Executive Search in Bulgaria

EMA Partners Bulgaria is a young consulting company, based in Sofia, Bulgaria, specializing in retained executive search and executive advisory services. Irina Ivanova, its Managing Partner, has long-standing experience and knowledge on the Bulgarian labour market, as one of the highly skilled local consultants. We asked our friend there to help us understand their local market.


Q: Okay, tell us something good about Bulgarian senior executives.
Irina Ivanova:
Well, the Bulgarian senior executives do not differ much from the managers elsewhere. In the last twenty years we have seen robust development in people at executive positions. Nowadays, the top Bulgarian executives apply the foreign and local best practices, they are typically well-educated at renowned international universities and they are in general fast learners and open for new ideas. Furthermore, I have met a large number of local executives and in my opinion most of them are flexible and dynamic people who are eager to develop continuously.

Q: Now tell us something bad.
Irina Ivanova: Still the vast majority of Bulgarian top managers are „self-made”, due to the lack of proper local education and management experience, hence we still hear of a lot strange decisions. At times, the owners of leading Bulgarian businesses also play a managerial role in the company which is not always successful since the owners are not necessarily good managers. And finally, there is this “job hopping” phenomena - those managers who are always searching for a better offer. This is, of course, a very short-sighted practice and they soon realize their career is going downwards.

Q: In terms of potential and capabilities, which is the functional area with the biggest talent resources in Bulgaria?
Irina Ivanova:
In Bulgaria, as everywhere in the world, the talent resources are scarce in all areas. Perhaps, there is a greater talent pool for executives with financial background as well as general management. The country is well-known for its talented IT specialists but most of them are occupied in the local offices and help-centers of giants like Hewlett-Packard, IBM, SAP Labs, etc. Over the years we have seen ‘export’ of local talents to large multinational corporations abroad which is definitely a positive development and proofs the good quality of local managers.

Q: Top 10 salary levels in Bulgaria. By industry; by function; by region; what else about salaries?
Irina Ivanova:
Some of the industries with highest packages are the pharmaceuticals; heavy/processing industry, real estate development and construction and international media. The typical best-paid functions would be CEOs, CFOs and Commercial Directors. Definitely, the top paid executive positions are based in Sofia and in the industrial regions such as Devnia, Pirdop, Zlatna Panega, etc.

Q: Five essential advices for a foreign investor looking to hire a senior executive.
Irina Ivanova:
To me, the new-coming investor should:
First, get to know the country, the people and the labour market
Second, plan carefully in advance the hiring of such function
Third, find the right executive search partner to assist in selecting and hiring the best talents
Fourth, perform careful reference checks on candidates and companies
Fifth, properly motivate and develop the key managers to retain them

Q: Bulgarian Talents: Going out? Coming in? Staying? How would you describe their movement?
Irina Ivanova:
In my opinion, at present there are less people going out of the country due to the overall stable economic environment and the increasing number of opportunities. Clearly, in the last couple of years we see a trend of well-educated and experienced professionals coming back to Bulgaria, even willing to compromise on the package.

Q: How about women in senior executive positions in Bulgaria?
Irina Ivanova:
I strongly believe that there is no gender segregation and women have equal opportunities to lead Bulgarian businesses.

Q: Some inside information on the educational system for senior players.
Irina Ivanova:
The Bulgarian educational system is still rigid and shows no flexibility in complying with the demands of the fast economic developments in the last two decades. Most senior managers have graduated a local university and consequently - a reputable international one.

Q: Trends. How do you see the future, in regards to the development of the executive talents potential?
Irina Ivanova:
Talents are the engine of every successful organization and they are on high demand globally. Some of the biggest businesses in the country are currently implementing talent identification, development and retention programmes. Talent Management in Global Society – Attracting, Developing, Retaining was the topic of the last conference of the Bulgarian Human Resource Management and Development Association (http://bhrmda.bg/index.php?id=190&L=1). This comes to show that the HR society in the country realizes the importance of the problem and is trying to address it, stepping on the best international and local practices.

Q: What markets – in other than Bulgaria– can you cover in EE?
Irina Ivanova:
Our executive search experience is mostly on projects in Bulgaria. We have just successfully completed our first search in Serbia. We are now discussing a position in Macedonia with an existing client.

Q: Your practice areas?
Irina Ivanova:
Our experience spans in the following areas: Finance/Banking/Insurance – Financial Management, Audit, Tax Management, Bank Audit, General Management; Commercial – Commercial & Marketing Directors, Retail Chains Management, Distribution Management, Brand Management; Real Estate – BoD members– executive and non-executive; General Management, Property Management, Project Management, Construction, Brokerage, Investment Sales, Operations; Human Resources; Business Development; Security; Administration; Advertising – General Management; Production – Plant/Production Management.

Q: What is your understanding of the Bulgarian Human Resources market, its biggest current challenges generally and for consulting firms specifically?
Irina Ivanova:
  We think that Bulgarian human capital market is extremely challenging due to the lack of qualified personnel.  The economics matrix suggests business development and growth which is usually underpinned by strong human resources. Certainly there are experienced and well-educated people on the market who are leaders and know how to drive the companies forward, yet, there are serious issues finding good people at middle management and general workers levels.

The challenges for the consulting firms are pretty much the same – lack of qualified staff and the immaturity of the market, meaning that most of the clients still do not have a clear understanding of some of the services provided by the professional consultants and therefore are somewhat reluctant to use them. We believe the market will evolve in future to facilitate the executive search and recruitment processes and make consultants the most desired partners of businesses.



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