Early doors we set off to Banja Luka in Bosnia & Herzegovina, a fairly long drive ahead, a proper road trip! Kemal was the captain, rolling through the hills of Serbia, through Croatia, and into the flatter terrain of Banja Luka. We had all the glamour of a Gino, Fred and Gordon Road trip as we stopped for a hot dog at a gas station! At least the views were memorable.
Wednesday afternoon, we arrived at our offices in Banja Luka, where we met with Drasko, our General Manager. He has been the key person behind the set-up of our brand-new offices, as we consolidated from two facilities to one larger space, with room for expansion. The feedback has been fantastic; we have seen a big uplift in the general atmosphere thanks to the new modern space, with lots of natural light with extra space.
As mentioned in the last blog, it is important that each office and geographical location has the ability to drive its own future and have a big voice in the direction of our business. We left the offices feeling like the large international clients being serviced here are in great hands. This talented group, full of confidence and ideas, are building a bright future for DDC in that region.
I’ve needed to hit the Peloton machine since getting back from the trip, as the food across the Balkans is amazing! I have to especially mention the bread and the meat, after every meal we said no more, and then the evening would come, and we couldn’t say no. Of course, the great local beer helped to wash it down. We certainly did our best to enjoy the local speciality, rakija; I don’t want to say it is like fire water, but put it this way, on a road trip like this, you wouldn’t want more than a couple after a meal.
The team said their goodbyes as they presented us with some homemade rakija, and let me say, if bar-bought rakija wakes you up, homemade is a whole new ball game. Julian, thinking ahead to customs, suggested we’d better drink up now! Simon raised the point that we’d be unlikely to make the plane if we attempted more than a sip.
On Thursday morning, we began the 3.5-hour drive to Sarajevo, I wondered how long it would take on British roads, but there they were, immaculate.
The real notable factor of the journey is the change in the climate. Sarajevo is very mountainous; from flat roads and clear skies, we wound up and down, finding ourselves in misty landscapes. There are flights available from Belgrade to Sarajevo, but as we had a pit stop in Banja Luka, the road trip continued.
After almost nine years working with our team in Sarajevo, it almost felt like a homecoming for myself, and especially Simon, who has spent substantial time out there supporting our ever-growing operation. After a tiring few days, the familiarity was welcome. Back then, with a team of 60 people, I recall turning to Belma, now our operations director, and saying – “if we can get this place in front of our clients, we will grow so quickly, as what’s on offer here is really different to traditional locations.” My background in outsourcing has taken me to all the hotspots, upcoming places and beyond, but I still recall how I felt that day. I was in awe of the team, I felt a spark, and I had no doubt that I would be back years later, observing our 2,000+ team operating in Bosnia & Herzegovina. From us all agreeing that this could be something special, we now say, where’s the limit? Frankly, it’s for us to define!
As to our point on the importance of local management, there is a wonderful family feel here. There are so many faces that we met way back when, still with us now, having moved up, and now leading the company.
Dinner that evening was a further trip down memory lane for us. When Simon and I first came here, it was a small restaurant, with 20 people max dining at any given time. From those humble routes where they served local produce with no menu to be had, it now seats at least 100 people with a varied but very much local menu. In typical fashion for the area, every restaurant has an Italian feel which I always find a little odd… anyway, a great meal to toast to an insightful trip.
That evening also enabled us to pay thanks to our amazing hosts Kemal and Harris, who, along with his team, organised the whole thing and kept us on track – no easy task! The ability to head out with a direct flight to the team is a real bonus for our clients; it is helping to really foster some fantastic relationships and deliver exceptional service. Less time is lost to jet lag and long-haul travel, but the skill sets and cost savings are equal, if not greater, than many outsourcing hotspots, but hey, we would say that! We hope to prove that to be the case for many years to come.
After an amazing trip, we headed for the airport reminiscing on the rich history and culture we’d experienced over the past week. The mix of old and new is both striking and promising for the future of this region.
We boarded our direct flight to London Luton, with just over 2 hours on the plane and a 1-hour time difference, we had no need to climatise and made it back in plenty of time to take a few calls and make it home fresh enough to share our stories with family (not to mention a rakija or two).
I hope you enjoyed hearing about our whirlwind tour of DDC in the Balkans. We can’t wait to share the experience with clients old and new.