers couldn’t have initiated the fire; however, the official investigation is still in the process. This huge economic damage seriously affected the business operation of Gorenje. Esotech offered Gorenje all its expertise and assistance to overcome the consequences of the accident. As the Šaleška Dolina Valley is a small area where personal, family and business ties are all interconnected, a great deal of misinformation has spread around by word of mouth. That is why it is very important that all of you has the correct information and are able to avoid the further damage of rumours spreading. Rumors that Esotech was responsible for the fire in Gorenje had an extremely negative impact on business. We suffered high damage in new procurement contracts as well as already-signed deals. I am convinced we will manage to get through this rough period and things are going to improve in the near future.

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MORNING MINUTE MEETINGS AND CARE FOR HEALTH
Af ter the fire we found ourselves in the front line for some time, which resulted on losing the contracts with Gorenje and couple of other related and impor tant clients . There were numerous ar ticles in the media dealing with the possible responsibilit y of our company. Our business depended on customer loyalt y and af ter the negative press a lot of our well - established business ties star ted to loosen. Again, I began looking for ways to maintain a positive atmosphere in the company. One way was to improve our internal communication with morning meetings …

Infotech, October 2000:
Every morning we will meet for a quick meeting in our work groups before starting the day. In groups you will discuss the daily plan of activities and possible difficulties you might have been having with the previous day’s tasks. You need to try and get information on the situation in other areas of the compa-

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ny; your manager is responsible for informing you about it, and you are bound to actively participate through questions and useful suggestions. Take advantage of all the sports activities the company is holding and are currently not attended enough. I would like to remind the management team in the outside office activities that was supposed to provide a good example. I know that you have numerous excuses, such as lack of time and being tired, but remember that we have only one life and one body. Here is your chance to maintain a healthy spirit, at home as well as at work. Let me mention some good news regarding our new clients, the University Medical Centre of Ljubljana. The medical centre employs a few thousand doctors, but the centre’s energy consumption is comparable to a large refrigerator factory. Our contribution to the centre was the implementation of a video and audio system connecting the department of gastrology and the centre’s library, thus enabling students to cooperate interactively with a surgeon during surgery. We also developed a modern classroom with the latest audio and video communication systems for 120 students. This way, we have provided the highest quality of knowledge transfer from specialists and professors to the students. We made a successful technological step forward that will contribute to the efficient transfer of best practices to medical students and will open new business opportunities for our company.

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IN TIMES OF CRISIS, MOTIVATION IS THE SPORT OF VICTORY
A crisis can hit a company at any time without a warning, especially as people get used to a relatively comfor table life and believe that things can only get bet ter.

Infotech, June 2001:
Downhill happens much faster then going up hill, and it’s the same with running a business. The situation within a business can quickly turn around and delete many of the previous hard-won efforts. It is much harder to bring a business back to the same level of success after it has slipped to a certain level. But as nobody in the world just lives from one day to another, patience and drive to keep going is a very important value. We must never just stand still, but rather always be moving forward on tasks and goals that we have set ourselves in order to improve business operations. Getting back in shape requires hard work. We can only be successful if we push hard enough and find ways to solve challenges within the project timeframe. At this point, the business results curve in an upward direction, but there is no guarantee that this will continue, unless we are very disciplined at work, cost conscious, efficient and always trying to find new opportunities.

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Concerning all of you being a shareholder and owning Esotech shares, let me once again assure you that they are your property and that nobody is allowed to access them against your will. Shareholding is after all a risk for each individual, and I can only make recommendations in a given period according to the situation. The final decision is yours. If an employee wants to sell his or her shares, the company will buy them into the fund of proprietary shares, One of the hot topics in the last several days was football. I am very pleased that the Esotech Šmartno football club made it to Slovenia’s Premier League. This is a huge success for the club and our company’s brand. At this point I want to step down as a president of the club and leave the sponsorships to another company with a stronger financial position. Despite everything, we have managed to come this far as one of the smallest companies with a club from one of the smallest towns. I would therefore like to thank all employees for understanding our support of this sport. Even though the direct result seems to not be a major thing, the indirect part is very important for Esotech. Speaking of sports, let’s think about an initiative that came from the management team, to create our own sports club providing and organizing different sports activities and frequent social events. Finally, let me wish you courage; I have it, but I can only keep it with your help.

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WHEN HEALTH LETS YOU DOWN IN A CRISIS
When things star ted going downhill, my health was going down as well. The only thing that kept me going in this crisis was a joy and excitement when I bought an old house that my daughters and I made into a pleasant home. This was an incredible motivation that helped me get through the worst. However, the ef for ts we made af ter losing business deals and the steep fall of business results lef t me with a problem. When I received the diagnosis , I told the doctor that I would do any thing to have good health until my eighties , at least.

Infotech, July 2001
In every life there are always plenty of unexpected situations to overcome; sometimes there is too much work, sometimes there is not enough of it, and sometimes all the sudden the body stops cooperating. At the moment, I’m on an extended involuntary vacation due to my health. Sometimes we want to go beyond ourselves, but our body tells us that we can no longer carry on like this. I’m recovering, but I have to stay home. I closely cooperate with the

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company, but from a distance. It will have to stay this way for a while, but I believe that all of you KNOW HOW and ARE ABLE to work well in different conditions. This is most evident from all the projects that are in the final phases all over Slovenia. After the Bush-Putin meeting in Slovenia, I see that Slovenia has been noticed on the global map, and this also brings us new economic opportunities. But if we don’t deal with them properly, it might bring new problems. In the trend of globalisation, we can witness the growing force of CAPITAL. We focus our business in the fields of ENERGY and ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION with strong support from information technology. We are facing new demands and challenges and we can only meet them by improving our knowledge and networking with bigger companies and institutions to be able to reach out to new markets outside Slovenia. Our primary task in this view is to reduce costs, especially as it currently appears to be our weak point. It is important that one doesn’t just live his life “DOING NOTHING” as our fathers used to say. Each one of you shall set clear daily, weekly, monthly and long-term goals. WHAT should I do today? HOW shall I do it? HOW MUCH profit will my work make and to WHAT goal does it serve? Work shouldn’t be a goal in itself; we have to see and learn how to provide ADDED VALUE to all our services. I miss you all, and I miss the everyday challenges of working with you in my absence. I hope that I will soon regain enough strength to join you.

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SEPTEMBER 11
In 2001, we did not receive any new orders; the loss was higher, and some of our best workers lef t the company. A bigger Slovenian company presented a takeover bid so our management team was ner vous , and the employees were worried. And then, the events of September 11th shocked the world.

Infotech, September 2001
This autumn was very beautiful and I hope you have managed to spend some of those nice days picking grapes or harvesting crops. In our company we will have to roll up our sleeves and get down to work if we want to be able to harvest our yields. The trend of business results are growing but not enough given market situation. At Esotech, we have made a decision that we would take care of our own environment and obtain the ISO 14001 certificate the following year. We are already aware of environmental problems, which are evident in our surroundings. However, there are other activities that can make the environment healthier. For example, one litre of waste oil can pollute millions of litres of drinking water. You can calculate how much water your family uses per year, and you will find out how much water we can waste if we are negligent. But water is not the only problem. We also have to protect the soil and the air we are breathing. We do not have a spare pair of lungs. The quality of

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our lives does not only depend on a healthy environment, but also on world peace which was being threatened after September 11. The balance changed in politics and in the economy. Therefore we must protect and appreciate all current business we have since the situation can become worse than we expect. The majority of our projects are in Slovenia. However, Slovenia strongly depends on the economic movements in Europe and in the world. The international economic situation directly affects us, and it is our responsibility to be prepared. We all have some potential; we only have to find it. We should try to find in ourselves what makes us happy and what makes us suffer. If we know how to identify it, then we are able to find every day the things that bring us happiness: kindness, compassion and patience, and we can learn to eliminate those things that make us suffer: anger and hatred. It’s worth trying.

IMPORTANCE OF EMOTIONS
In a strictly technically oriented company the majorit y of the employees including the managers thinks and acts strictly technically. And in the technical realit y there are only t wo ex tremities: RIGHT or WRONG and there are no solutions in bet ween. However, people also expect emotions , especially from their managers . They expect that their managers will understand their personal

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experiences and emotional problems that occur because of their obligations at work or because of family problems . One cannot learn how to show emotions and feel sympathy if one was not born with it or was not taught that in childhood. Therefore many times people are not satisfied despite excellent technical solutions and good results . Individuals and groups are af fected; they complain and believe others are ignoring them. They star t searching for new solutions , and they finally leave the company. We, at the management team, study this problem ver y carefully. However, the majorit y of us were more or less oriented towards technical mat ters and the word “emotion” never had a place. Outside consultants of ten warned me that the explicitly technical focus towards results could be dangerous . Emotional intelligence should not be underestimated. The investors’ expectations are ex tremely high, and it is dif ficult to find the right combination of individuals and team.

Infotech, December 2001:
A few days ago I was at the Faculty of Economics in Ljubljana with my colleagues, and we listened to a lecture given by this year’s Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, from the USA. The title of the lecture was DEVELOP-

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MENTAL DILEMAS OF COUNTRIES IN TRANSITION. Dr. Stiglitz praised Slovenia since it has made the biggest progress among the countries in transition, and we do not have to be afraid of the future of our country. Our main goals should be entering the European Union as soon as possible and increasing the social standard of all our citizens. Prosperity and quality of life is what everyone wishes for and our society should also follow this goal. Already in the 70’s America recognized that competition grows only on the basis of innovation. Its economy was and still is highly innovative. The country was also innovative when it was playing with the emotional intelligence of individuals and when it was turning them into charismatic personalities. AN AWARENESS THAT IT IS NECESSARY TO EVOKE PEOPLE’S EMOTIONS AND TO ATTRACT THEIR SOUL, NOT JUST THEIR MIND, IS SOMETHING THAT USED TO GOVERN OUR WORLD AND STILL DOES. Will the world be able to keep a balance? The recession that is knocking on the door will also enter our homes. Since we are expecting it, all we can do is prepare for it. In Slovenia only one third of the companies are systematically active in this field, therefore innovation is necessary. Innovation requires motivated employees. They must constantly search for new possibilities, and they must be aware that they are responsible for their workplace. Lately Esotech has been encountering some difficulties. However, the persistence and diligence of all of you turned the trends upwards. Not everything went according to plan, but we did make some noticeable progress. Investors

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trust us and assigned to us technologically demanding tasks in power plants as well as in the industry, and we believe we’re on track for future progress. We should not only use our minds, but we should also master our emotions. On festive days like this, we shall feel happiness, and we shall cherish our friendship. I wish you and your families’ warmth and success in the upcoming year.

HOW WE CAN IMPROVE
Before Slovenia’s independence there were practically no market rules in the countr y and therefore no incentive for continual improvement of individuals and companies . At that time the most impor tant thing was to come to work at precisely 6am and to leave at 2pm. This was the period when directors went on holiday for almost the entire summer, while the employees were bored and were forbidden to have contact with clients . There was no literature or internet; we were working non - innovatively and were largely focused on put ting in time rather than on get ting results . Due to this casual at titude, relations bet ween employees probably were bet ter than today, but we were completely unrelated to the rest of the world. We wouldn’ t have even dared to dream about Europe and globalisation.

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The present time demands lifelong improvement. In such circumstances life becomes much more interesting and at the same time more demanding.

Infotech, October 2002
Ways that we can improve: Standardization of good practice The Japanese proved to be especially good at combining the energy of youth with the experience of elders. In a world of fast change we need to share good experiences with our co-workers. That is why we are introducing workshops where everyone will be able to present a good practice that is applicable to others. Good practices must become a standard and be constantly up-graded with our experience and knowledge. Constant improvements Our goal is to implement two improvements per employee per year. We will also identify and stimulate the economic effects of the improvements. That is why I kindly invite you to provide your suggestions. Innovation Successful companies distinguish themselves through different and better approaches in providing their services. There was a bus driver who drove without a timetable, but he always reached the station five minutes earlier than the other buses and he still managed to pick up all the passengers. This is an example of innovation.

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Planned communication Given that a project manager must communicate with at least 20 to 30 project participants, it is of great importance that these communications are properly planned in order to avoid misunderstandings and “walks to nowhere”. Measures of effectiveness This is a very sensitive subject. What hasn’t been measured can’t be correctly evaluated. For this reason, the establishment of measures for intellectual services represents a way towards rewarding successful individuals and teams. Establishment of goals for each employee People often do things at work just to pass the day and do not know what purpose their work actually serves or how efficiently they are accomplishing that purpose. The success of an individual or a company can be measured on the basis of goals, which should be measurable. Therefore the manager’s responsibility is to clearly define the goals of an employment position to the employees. Discussion with employees Discussion with employees provide an opportunity to analyse work that has been accomplished in relation to expectations and to offer corrections. It is not just about having a conversation with an employee but a way to make an individual aware of possible improvements that he can implement in his career development.

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HAVING A SOCIAL BUSINESS MODEL
In our hurr y and our fight for sur vival and for material wealth, we too of ten forget about our at titude towards individuals in need. To change the introver ted at titude of an individual into an ex trover ted one is a long and endless process . We have to be aware of ill and handicapped people. We have to be aware of the impor tance of culture, of spor ts , of young people who are bored, lef t to the streets and become dependent on drugs and alcohol. We have to be aware of our at titude towards the environment. The development of civil associations and volunteer programs promote societal interconnectedness and improve the qualit y of life for ever yone. In our early childhood, my mother taught us to help the once in need and also to respect nature. This early education gave me a good foundation for the future. And for this reason I have always been active in dif ferent spor ts , nature protection and humanitarian associations .

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Infotech, February 2002
We cannot only live for ourselves, over-consuming our resources everyday and ignoring the consequences of the waste we produce. Who knows what will happen tomorrow, but we need to prepare for the future. We could become ill tomorrow or we might fall victim of a natural disaster and need help. We must realize that we are not alone in this universe but all of us are interconnected for good and for bad. Quality of life is improving as we become aware of needs of others and towards society. Everything that we do, consciously or unconsciously, is a search for meaning in life and for a better quality of life. Each individual must feel that he is living reasonably and that he is benefitting himself and the people around him. We have a good feeling after a successful work day, when there are no significant conflicts and when we are surrounded by our friends. We sleep soundly afterwards. We should begin each day with enthusiasm, first with planning the daily tasks at work and then continuing with their implementation. An essential condition for quality of life is a decision to do work that we enjoy. Sharing knowledge and experiences with co-workers produces good results. Selfish behaviour and acting in your own best interest will ultimately make you an unhappy person. The future of all living creatures depends on environment conservation and on the intellectual moral integrity of an individual and society. Protection and preservation of the environment is the mission of our company. Today’s concept of life emphasizes consumption, to have and spend regardless of need. If we are not able to change this, we shall be robbed of emotional experiences, of culture, and of affection for other people. We are also ignoring the fact that we are the caretakers of this world for the generations that will

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come after us so we must preserve it and make it better. And we must ask ourselves every day how we are giving back to society and to our planet. Being efficient at work and fostering good moral values leads to a better quality of life. We get a feeling of fulfilment in life by doing good things for other people.

COMPETITIVENESS AND ALIGNMENT WITH THE EUROPEAN UNION
In the 70s and 80s when we were buying jeans in Italy and cof fee in Austria and being treated as smugglers at border crossing points , we never dreamed that one day Slovenia would assume the presidency of the EU Council, that we would live to see free trade and unit y. At that time we were looking for work in East Germany, in East Berlin, where the wall separated the people into t wo worlds . The splendour of the Western par t was unbelievable compared to the greyness , depression and sadness of the Eastern par t of the cit y. Today, the wall is gone and similarly our ser vices and products have reached the stage of being able to compete in the global market. If we want to sell our ser vices ,

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we have to be the best. These conditions are much dif ferent from the time of the Berlin wall. At the star t of the new millennium, I wrote for our website: What can lead us to Europe? Knowledge. Being able to provide young and educated people with oppor tunities gives a special satisfaction. Establishing conditions for their creativit y also builds solid base for development of our company in the coming decades We don’ t have comparable capital and technological equipment to the West, but we do have motivated human potential that is able to overcome all obstacles through ideas and knowledge. Our vision is clear. A human being is the centre of the business process . We create an added value through our exper tise and team work . We want to create synergy bet ween employees , spor t, culture, education and science. We will upgrade the wisdom of the experienced with fresh ideas of the young to create the future ON TH E ROOTS OF KNOWLEDGE.

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Infotech, March 2002
In the almost ten-year history of Esotech we have learned to live through different circumstances. The strategy of the Republic of Slovenia was to become a full EU member in 2004. It is important that our economy follows the requirements for entrance into the EU. If you are able to produce something unique and new, you will prosper in any system. The strategic guidelines of Slovenia, related to the economy’s competitiveness, are divided into: • Investments in new knowledge; • Transfer of knowledge from Universities and research Institutes into practice; • Information technologies; • Networking between small- and medium-sized companies; and, • New technologies related to environmental protection. Our strategy which we created a few years ago was based on these key elements. That means we had set ourselves on the right path for the future. If people fight only for their personal success, a company can not succeed. That is why development is based on teamwork. European customers want results: a good product in a reasonable amount of time for the acceptable price. No one asks for the time spent for administration, installation, purchase of goods we need to make it… A few years ago, we set ourselves a goal to become a LEARNING COMPANY through always LEARNING individuals. Knowledge provides possibilities to connect with universities for implementation of new technologies. However, education shouldn’t only remain in the classroom. What can we

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sell? The only thing we have to sell is our knowledge, which we need to transform into value for our customers. We live in the period of big changes. Employees are becoming shareholders, customers are kings, and hard work is a valuable commodity. Organization is getting flexible. We are adapting ourselves to the needs of customers. We are ready to be part of the EU.

ON THE WAY TO THE EUROPEAN UNION
On the day Slovenia of ficially joined the EU, we unveiled a fountain at the company, while at home I was enjoying watching the celebration on T V with my daughters . My eldest daughter had come home from Texas on holidays because we wanted to spend the historical moment together.

Infotech, April 2004
On the 1st of May 2004, ten countries will join the EU: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. This unification will make Europe the largest single market of countries sharing the same laws. In the following years, this market will enlarge further to include Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, current candidates for EU membership.

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Enlargement of the EU is a conclusion of the unification process which began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. During the period of reunification of West and East Berlin, we had a project for the World Trade Centre underway in East Berlin. However, the fall of the Berlin Wall changed the system of work permits. The new conditions for obtaining a work permit followed the Western European standards. Due to the legal requirements we couldn’t get work permits and work for the agreed price, so we were forced to cancel our contract. Thus, even at that time we experienced that the Western labour market would be different in a united Europe. The Copenhagen European Council of December 12 and 13, 2002 concluded the entry negotiations with the ten countries and set the entry date for May 1, 2004. The European market will therefore have 450 million citizens, which is more than both the American and Japanese markets put together. We will all have equal opportunity to access the wide network of suppliers, the labour market (for example in Poland, there are 40 million inhabitants and a relatively high unemployment rate) and, of course, new customers for our services. Environmental and information technologies are known to be the most attractive markets within Europe, but at the same time, they are highly competitive and therefore only innovative companies with advanced technologies and efficient organization will survive. Our old saying, “I’m waiting for a better offer” will have to fall out of use, otherwise our company may not be able to compete in the long term. Experiences of the countries that have joined the European Union show that many companies have failed, however, those that survived displayed above-average growth. That is why we set a goal to achieve the average European-added value, which is 10 million SIT. If we want to get there, we have to be two steps ahead of our competitors and focus on effective key technologies and services.

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Western European countries are developing strategies for the expansion of their industries into the new member countries. For us, this expansion will happen even faster since we have currently been experiencing an economic recession. We will be able to take advantage of the opportunity only if we are able to offer services and technologies that are competitive at the European level to a market of 450 million, in place of a market of only 2 million. It is a great opportunity, but the conditions and rules of the game are the same for everyone. Market research, knowledge of the EU, networking ability and access to technical support are the key elements in a strategic approach to the wider market of the new Europe. Medium-sized companies, such as Esotech, may apply for resources from European structural funds such as PHARE, ISPA and SAPARD. The aim of these funds is to encourage education and connections between enterprises and scientific institutions and facilitate these new networking challenges. We already have some experience in this field. Within the company each employee should be aware of the following: there will be very little work for people who are not bi-lingual; ignorance may lead to exclusion from the game; our company cannot survive in a market of 2 million so we are dependant on having access to the larger European market; and finally, specialized technologies and their continuous development are the key to our international services. The new face of Europe is a great challenge and opportunity. We have to recognize that we cannot enter Europe without being fully awake. We will have to make some changes in order to make our work more efficient. A manager at Nokia wrote, “Being an innovative company is a passion. It means looking at mistakes as an opportunity. Innovative management is the awareness that we have to learn some things faster than others.”

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Accession to the EU introduces the four fundamental freedoms on which the internal market in the EU functions: • free movement of goods • free movement of people • free movement of services • free movement of capital As EU citizens, we will no longer be forced to queue at airports and border crossings. It means a lot, especially from the perspective of individual human dignity. We can still remember times when we were working in Germany, in the Netherlands and in Portugal, and the many difficulties we had. Even basic travel wasn’t possible without meeting special requirements and conditions and lot of paperwork. What will the free movement of people provide after May 1, 2004? Free movement of people means the right to enter, live and work in another member country. However, there is no general free movement of people: an individual can live in another country only for work, study, retirement or if he has sufficient resources to live without assistance. In this respect, there will be a transitional period which will last at least two years. Only Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Greece decided to liberalise access to their labour markets following accession. The economically strongest countries will apply national measures for the transitional period. Will our wages be comparable to those of other Europeans?

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Accession to the EU won’t bring European wages in itself, because wages depend on the performance of a company and of the country in general. Even in EU member countries, the wages aren’t equal throughout. Wages in Greece and Portugal are comparable to those in Slovenia, while wages in Germany are much higher. If we will be able to enter the wider European market and thus increase our added value, which is currently half that of Europe’s, we will be able to turn the results into better wages. But there is also an unfavourable option: that strong competition, rich with capital resources, pushes us even lower. We can fight against this eventuality only by means of efficiency, innovation and new knowledge. The EU introduces a system of mutual recognition of professional qualifications, which means that education gained in Slovenia, will be equivalent to that of other parts of Europe. There are four systems of social security: the pension scheme, health insurance, unemployment insurance. Periods of employment completed under the legislation of another EU country shall be recognized in all member countries. Health insurance of an individual will also cover the costs of treatment in emergency situations in any EU member country at no charge. In the coming years, the Slovenian labour market will face economic restructuring and loss of jobs in industry. Self-employment will grow; there will be more part-time jobs. Such jobs will demand a different structure of knowledge and personal skills. That is why it will be necessary to raise the level of professional competence which is the only alternative for the employed and the unemployed. Will there be an increased influx of foreign workers?

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Slovenia doesn’t expect to see an influx of foreign labour. It is envisaged that there will be no significant outflow of labour abroad. But if it will come to this, our service-providing company will be exposed to even tougher competition, especially in terms of a cheaper work force from Eastern countries and technologically developed companies with strong capital from the West. The Esotech strategy at the accession to the EU will require some internal changes as well. Let’s be creative and jointly envisage as many of them as possible. It is about the awareness that we have been and shall remain answerable only to ourselves. No one will give us anything that we have not earned, but good projects can bring us many things, as well as European funds. In only few years we will have to catch up with the European average by offering added value. Innovations and improvements are the key. We ask ourselves, “Why should we strive for better approaches to work, for creative solutions, and the generation of sometimes ridiculous ideas?”. It is simply a matter of our survival. The more we invest in improvements and uniqueness, the more we will get from the market, in terms of guaranteed business continuity and a stable future. There are a lot of questions surrounding wages, reimbursements and other working conditions. The European Union won’t set the conditions; we will set them through our efficiency. If we are able to earn more, through our knowledge, efficiency and quality implementation, we will be able to spend more. We should follow the example of European efficiency and not European wages. In order to achieve this, it will require exceptional cooperation and a continuous search for more efficient methods in our work. Uniform standards will make importing and exporting easier as there will be no administrative costs, and financing costs will be lower. Free movement

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among accession states will bring more opportunities in the selection of staff and external services. At the same time it means higher competition in the market, as labour costs in other accession countries are much lower than in Slovenia. Unfortunately, free movement of services isn’t provided with Western countries, except in the aspect of quota programs. For this reason we shall continue to provide our services to the accession countries and to the countries of the former Yugoslavia and the rest of Eastern Europe. This transitional period is imposed for at least 2 years; each year will bring new opportunities. Slovenia’s accession to the European Union is a historical moment, and we are going to celebrate it in our company. We are arranging some solemn events for the morning of May first. The highlight will be the hike with all the Esotech families up to Smrekovec. Smrekovec will provide us a clear view of our new European home. I believe that despite some pessimistic thoughts, you will see this day as something exceptional. Do not allow yourself to miss this event and share your joy with your closest relatives and friends. Our grand-fathers used to say, “Nobody will help you, if you don’t help yourself.” It is wonderful to have a chance to shape our future independently in the partnerships with developed countries!

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WOMEN IN THE EU
I have never been a feminist, and I have never sorrowed over the injustices that men were supposedly doing to women, including, preventing them from being successful. However, I’ve thought a great deal about the dif ferences bet ween countries regarding the role of women. I’ve searched for answers on how Nordic countries have successfully promoted gender equalit y in business and politics . It is about a cultural shif t in the minds of an entire societ y, especially in the minds of women. In the health sector, the number of men and women is quite balanced, so it is possible! I’ve read a lot about Maria Theresa , Catherine the Great and Queen Elisabeth. It’s true that they inherited their positions of power. This gave them an enormous advantage. But it’s more impor tant to look at their governance and management skills , their development projects and how they handled their maternal roles . There are a lot of stories about their relationships with men. Even today many people hardly recognize that a woman may also be competent.

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Infotech, 2005
Meta Hudabivnik, the central female character in Prezihov Voranc’s story The Self-Sown, is an example in her fight for equal opportunity. She tells of her nine children who she raised with love, hard work and denial from society: “You are not like other children; you’re the self-sown. And just as the self-sown crop has to fight in order to survive, so must you, as Hudabivniks, accept the fight for survival. Wherever you happen to stand, put your roots into the soil. There are nine of you now, after me. In fifty years there might already be a hundred of you; in a hundred years five hundred, ten times as many. Then you will be able to fight all together to win your equality and your rights.” As we enter the world of developed countries, we are facing new opportunities through free movement of people within the EU. My experience in Sweden was that people there don’t live under the burden of gender inequality in their professional careers. Women are present in politics and management, sometimes even in greater numbers than men. It happens spontaneously, and they don’t neglect the social component: motherhood and taking care of their families. With the rights of free movement of people and services, our perspective on knowledge and management of information technology has changed. Information technologies already make telecommuting and therefore work-athome jobs possible. A chance to have a part-time job that is four hours per day will be interesting at least during maternity periods. It means that we can create an environment where intellectual woman have both a career and the time for motherhood. But this means we could contribute to natural population growth. There will be new service demands along the borders, and we

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should encourage women, through new knowledge, to go beyond the domestic roles of cooking and cleaning, and thus enable them the time to perform intellectual tasks. The transfer of knowledge to the states of former Yugoslavia will also be a new opportunity. We will be able to manage it, with appropriate organization, through the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Community. As an EU member, we shall satisfy the conditions for drawing on EU funds in this area, on the condition that one of the Slovenian research institutions will be included in the project. The European parliament provides women an equal role in politics. However, without the perseverance and self-confidence of women themselves, these opportunities will go unrealized. From my experience, I recommend that woman use their femininity as an advantage in all fields through perseverance, knowledge, love and internal energy, rather than attempting to be more like men.

VISION AND PARTNERSHIP
Until all business deals in the former Yugoslavia were carried out conventionally, nobody was interested in competitiveness of products and ser vices . That period was characterised by advance payments and long deliver y times . For example, the deliver y time for a car was one to t wo years . Some products had a surprisingly

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low price (meat for example), but you couldn’ t buy them. If you wanted to buy cement, you had to have ver y good connections and contacts; other wise it was practically impossible to get it. Under such circumstances , the suppliers were kings , while customers had no rights or oppor tunit y to buy high qualit y goods at an appropriate price and in due course of time. Impor ts of computers were forbidden, and the monopoly of national companies in this field resulted in late “computer literacy” in comparison with the developed countries . Even today, many people are not aware that for ever y ser vice or product that we of fer, we have to compare ourselves with the rest of the world. Only from this point can we position ourselves and bring an end to ignorance of the outside world which can lead to companies’ failures due to non competitiveness .

Infotech, June 2006
On the occasion of World Environment day, on June 5th, we make our contribution to a more liveable environment through our work on purification plants as we conclude our project in Mezica, planning and implementing a water treatment project for the Slovenian steel industry. Furthermore, we participated in the Nature Conservation Union event for Smrekovec.

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Considering the fact that the steel industry is currently among the most successful in Slovenia, it is even more important for our company to be a service provider in the company of the best ones. Business deals with successful companies reduce our company’s risk and offer a chance to focus on technological risks, which require overall management in advance. Times of traditional relations between customers and suppliers are gone; there are almost no more business deals now which are not based on mutual interests. The Americans describe it as the nature of business to business. In other words, “I will buy your product in order to sell mine.” That is why building partnerships represents a fundamental strategy for long-term existence. But partnership requires maintenance and fostering of relationships, consideration of wishes and limits, an appropriate level of friendship, trust, and compromise. In today’s world compromise is especially critical. With presently available technologies, leaders who fail to compromise could provoke catastrophe. As world leaders are aware of the interdependence of relationships, they strive to resolve most issues in a diplomatic way. But there are of course some exceptions, like September 11th, Iraq and many other visible or less visible conflicts. In our everyday lives with family, children and co-workers we solve problems in order to make our life together comfortable. The characteristic of parents is that they hope that their children can avoid the mistakes that they have made. Nevertheless everybody learns from experience and not from the theories and advice of the more experienced. We should often test ourselves: what have we done in our attitudes toward others and what are the consequences - positive or negative. But it is important that we do not underestimate anyone. In football, if the favourite loses, it is usually a result of underestimation of the other side. As this month is char-

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acterised by football, let me remind you of the fantastic success of the Slovenian national team four years ago, when they managed to qualify for the football world championship in South Korea. Even though the team didn’t win, it properly represented Slovenia’s colours. But competitiveness fell as the stars came to believe that their future on Mount Olympus was self-evident. After four years, we hear nothing about our national team, but we remember the “star” from our team in South Korea who left the championship and lost contact with his team and maybe even with himself. Enjoy the evening football matches and discern whether creativity, innovativeness and team spirit separate the winners from the losers.

BUILDING A BRIDGE OF TRUST
The opening speech at an environmental conference in Shanghai which I delivered in Chinese in September 2004.

In China I met a lot of entrepreneurs , academics and politicians who saw the necessit y in solving the environment pollution problem. They invited me to deliver an opening speech at an environmental conference in Shanghai. Since such conferences are prepared one year in advance, I promised the organizers to have a speech in Chinese. With a lot of ef for t and

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laughter, I finally managed. My speech in Chinese brought recognition to our company and to me personally. There were follow - up inter views and invitations to dif ferent conferences . We have carried out a lot of impor tant projects in the last ten years; we have invested a lot of ef for t in building the company’s recognition, but we became most recognizable through our dealings with China .

‘’China and Slovenia share many values. Thanks to Mr. Zueng Hua Xin, today we have the opportunity to work together, meet people and make new friends. Our goal is sustainable development and the preservation of a liveable environment. This year, Slovenia became a member of the European Union and adopted its standards in the area of environmental protection. The Slovenian market potential in the field of air and water purification and in waste management over the next ten years is worth approximately 2.5 billion dollars. The potential of the Chinese market in this field is inestimably higher, but there are enough opportunities for both sides. We wish to implement environmental technologies for the lowest possible costs; to install energy-efficient, modern equipment; and to carry out training and services. We will use modern management methods, control and monitoring systems and communications. How can we live in and leave to our descendants a world soaked in acid rain and laden with greenhouse gases?

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One of our common values as human beings is trust, and I’m convinced that we will find ways to bring satisfaction and benefit to both sides through the development of new shared experiences and competitive advantages. The best education is received from life experience. There are obstacles that we can overcome, provided that we have the will to do it. Unless there is trust and friendship, we cannot be effective in business. We are aware of the fact that this process demands perseverance, discipline and honesty. Different languages are believed to be a barrier, but we are all capable of learning. The same is true for other perceived barriers, such as legal norms, intellectual property and lack of relevant information. Creativity and trust between people solves everything. Together we want to CREATE A BETTER WORLD for all of us. ‘’

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CONCLUSION
My daughters organized the celebration of my fiftieth birthday on May 14th, 2005 at Svet Kriz, one of my favourite places. It was a wonderful day with family, friends, and co-workers. A day full of memories and new ideas for the future. At fifty-two, my life seemed to turn upside down. The company and the employees, with whom I grew up, left me outside the door. When I returned to the company they “welcomed” me with hired guards. A couple of months before this, someone broke into my house; then my car brakes failed, and the steering wheel got locked while I was driving. I felt that I was standing in someone’s way and that somebody wanted to destroy me. I decided to fight, even though it hurt a lot. I was at the new beginning with new ideas. In September 2007, only three months after the Esotech case happened, I received an invitation for a meeting with the Slovenian Prime Minister. This turned my life upside down again. I was appointed as Health Minister of the Republic of Slovenia. Despite everything, I believe that my fifties are one of the best and the most creative periods of my life. I met my new love, a man who provides me with support and warmth. I have experienced many business successes; I had a chance to be part of many civil associations and have engaged in different sports. I created a home, the house that I had always wished for. I feel rich in-

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sight, and I am not afraid to speak about the dark moments in my life: I have taken pleasure in helping many people. My daughters grew up, and the teenage whims, that I could barely handle, are over. I believe that the most important thing they learned from me is to work hard, to celebrate each success and never give up after failure. These are their guidelines for life. My eldest daughter started her own company in China working on initiatives to raise environmental awareness among young people. My younger daughter is writing her graduate thesis in the faculty of law. I spend my rare spare moments with my partner who has been there for me in the hardest moments. I reached the agreement with the new owners and managers of Esotech and got my moral and financial satisfaction. I hope that the employees and the seven owners will run the company with a professional attitude towards nature, towards human beings and towards internationalization of knowledge. Today, at fifty-three, I enjoy my new mission. Each morning brings me happiness; I am happy to work with new people. I am happy I finally wrote the first book. The next one will surely be about the experiences from my life in politics, about my time as Health Minister and Slovenian President of the European Union. However I tried to navigate my life into certain directions, it always finds its own way, like flowing water. This is why I believe that it is important not to feel sorry but to be able to find new opportunities even in seemingly unsolvable situations. Life goes on, towards new generations. I don’t wish for more then what I have today.

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Črna na Koroškem Zavodnje Bele Vode Šoštanj Velenje Mozirje

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Zofija Mazej Kukovič

Zofija's Story. Simple Philosophies for Tough Times. Dora Plestenjak 500 Printed on recycled paper Published by the author May, 2009

Portrait on the cover by Number of copies printed

Overnight Success Requires a Decade of Hard Work

9 789612 457259

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