W. ROBERT KOHORST, THE UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO CROATIA: THERE ARE CHALLENGES IN CROATIA, BUT ALSO THE POTENTIAL FOR SUCCESSES


Ponedjeljak, 09 Srpanj 2018

*Politics and business are not so different. Both have as their most important asset the people who work in the organization *Young people have the greatest asset in the world at their feet: time

W. Robert Kohorst, the United States Ambassador to Croatia, was happy to introduce himself in this month's issue of the Entrepreneur magazine through this interesting interview.

When you found yourself working in president Trump's administration you wondered if there was a possibility for you to come to Croatia. What was the reason you wanted to come here?

My wife and I and a group of school friends visited Croatia in the Fall, 2016. We travelled by boat from Kotor, Montenegro to Dubrovnik and many of the islands northward, ending up in Split. We then spent several days in Zagreb. We found the country to be beautiful, the people friendly and pro-American, the food great, and the opportunity to enhance the relationship between our countries manageable. There are challenges in Croatia, but also the potential for successes. I was looking for a place where I could have the chance to work hard and make a difference.

You are the new US ambassador to Croatia and you have probably already experienced our way of life and business... Surely you have visited some parts of Croatia personally. What is your perception of our country?

My wife, Shelley, and I have travelled throughout the country and the region since arriving in January, 2018. We have been to Slovenia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, in addition to all parts of Croatia. We have thoroughly enjoyed the varied geography and culture and look forward to continued travel. Our favorite destination has been Plitvice National Park; truly a special natural wonder.

You have a great entrepreneurial experience and you own several successful businesses. Coming from a business world, you are not a career diplomat. Could that be an advantage considering the fact that the economy changes the world?

Both career diplomats and political appointees have their experiences and skills to bring to the job. I hope that my experiences and skills will enhance the relationship between the United States and Croatia. My particular focus is on results and not so much the process. I think this is a significant point of view that is derived from business practices. I certainly recognize the need for diplomacy, but I hope to combine that skill with a focus on results. To quote Winston Churchill: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

W. Robert Kohorst, the United States Ambassador to Croatia

The entrepreneurial world requires entrepreneurial skills, management skills, leadership experience etc. What about politics? What skills are required in politics?

Politics and business are not so different. Both have as their most important asset the people who work in the organization. Whether government or business, we must provide leadership to focus our teams; results are seldom achieved alone. My success in business was not mine alone. Over a period of years, I was fortunate enough to have an experienced and talented group of people who understood the mission and executed the plans well. I expect our team in Embassy Zagreb will also enjoy continued success.

You said business is more direct than politics, having risk and reward in focus. Isn’t it the same in politics, but indirectly?

Risk and reward are a part of both politics and business. However, business often has a more direct and clear measure of success: profits or losses in a defined period of time. Government results do not often focus on the financial aspects but on more intangible results, sometimes over a long time. One of my goals is to bring a focus to our activities so we can produce measurable results.

A strong economy enables employment, emigration and population migration, better living conditions for ordinary people, national and personal security. How can we achieve this today, especially when we are a part of a global world that has its own rules? Croatia's economic recovery is particularly important for a number of reasons.

Money does not solve all problems or bring happiness by itself, but financial success can provide individuals with choices that are otherwise limited. Countries that promote and celebrate business success create opportunities for individuals that can lead to freedom and happiness. Croatia needs to continue to develop its niche in the global economy and exploit its comparative advantages, such as an educated work-force and a safe and stable environment.

A large number of Americans of Croatian origin live in the United States. Do you have any knowledge of how much and under what circumstances are they willing to invest in Croatia?

Before I moved to Croatia, I reached out to the Southern California Croatian community for input. I was impressed by the passion so many of the individuals expressed for Croatia and the desire to return, for a visit, for an investment or for retirement. Visits are easy. But there was strong sentiment that reforms are necessary to attract investment. I think there are many people of Croatian heritage who are prepared to return under the right circumstances.

Croatia and the United States have close relationships on multiple levels (military, economic, energy, cultural…). The foundations already exist, what should be upgraded and developed in order to have event better relationship?

The progress made by Croatia over the past 10 years is significant, although at times it may not seem obvious. We all need to remember the recession starting in 2008 and the time many countries in the world needed to recover. Joining the EU in 2013 was a significant accomplishment for Croatia, and would not have been possible without advancements in many areas. Let me make a few comments on the specific areas in the question.

Military: the cooperation between Croatia and the United States is very strong.  Croatia is a valued partner in NATO and provides troops and support for many missions around the world. The most important area for improvement is to complete the commitment made at the NATO Wales Summit to produce a credible plan to spend 2% of GDP on defense and 20% of the military budget on capital equipment by 2024. Croatia has made progress on its military spending, but it needs to finish the job.

Economy: it feels to me that businesses want to come to Croatia, but there is a need for the government to have an attitude of partnership with businesses.  Less regulations, less taxes, timely decisions and a predictable judiciary are critical for expansion. I would enjoy seeing Croatians celebrating business success, which in turn creates jobs and prosperity for many individuals.

Energy: energy is available and inexpensive at the current time. The big issue is diversification of supply, which will increase the likelihood of continued energy security. The most viable option is completing the floating LNG terminal on Krk Island. While this project has short term costs associated with it, the long term value is indisputable and it will make Croatia a regional energy leader. Countries need reliable energy sources and diversification is critical.

Cultural: for a relatively small country, Croatia has a large amount of cultural activities, both in Zagreb and around the country. The United States Embassy is proud to also bring our unique cultural offering to Croatia on a regular basis. We look forward to continuing to share our assets with each other.

Here is an ‘easy’ question. When you are not a diplomat or a businessman, what do you like? How do you relax? What are your hobbies?

My family always comes first. I am very happy that my wife, Shelley, is with me in Zagreb. I would like my two sons, one daughter in law and two grandchildren to be here, but they have lives back in Southern California. Thank goodness for FaceTime.  For activities, I enjoy travel and sports. I like to watch most sports and play several different sports. I joined the Riverside Golf Club in Zagreb, play tennis (clay courts are relatively new for me) and play pick-up basketball at the University of Zagreb. My wife and I are also looking forward to snow skiing next winter. We are also big fans of American football and baseball.

The education system in America is pretty much focused on entrepreneurship. How do you see Croatia's education system? How to improve it to raise the number of entrepreneurs?

I would not over emphasize the importance of entrepreneurship in American education. It certainly is a hot new major in many colleges, but hardly the main educational focus. Universities can teach skills, such as accounting, economics, marketing, etc. Entrepreneurship is more of an attitude; a willingness to take real risk and suffer failure. The key to success is learning to accept failure, determining the corrections and trying again. Very few companies get it right the first time. I have had several painful failures. But I never gave up and eventually got more things right than wrong. Young people need to be encouraged to take risk. Once again to quote Winston Churchill, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Speaking of education, we have to mention young people. Do you have any advice for them? What should those who are willing to "change the world" do? How should we encourage young people to make mistakes in order to step forward to success?

Young people generally have few obligations and responsibilities and therefore have a greater ability to absorb risk than more established individuals (e.g. a family to support). I encourage young people to find one or more issues about which they have a passion and find a way to make a difference. Take chances; it will seldom get easier in life. And the people around them should encourage them to make a difference, even if it is in a small way. Help people; provide a kindness. It all builds on itself. Young people have the greatest asset in the world at their feet: time. Make good use of it.

Five years ago, we started a project for young people (students) entitled "Be Better". Is there a chance you would visit Osijek and give a lecture on the topic that would interest them?

It is my job, and my privilege, to represent the United States throughout Croatia.  I would be glad to visit students in Osijek and elsewhere and provide whatever advice and wisdom I have available.

Talk about co-operation, Robert Kohorst and Ognjen Bagatin

More than 100 US companies operate in Croatia, generating more than 820 million $ in equity. Is there a way to increase the number of these companies, looking through the improvement of the investment climate?

Given Croatia’s geographic central location in Europe, EU membership, stability, safety and competitive wages, the country has the potential to grow its economy. To attract capital and companies, the business climate needs to be more business friendly. The country needs less regulation, less taxes on compensation, a cooperative government bureaucracy and a rational and timely judicial system. Businesses are rational; make it profitable and easy and they will come.

Do you see Croatia as a locomotive of states from our environment, especially to the countries of former Yugoslavia, whose mutual relations often oscillate? How can Croatia be more economically successful?

Croatia is an important component for success in the former Yugoslavia.  It is one of the more advanced countries and successfully entered the EU in 2013.  This is no small achievement.  The United States strongly encourages Croatia to be a positive influence and example in the region.  There are significant financial opportunities in the other former Yugoslavian countries, but these can best be realized with more stability and rule of law advancements.

Double taxation is an important topic in Croatia. You said you are committed to resolving this issue. In your opinion what would be the estimated time for this to happen? 

There is both an economic and political dimension to this issue.  Developing and negotiating a tax treaty seems to be possible in a reasonable time, but we will need the political will on both sides to prioritize a treaty and get it through a stubborn bureaucracy.  I cannot predict a timeline.  I can commit that this is an important issues for Embassy Zagreb and we will do our best to achieve a good result.

You say ‘America first’ doesn’t mean ‘America alone’. What does it mean in practical life?

Every country should look out for its own interests. Any leader that suggests otherwise is unlikely to retain his position for long. The slogan may be new, but the idea is timeless. Unfortunately, some people suggest that everything is a zero sum game. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our goal at Embassy Zagreb is to represent the United States, but to do so in ways that can maximize the benefits to Croatia. It is very satisfying to find solutions where all parties have a measure of success.

Vladimir Mihajlović

Prijevod na engleski: Andrea Stipanić

Srpanj 2018.

iZVOR: Časopis Poduzetnik