If Ljubljana is anything to go by, business in Slovenia is picking up and the unconventional business practices of the past have disappeared. But while transparency is encouraged, business is still largely done behind closed doors.
Although Ljubljana lies on an important trade route between southern Germany and northern Italy, it feels like a provincial town. The city is small and quiet, and everyone seems to know everyone else. Business is often conducted amongst friends, and on some occasions the informality has bred impropriety.
The relatively slow pace of life in Ljubljana is partly down to its size, though also due to the effects of the country’s economic meltdown that followed the worldwide banking crisis of 2008. Although Slovenia is now showing signs of recovery, with the IMF projecting economic growth at around 1.9% and 1.7% in 2015 and 2016 respectively, it still has a long way to go.
A positive consequence of the financial crisis was the disappearance of an old boys’ network that had built up a web of corporate financial interdependence; when cracks appeared, the whole edifice crumbled. The dust has not fully settled, however, and the National Bureau of Investigation is still examining various instances of corruption.
With the power of Slovenia’s old guard diminished, a new generation of senior executives has taken charge of many of Slovenia’s major enterprises, a generation which embraces transparency. Nevertheless, even among young professionals discretion reigns: people are still careful about whom they are seen talking to and there’s a definite reluctance to talk openly in public. Where meetings elsewhere in the world might spill over to lunch in a restaurant or a drink in a bar, Slovenians are far more likely to want to conclude discussions in private.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. With many state-owned assets, valued at approximately €1 billion, being currently auctioned off, transparency is just what the country needs.