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Author: Milena Kirilova, MBA student

Commencing with the program's noteworthy achievement, the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” secured accreditation from the Association of MBAs (AMBA) in 2023, marking a significant milestone in its commitment to global education standards.

Here we are – a group of enthusiasts embarking on the journey of "Strategic Management" while delving into the study of Fundamentals of Management in the first semester of our MBA program. Experienced mid and C-level managers studying “Fundamentals”?

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Study groups play a pivotal role in the "Fundamentals of Management" class, fostering collaboration, shared learning experiences, and a dynamic exchange of ideas among students.

First stop – we need to dive into details about the Managers in the workplace, Making Decisions and Management Practices.

Why are managers considered crucial in a workplace? Is their role limited to providing inspiration and sharing information, or do they have additional responsibilities? How do managers contribute to the team's development and support individuals in their professional growth? In what ways do good managers actively shape the work environment, fostering a positive atmosphere for the employees? Can the impact of a manager extend beyond the success of the company to influence the overall happiness and satisfaction of the workforce?

Let’s see in action some of the managers, part of the MBA “Strategic management” group and the way they run their companies.

The first site that we visited was Orbico Bulgaria - one of the biggest distributors and logistics service providers in the market.

As part of Orbico Group, a leading European distributor operating in 20 countries through legal entities, Orbico manages a diverse portfolio of globally renowned brands, requiring strategic investments in personnel and brand development.

The visit was kindly organised by the Business Controlling Manager Ivaylo Pavlov, who has been working for the company since 2004. Mr. Pavlov initiated the session with a brief overview of the company's history, vision, and values. Demonstrating true leadership, Ivaylo then took the lead, and with align of Orbico's value of "We trust in people” he introduced Mr. Radosvet Yordanov, a second-year Accounting, Finance and Digital Applications student at the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration in Sofia University, who is an integral part of Ivaylo's team at Orbico while pursuing his academic studies. Radosvet confidently and professionally presented Orbico's scale and financial data. And the numbers are impressive: the Company is present in 24 countries in total, a €3.5B turnover, 55 000 customers worldwide...

In Bulgaria itself, Orbico is the largest distributor with over €500M annual turnover, 1 200 employees, over 20 years on the market. Ivaylo Pavlov stands as a cornerstone within Orbico, aligning his professional trajectory with the company's evolutionary journey, thereby fostering mutual growth. "In recent years, I increasingly realized that learning and continuous training are crucial to adapting to the dynamic world. The program will add value to my professional experience and enhance my opportunities in the industry I am involved in. Currently, I enriched my network of business contacts with sustainably accomplished professionals in various economic sectors", shares Ivaylo about the MBA.

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Ivaylo Pavlov, Business Controlling Manager at ORBICO, Bulgaria

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Ivaylo Pavlov, demonstrating his leadership and extensive knowledge of Orbico's operations, guided our group through the sprawling 33,000 m2 warehouse located in Bulgaria.

“Orbico's automated warehouse is a real example of the modern technology and how it can optimize both efficiency and accuracy in the supply chain. Here, we had the opportunity to witness how automation reduces human error, increases productivity, and ensures timely delivery of products. The complex systems behind keeping track of stock and fulfilling orders are also fascinating to observe. Moreover, seeing the significant reduction in labour costs and the improvement of working conditions changed our perspective on the future of warehousing.” Shares Elitsa Mihaylova, Head of Regulatory Affairs Bulgaria at Cencora Pharmalex, a prominent global healthcare organization.

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Elitsa Mihaylova, Head of Regulatory Affairs Bulgaria at Cencora Pharmalex

"I derive significant benefits from the program, enhancing both my professional network and knowledge base in crucial domains pertinent to my role," expresses Elitsa. "By the program's conclusion, my objective is to elevate my strategic planning and execution skills to a high-calibre level. This strategic enhancement forms the core motivation behind my decision to pursue an MBA.

Getting into action with the Planning and Managing Strategy in big organisations is never easy to handle. Planning our goals and determine how to achieve them and mark the progress is a pillar point to learn. For instance, as individuals, it is imperative to strategically coordinate our schedules, encompassing lectures, exams, and professional commitments, in pursuit of obtaining an MBA degree.

Mr. Milen Stanoev, Plant Director of “Titan” Bulgaria, exemplifies strategic leadership.

With a background in machine engineering, Milen climbed the company hierarchy since 2001, culminating in his current role as Plant Director of Zlatna Panega cement (Titan Bulgaria) since 2015and CEO at the alternative fuels company “GAEA”. His team leading by him manage to become a leader in the group in alternative fuel usage.

An exemplary project from last year involved a €7M CAPEX initiative to increase alternative fuel utilization in cement kilns to 70%, aligning with sustainability goals and reducing CO2 footprint. Another example is that Titan Bulgaria's strategic approach includes integrating an AI platform for predictive maintenance, enhancing plant efficiency.

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Milen Stanoev, Plant Director at TITAN, Zlatna Panega

Milen Stanoev's pursuit of an MBA is driven by a desire for additional knowledge in finance and strategic management, as well as the opportunity to network with like-minded individuals. The program's real-world applicability is evident in his ability to link course material to his experiences, strategically informing decision-making.

"Innovation is something that we are led by", says Mr. Stanoev, highlighting the constant experimentation, such as the implementation of the predictive AI maintenance platform.

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Guiding the visit with confidence, Milen Stanoev, Plant Director, generously shared valuable insights into the cement industry.

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As part of the field visit, attendees had the unique opportunity to step inside the Control Centre of the plant. Led by Mr. Stanoev, the tour provided an in-depth look at the intricate processes and advanced control systems that drive the plant's operations, offering valuable insights into the heart of the production facility.

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A plant tour was included as part of the visit.

How is the program helping you? – “I am always linking the material we take with current and past experiences, which helps me strategically to change some of the decisions I make. I realize that for some of the situations in the past, if I had the chance to learn the things that I know now, I would’ve changed the directions of some of the decisions I made”, asserted Milen Stanoev.

“I've been deeply impressed by the innovative managerial approach at Titan applied through research, development, and implementation of a prediction maintenance program for the specific needs of the cement production. Committed to cost reduction and increased productivity, the program has improved not only the overall effectiveness of the processes, but moreover -commitment of the personnel to enhance each performance level. Further on, the applied by the management new, alternative fuel basis from waste contributes to creating an environment of sustainable growth and modern vision for the business. The most valued attribute of Titan factory is the people, mandated with specific competencies and delegations, but united in a stable community with a goal of leading the society to a better opinion on heavy industry as a source of sustainable social welfare", communicates her insights Dilyana Ivanova, founder and Attorney-at-Law at Ivanova and Ivanova Law Office, dedicated to providing profound legal expertise in structuring and implementation of Energy, Infrastructure and Real Estate Projects, M&A, Corporate and Tax Advocacy, Litigation.

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Dilyana Ivanova, Attorney-at-Law at Ivanova and Ivanova Law Office

“Convinced in life-spanning education, I've found the MBA Program at FEBA, Sofia University as an excellent possibility to improve my insights over project development, business models, stakeholders’ management, and networking. I've been inspired mostly by creating of provocative learning environment, connecting different business leadership perspectives” – Dilyana Ivanova, articulating her viewpoint about her MBA experience.

“The visit to a cement manufacturing plant Titan is enriching as well. It’s an eye-opening experience to see the raw materials being transformed into the final product that plays such a crucial role in the construction industry. You can observe the stringent quality control processes in place to ensure the production of superior-quality cement. Plus, understanding the complex operations involved in such a plant can give you a new appreciation for the infrastructure that surrounds us in our daily lives.” - shares valuable insights into the topic Alexandra Angelova, who is Founder and General Manager of the landscaping company “TH Consulting”.

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Alexandra Angelova, Founder and Managing Director of TH Consulting.

Although she faced challenges along the way, she has successfully steered her company towards prosperity, now boasting a team of over 35 talented individuals. Expressing her perspective on pursuing an MBA in the Strategic Management track, she shared: “I started studying the MBA because I wanted to create more opportunities both professionally and personally for myself; to join young and ambitious cluster of people that want to develop and achieve more; to change my professional life and maybe makeshift of direction. I most like in the program that provokes me to be a better individual and to overpass my boundaries. Also, I love my colleagues and feel that I am part of great team of achievers. And last, but not least, I have seen many professors in my life, and for the first time I am impressed by the people that teach us, I feel that they strive to be an example and to never lag, because many understand the obligation they have to the community and to us as students, as their successors. Because of all that, I know that when I graduate, I will be what I now aim to be, and I readily work hard to make it happen”.

Starting a deep dive into understanding how to design the structure of an organization, skilfully managing human resources, and artfully creating and overseeing teams, our journey of self-discovery unfolded with a deliberate focus on nuanced details. Along this reflective path, our third significant waypoint brought us to Etem Gestamp Bulgaria, adding a practical dimension to our understanding of these pivotal topics.

Meet Mr. Kalin Yonov, the accomplished CEO of Loulis Mel Bulgaria and a revered MBA lecturer at Sofia University. With a stellar background in top management within the Greek industrial metallurgical group "Viochalco," Mr. Yonov shares a decade's worth of insights with MBA students.

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Kalin Yonov, MBA – Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski"

A graduate of the Athens University of Economics and FEBA, Mr. Yonov's passion for teaching goes beyond his corporate success. Reflecting on his role as an MBA tutor, he notes, "Engaging with MBA students is a whole new level. The dynamic exchange of ideas and case studies enriches us all. It feels like a rewarding experience for the teacher."

In Sofia University's classrooms, Mr. Yonov's presence not only brings academic strength but also an infectious enthusiasm for mutual growth. His commitment to creating a dynamic learning environment speaks volumes, making him an invaluable asset to both the institution and the aspiring minds he guides. As part of his strategy to bring the best to the table, he orchestrated a visit to Etem Gestamp, adding a practical dimension to the students' learning experience. In 2019, Etem Group, part of Viohalco S.A. (VIO), a Belgium-based holding company of prominent metal processing firms in Europe, joined forces with Gestamp Group to create a joint venture focusing on aluminium profiles for the automotive industry. Gestamp, operating in 23+ countries, excels in crafting innovative metal components to enhance vehicle safety and reduce environmental impact. With 20+ years of experience, Gestamp is known for its global technology solutions.

Etem Group, a leader in aluminium extrusion for over 50 years, is renowned for designing and producing aluminium profiles. As part of Viohalco S.A., listed on Euronext Brussels Exchange (VIO) and the Athens Stock Exchange (BIO), Etem has become a prominent name in Southeast Europe through continuous innovation and global expansion. Viohalco's 2022 revenue stands at EUR 7 billion.

As we explored the Etem Gestamp facilities, our insightful tour was expertly led by key figures in the organization. Emmanouil Fountoukis, the General Manager, Thomas Purnell, serving as the Administrative Director, and Miguel-Angel Soleto de la Torre, the esteemed Plant Manager, graciously provided us with valuable insights into the operations of this dynamic and innovative company.

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“Visiting these facilities did not only broaden our understanding of these industries but also inspired us to think about how technology and sustainable practices can be integrated into different sectors.” – are expressing Elitsa Mihaylova and Alexandra Angelova.

Ms. Mehrsa Majidian, a foreign student hailing from Iran, has chosen Bulgaria as the destination for her MBA studies. Reflecting on her academic background in accounting and professional experience in Iran, she explains, "I opted for Bulgaria primarily due to the University of Sofia and its renowned MBA program. The interdisciplinary nature of the program, blending business administration and related fields, intrigued me. Despite my prior knowledge in Iran, this combination promises a compelling learning experience".

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Mehrsa Majidian chose Bulgaria for her MBA studies, blending her accounting expertise with the dynamic program at Sofia University.

Mehrsa envisions her future career path, stating, "I aspire to venture into data analysis or the realm of application information systems. This decision aligns with my academic pursuits and reflects the dynamic nature of the MBA program I am currently undertaking.”, concluded Mehrsa Mahjidian.

“What has impressed me most in ETEM-GESTAMP factory visit is the synergy in management from different economic groups in the creation of a common product of high quality, proven reliability, and accuracy in detail. I learned that successful strategic planning of automated manufacturing processes and quality control does not preclude, but presupposes, training and corporate responsibility for people. I learned that adopting ESG-related predictive controls leads to increased competitiveness, not only by reducing production costs through long-term power and gas contracts, but also by creating new products (car and minibus batteries chassis), investing in new technologies, and entering new markets”, voiced her opinion Dilyana Ivanova.

Milen Stanoev contributed his perspective on the matter: “I have been thoroughly impressed with the robust safeguard rules in place, recognizing their paramount importance for any organization. The stringent Health and Safety requirements are diligently adhered to by the staff, and I see potential in implementing some of these measures within TITAN in Zlatna Panega.

Moreover, the noteworthy aspect that has caught my attention is the distinct nature of the companies involved in the Joint Venture. Despite one specializing in automotive parts and the other in aluminium parts, they have synergized their strengths in Bulgaria, establishing a multinational production unit. This collaborative effort showcases the remarkable unity of diverse expertise.

To address workforce needs at the production unit, they have effectively tackled the issue by recruiting individuals from abroad. This strategic approach reflects the commitment to securing the right talent for the success of their operations”, concluded Mr. Stanoev

“An MBA program should be an open environment, and in this regard, the Sofia University program exceeded my expectations. Already in the first months, we had the opportunity to visit various enterprises, which gave me direct access to information and discussions about the specifics of leading companies in Bulgaria from various sectors. A multi-faceted presentation of business operations by enterprise managers is interspersed with personal experience and course material. I saw that the general trends in the economic environment in Bulgaria and challenges related to the price of energy carriers, the difficulties with recruitment and retention of personnel, are reflected in companies from completely different industries and each of the companies has built its own strategy. The emphasis on automation was impressive both in ORBICO's FMCG warehouse operations and in the precision manufacturing of automotive components at ETEM. The visit to Titan Bulgaria was important to my understanding of the problems related to high electricity prices facing energy-intensive industries and the effect of rapidly rising wages” – expressing Stanislav Petrov, Account Manager Bulgarian Operations at Ericsson.

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Stanislav Petrov, Account Manager Bulgarian Operations at Ericsson

Acknowledging the remarkable efforts of those among us who not only serve as leaders and entrepreneurs but also navigate the intricate balance of work, study, and parenthood adds another layer of inspiration to the transformative journey within Sofia University's MBA program. Their dedication exemplifies the resilience and determination fostered within this dynamic academic community.

In summary, the showcased leadership at Sofia University and prominent companies like Orbico Bulgaria, Titan Bulgaria, and Etem Gestamp highlights the transformative impact of effective leadership. Insights from figures such as Ivaylo Pavlov and Milen Stanoev underscore sustainability, innovation, and positive change in strategic management. Visits to industry giants reveal the integration of technology and sustainable practices. Mehrsa Majidian's global perspective enhances the program's diversity.

In my opinion, the visit to Orbico left me thoroughly impressed by the sheer scale of their warehouse and the innovative automated lines in place. Not only do these systems streamline the packing process, but they also meticulously monitor the quantity of goods needed for a specific supplier package. The organizational efficiency is truly noteworthy, and what's even more astounding is how this entire process is managed by a relatively small team, despite the high volume of orders they handle.

Meanwhile, the experience at TITAN Zlatna Panega was nothing short of remarkable, thanks to the exceptional leadership of Plant Manager Milen Stanoev. The professionalism and capabilities of the staff under his guidance were evident, creating a work environment that is not only friendly and warm but also conducive to personal and professional growth. It's inspiring to witness the dedication of individuals who not only meet their job requirements but consistently go above and beyond, contributing to the company's continuous improvement. A standout example is the creation, development, and implementation of the AI system for Predictive Maintenance—a truly innovative approach in an industry where such advancements might be unexpected.

The entire visit became a valuable learning curve for me, and I feel enriched by the experiences at both Titan and Orbico. It's genuinely exciting to see groundbreaking methods and technologies applied in industries that may not initially appeared ready for such groundbreaking advancements.

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We attended the National Innovation Forum in December 2023. From left to right: Ruslan Stefanov, Coordinator of InnovationBG Group, Vasil Terziev, Mayor of Sofia, prof. Todor Tagarev, Minister of Defence, Miglena Nikolova, CEO, Niki Rotor Aviation, Assoc. Prof. Todor Yalamov, Vice-Dean, FEBA, Sofia University.

Assoc. Prof. Todor Yalamov, who is the program’s leader and Vice-Dean on R&D and Innovation of FEBA says “We are in the business of link-building. We build links between people and countries, between the present and the future”. He himself started his journey at FEBA in 1994 through the Joint master’s degree in economics and management by Erasmus Rotterdam School of Economics and Sofia University – the program started by his PhD advisor Prof. Anastasia Bankova and modelled after the Erasmus University’s MBA – and evolved into the full-fledged MBA today.

We had the opportunity to meet and discuss the challenges for technology transfer and academic spin-offs with Prof. George Angelov, Deputy Minister of Innovation and Growth, and Ms. Dotchka Vassileva, Head of Project Information and Financing Unit at the Fund of Funds.

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After 13 years deeply involved in the financial world of the City of London, I'm delighted to be back in Bulgaria, diving into the MBA program at Sofia University. Meeting this fantastic group of individuals has brought great joy, and I'm forging lasting friendships. The level of education has exceeded my expectations, and I eagerly anticipate learning, growing, and making the most of my time in the program.