Juraj Drahovský FCCA is only 36 yet he already has his ideal job. ‘What I’m doing now really is a dream job for me,’ he says. Originally from Košice in Slovakia, he is helping energy group RWE become a leading player in the Croatian market and is relishing the challenge.
Last June, he took up the position of CFO at newly formed company RWE Energija, the retail arm of RWE’s operations in Croatia. And he is finding his experience with RWE in Slovakia – where he worked for the company’s Slovak electricity supplier Východoslovenská energetika (VSE) – invaluable.
Drahovský played a key role in the success of RWE’s entry into the Slovak gas market, where it now has a 25% market share across all energy segments. For five years from VSE’s launch in 2003, he worked in the finance department as a manager; then, from 2008 for five more years, as customer services chief.
His role at RWE Energija builds on both his roles at VSE. ‘RWE Energija is currently a small company, so the role of the CFO is very diverse,’ he explains. ‘Here I am as much head of customer services as head of finance. My main objectives are to ensure that we have sufficient finance for our growth, that we spend only on value-added activities, and that our customer processes are running smoothly and to the customers’ satisfaction. And since we are a startup, many of my tasks are operational, like following our cash position, approving payments and checking our collection process, as well as ensuring that we run a successful sales team and build a profitable customer portfolio.’
He also implements local administrative procedures related to energy, he says. And he runs the IT.
Seven staff, mostly in customer services roles, report to him direct; indirectly, he manages a further 20, including two finance professionals responsible for controlling, reporting and risk management.
Drahovský adds that RWE Energija benefits from ‘strong group support for the accounting, tax and other similar operations. RWE Group has well-built and fully centralised finance functions, enabling us to get better and faster access to financing than would be possible locally.’
Despite the tremendous breadth of his role, he appears utterly undaunted by it, explaining that he is happy doing something ‘that really grabs me’. And that is why his current position is the perfect job for him now, he says. ‘We are stepping into a market; we are developing the company and its operations; we know what we want to achieve; and I’m using all of the things that I’ve learnt in the past.’
He adds: ‘This is a great time to start a business in Croatia.’ As far as he is concerned, the country’s high unemployment rate – 18.6% at the end of 2013 – is a major benefit for startups. All 20 of the staff at the RWE Energija call centre in Zagreb were unemployed before being taken on in June 2013. ‘It’s currently an employer’s market,’ he says.
‘Many of the people who are unemployed at the moment in Croatia are high-quality, educated people.’
He says that his colleagues mostly talk in English with each other and Croatian with customers and business partners. Drahovský himself is learning Croatian ‘which is for me quite easy as Slovak is similar’, although he wishes he were making better progress.
He says all 25 staff at RWE Energija’s main office, which is about 10km outside the centre of Zagreb, are from Croatia, with the exception of him and another director.
‘Energy retail is in most aspects a local activity, so even though we are part of the large RWE Group, a lot of local knowledge is necessary and must be developed to run our business successfully,’ he explains.
He sees Croatia’s accession to the European Union – it became the 28th member state in July 2013 – as advantageous, especially as it has accelerated changes in national legislation for energy and finance.
‘The fact that the same principles of legislation as the rest of the EU are being adapted in Croatia gives us the confidence and security that things will be done in a certain way,’ he says.
Another anticipated benefit is ‘how Croatian economic environment and Croatian businesses are viewed by foreign partners. I experienced a similar situation when Slovakia entered the EU in 2004. Slovak entities became more trusted and this helped them develop their business with partners abroad.’
Drahovský is clearly confident that RWE can replicate in Croatia its success in Slovakia, with the country’s energy market set to open up significantly over the next few years.
‘The Croatian market for electricity and gas is moving from a monopolistic market with one state-owned company [Hrvatska elektroprivreda] to a more open market. It’s a far from fully functioning liberalised market, but some Croatian legislation enables competition, and more is being developed, and that’s why we have entered.’
He says the aspiration is to become the best energy company and the number one choice in Croatia, and RWE Energija’s goal is to reach 10% market share within the next three years across all segments.
‘Currently, we are on track to achieve this,’ he says, pointing out that 75% of Croatian consumers who have switched electricity supplier since June 2013 have chosen RWE.
A good mix
‘Currently, we are selling electricity, but we believe that as the market and the legislation develops there will be more opportunities to sell gas and so on. We believe that we have a good mix of what we can offer to customers. We offer services which are more advanced than customers here are used to getting, such as better call centres, better communications, and being much more customer-focused. Also, RWE is a really big name in Europe and this implies stability and quality.’
Drahovský entered finance as a student in the 1990s, after the fall of communism and when Czechoslovakia split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic: ‘Western, especially American, culture was like a total role model. So I studied management under a programme sponsored by an American university to help develop central and eastern European countries. This helped me develop a lot of new skills.’
As a student, he also worked as a part-time auditor at Deloitte Slovakia in the Slovak capital Bratislava, and realised the extent of the opportunities available in finance: ‘At university I was more inclined towards personnel management, but afterwards I found that the best options in Slovakia were in finance.’ After completing his studies, he continued as a full-time auditor with Deloitte in Bratislava for three years, focusing mainly on utilities, before joining VSE.
He says his ACCA Qualification, achieved in 2007, has helped him throughout his career. ‘ACCA is a really practical qualification. It has taught me how to make the everyday finance decisions quickly and effectively, so I could focus on other aspects of my job.’
It proved especially useful when he took up his first finance position at VSE. ‘At that time, I was 25, and suddenly I was responsible for a team of 40 people,’ he recalls. ‘I will never forget when I first met the team, as there was one guy and 39 ladies, all 45 years or older – my mother’s age! But with my ACCA Qualification and the good experience I had at Deloitte, I didn’t have to worry very much about the technicals, so I could pay attention to managing, leading and organising my team.’
Since taking on his RWE Energija role, he has been travelling from his home in Košice to Zagreb each Sunday evening and then back each Friday afternoon – 620 kilometres and six hours each way. He and his wife plan to move to the Croatian capital permanently this spring, and they are expecting their first child in May. ‘The commuting is exhausting, but when you know it’s temporary, you can do it,’ he says.
Looking ahead, he anticipates that his role will evolve as RWE Energija expands. ‘Once we grow, there will definitely be a change. I see that at some point in time my role will separate, and I will have to make the decision either to focus more on customer services or on finance. Or maybe there will be something more exciting. Either way, I expect my role will change in some way in two or three years.’
Jonathan Dyson, journalist based in Zagreb
This article was first published in the May 2014 International edition of Accounting and Business magazine