A British Businessman in Romania

I can remember one time when I was in Poiana Brasov 16 years ago, I saw some nice building land at $8-10 mp, my reaction was that it is too expensive, how stupid can one be, but hind site is a wonderful thing. However, as time went by, I had been watching how land and property prices were escalating and so I decided to buy some apartments and renovate them. Trying to manage this while bouncing back and forth to the UK was impossible, so I decided to use Romania as my base. This decision was not too difficult, as I have traveled the world and knew the Romanian culture. I expanded my activity with the purchase of land in the right location, having it reclassified to “intravilan construction” and then divided it into building plots of various sizes. Yes, you are right, a bureaucratic nightmare, but I overcame it. My background of business development put me in good stead for addressing all the issues that arose.

I really wish I could be more optimistic regarding the business environment, as I am passionate about Romania and the normal Romanian people, but the government seems to do little to simulate small business, which is this country’s future. So many companies are closing, because of taxes and bureaucracy; the people are then going on unemployment benefits and working on the black to survive. Of course, it is not rocket science to see both the Government and Romania loose with the lack of simulation and creativity, there has to be a reasonable balance.

You really can only tax people and business so much and keep salaries suppressed. I believe that the peoples limit is very close, Romanian people are passive by nature, although a little noisy at times, but they can only take so much.

Compared to the UK, business in Romania drowns in bureaucracy, government rulings continually change, some lasting less than one hour! Sometime legislation was passed for a very short period, as a special favour to somebody for a particular reason. Corruption and the expected Spaga (bribe) are still rife, if you ask any official for the written procedure of how to do something they look at you as if you are stupid. I always make a list of the requirements on the spot and note the individual’s name; this is because when I bring the documents I know they will ask for something else. I had a situation where a department manager had his feet on the desk and was surfing the internet, he ignored my wife’s request for assistance. I stepped round her and said; in English “do we have a problem” immediately I got a reaction he jumped to his feet shook my hand and then tried to show me how efficient he was! In another institution, again staff were surfing the internet and looking at wedding dresses, instead of assisting people. This is usually after they have read the daily newspaper. Who pays their salaries I ask myself! In addition, smoking is everywhere and it is a good excuse to stop work and leave the office.

Unfortunately, Romania has so far to go before it even comes close to the western way of doing business and providing a quality and reliable work culture and better protection for the employee, not to mention customers.

Even the Romanian businessman billionaire Ioan Niculae stated “the government won. It doesn’t do anything to help Romanian industrialist.” He is now warning that he may close his factories and make 5,700 people redundant.

My view is that Romania could be very successful in agriculture, like Spain. When you go to the south of the country, where the land is so fertile and the climate excellent, little to nothing is being done. To me this is criminal; the people need help and guidance.

What other country in the European Union has a TVA rate of 24%? Clearly, this is a result of government mismanagement and will it stimulate production & purchasing, I do not think so. This must be addressed, sooner rather than later. Taking out additional contingency loans also is not a way to pay back national debts. Businesses must be stimulated.

The level of bureaucracy must also be reduced and stabilised, officials need to recognise clearly, who pays their salaries, and they should show respect.

I have actually been able to take advantage of the fact that I am a foreigner as some people think there might be something in it for them and I get their attention and help, but the novelty eventually wears off.

I love three out of the four seasons here in Romania, the weather is so stable. The social relationship between people is excellent and people do have time for people and will help each other. I can honestly say,  I have more fun in Romania than the UK.

Things I do not like are the standard of driving, smoking, drinking/eating and using a mobile phone all at once while driving, does not instill confidence. The accident rate speaks for itself. However, people do think the mobile phone takes priority over everything and you hear them telling people they have just bought their abcde 3.5 mk2 mobile, show is so important here. For five years I have been driving a Logan, it does the job well, and I am not trying to impress, I know a number of foreigners doing the same, but generally people here don’t understand our mentality. They think an Audi or BMW takes priority over a toilet down the garden.

I am still trying to find just one good road in the whole country and what could be a beautiful country, has rubbish thrown everywhere , but it is improving, I believe the younger generation are becoming more aware.

I would like to see Romanian’s abroad bring their knowledge of the successful way and ethics of doing business back to Romania, the people here do need your help. It still is a land of many opportunities. However, EU grants for business seem unworkable because of the complexity and the consultants you are persuaded to go through, simply inflate the cost. Approval also does not guaranty a bank will finance your project and you may have already paid serious money to the consultant. This is why so little allocated EU money has been used for private enterprise.

I still believe buying land and property in the right locations are excellent investments, but not to get rich quick. In addition, foreign farmers could bring so much expertise and take advantage of the climate and excellent land prices.

Romania produces some superb wine and beer and foreign importers need to be made aware of these products. Production facilities could be established with a low cost labour rate. Romanians abroad can use their new contacts to help Romanian’s at home establish and sell their products.

I find it difficult to understand the importance and urgency of Romania having access to the Schengen. Romania should first demonstrate it would follow the rules and procedures, without some of the other activity that exists at the boarder. The UK is not a member although it follows the rules, being a member of the EU should be enough for Romania at the moment. To me there are much higher priorities to be address by the Romanian government.

If I am honest, my Romanian is deplorable, I want to learn the language, but at my age, it is so difficult to learn a foreign language. Sometimes people are a little unsure as they think I know more than I actually do. Apart from that, you have to remember I am British and we are renowned for being lazy at learning languages. I am just lucky my native language is the international one. My 15 year old daughter Nicki was speaking fluent Romanian in 3 months and after 3 years was nearly top in her class.

Romanian beers are excellent, I personally prefer dark beer, Ursus Black is my favourite. Because most Romanians drink, blond beer, in the local bar they watched me with interest. Now a few of them are also drinking black beer. When I order it for American or British visitors, they are amazed at how good it is. My favourite Romanian wine is Racas from the south-western part of the country, this is so underrated and must be one of Romania’s best-kept secrets and I buy it from the barrel at 1.5 euro per litre.

Please do not be offended at my comments, no country is perfect. I really want to see Romania move forward to the benefit of the people. Romania does have the potential, but the opportunities have to be created.

For Romanian’s abroad, if I may quote Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850 – 1916) and was printed on the First World war poster in the United Kingdom “Your Country Needs YOU” do not forget your origin, try to help in any way you can, whether it be bringing your expertise to Romania, or helping Romanian companies export through your connections.

About Paul Brazier

I was a well travelled businessman. Now retired and enjoying life fully, I can get to know places much better and spend my time travelling around Europe, particularly Romania.
This entry was posted in Business, Romania and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s