"If you bribe one traffic warden, local politician or gangster you're lost"

Fox Marble CEO Chris Gilbert shares his tips for British businesses looking for opportunities in the Balkans.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 08 Jul 2019

Britain's future as a post-Brexit trading nation requires an intrepid spirit, and UK businesses already do business in all corners of the world. But how many can say they've legitimately considered setting up a business in Kosovo, the small post-conflict Balkan nation that has only existed since 2008?

Chris Gilbert can. In 2011, he and Kosovan business partner Etrur Albani were granted licences to mine Kosovo’s rich and dormant marble resources; the London listed Fox Marble now has six quarries in Kosovo and Macedonia.  

Gilbert is keen to stress that if you’re prepared to look beyond the region’s overblown reputation for corruption, the Balkans present ample opportunity for ambitious British businesses. 

He shares his top tips for making it work. 

Find feet on the ground

"Fox could not have succeeded if I were not in a partnership. If I’d just wandered into town I’d be a tourist. You can’t be so arrogant to just breeze in, believing you know how to do it; we’ve seen people do that and they haven’t got anywhere.

"You’ve got to work with a local team that understand the particular cultural mores and how it works in Macedonia and Kosovo. If you're not politically connected, it's going to be a struggle."

Look after the locals

"Be a good social partner and employer. We buy football kit for the local football team. It might cost you a few hundred quid but it's worth it to demonstrate you're committed to the community long-term.

"We deliver a hot meal into our quarries every lunch time, and employ local people to cook it. That does three things, it makes us a good social partner and puts money into the pockets of people who don’t have much, it shows that we are engaged and proactive in the local community, and finally it’s a health and safety issue.

"If we don’t provide a hot meal every lunch time, and these guys are just trying to work off a packet of crisps late into the afternoon, accidents will happen." 

Be straight

"There is a manageable risk of corruption, so if you go in with anything but a very firm commitment to ethical governance and compliance, you will fail.

"Once you establish very firmly who you are, and you can prove it, people realise that there is nothing to be had and focus elsewhere.

"But if you pay off one traffic warden, one local politician, one thug, one gangster, you're lost. It will work for a year or two, but not in the long term." 

Respect the history

"This is a post-conflict region, many people still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from some of the most awful experiences you can imagine. 

"There's a workforce of brilliant, hard working and determined people who are desperate to work. But if you mislead them they will never trust you; once that happens you’ve had it."


Image credit: JeanRee/Getty Images

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