For everyone who did their MBA at IE Business School in and around 2008, you will appreciate the novelty of having a lunch meeting at a Benihana – the teppanyaki chain founded in 1964, as the Harvard Business School case study on Benihana was standard fare from the ‘curricular menu’ back then… in any case, IE’s Regional Director for Europe, Joël McConnell (JM), recently caught up with Razvan Sofalca IMBA’08 (RS) over lunch at Benihana’s in Bucharest to learn more about what Razvan has been up to since graduation, and to learn more about his industry of expertise. Below you have the full interview transcript. 

And, if you are an IE alumni coming through Bucharest, you absolutely must connect with Razvan via LinkedIn as he coordinates our alumni community and activities in Romania.

JM: “Razvan, while now back in Bucharest, you completed your International MBA (IMBA) at IE Business School in 2008. What can you tell me about your time at IE and in Madrid?

RS: First I wanted to start with a thank you for the opportunity to do this interview, as it is a pleasure to share my story. Although 10 years passed since graduation, I feel like it was only a short time ago. IE for me was on one hand a coming of age experience, one that taught me how to manage my life more autonomously. On the other hand, it was an incredible opportunity to make great friends, many of which helped to open my mind to new experiences and cultures. The social part of IE was about Bar of the Week, pisco sours (even though they originate from Latin America), patatas bravas (something that could not be more Spanish), Plaza Mayor, sushi, football, and celebrating until the early morning hours… Last, but not least, IE was (and is) about understanding how to do business and a steep learning curve; it was about new concepts, about sharing insights from past work experiences; and even about thinking up crazy ideas for new business ventures.

JM: “Tell me about the Insurance Industry in Romania, how is it evolving? What are the big opportunities that leading companies could take advantage of in the future? What trends are you seeing? If you had to name three things that people should keep in mind about the insurance business, what would they be?”

RS: The Romanian insurance market is dynamic, but also a challenging one. There is tremendous development potential in the market, but that growth potential is tempered by generalized reticence to purchase insurance. Today a large percentage of insurance sales is due to mandatory, third party automotive insurance. So for companies that are able to deliver a valuable proposition to would-be insurance customers, the specific areas of opportunity are in the non-mandatory insurance segment, and most specifically, for life and health insurance products. Nonetheless, and mostly due to lack of good product information, Romanian consumers generally don’t have a good understanding of non-mandatory insurance products, there is limited trust in insurance suppliers, and with concerns about political instability, private consumption is growing slower than it otherwise could.

For those readers who are not experts in the insurance sector, I think the three things I would keep in mind here are the following:

  1. Life and health insurance are financial products that should be considered part of a broader estate planning approach to managing finances. While not usually that helpful from a tax savings perfective, they do ensure that you and your loved ones are covered if something unplanned and life altering occurs.
  2. Not all insurance is created equal, especially non-mandatory products like life insurance. Be sure you have a professional read the fine print, and that you understand exactly what is covered, under what circumstances, and who is covered by the insurance.
  3. Having comprehensive insurance coverage, including life insurance and insurance covering other key assets such as your home or business can prove well worth the investment, but again, be sure you have a professional read through the fine print so that you understand exactly what the coverage is, who benefits, and what exceptions might exist.

JM: “What are some unknown facts about Romania, what are the big opportunities here right now? If someone were to invest in an existing or even a new venture here, what are some of your most helpful tips for international investors?”

RS: Today Romania’s economy is, due to European accession support, national economic policy, and a communist-era education system that has proven quite robust, one of the fastest growing in Europe and for more details I suggest having a browse of the most recent Eurostat Report.  More specifically however, a corporate tax rate of 16% plus the tax dividend benefit of 5%, make Romania an attractive destination for investment. Three industries I think are particularly interesting now are agriculture, processed foods, and IT, with some of the homegrown champions including Interagro SA (agricultural industry) and both BitDefender and UiPath from the IT industry.

Other large companies in Romania include Automobile Dacia (now part of Renault Nissan Group), OMV Petrom (the national petrochemical and refinery company), and Banca Transilvania.

JM: “You’re a busy guy these days, given your full time career at OTTO, your stake in A’petite, and that you and your wife are building a family. What are some of the tips you’d share with fellow IE alumni who’re juggling big professional responsibilities with important personal ones?”

RS: Quite simply, it’s key to make time for your family. Jobs come and go, but being able to spend time with your family and seeing your kids learn and grow is really something not to be missed! Beyond your family and professional commitments, thinking about starting your own venture can be a superb experience and one I highly recommend. Starting a venture and managing the challenges of getting a new idea to profitability certainly teaches you about the importance of resilience.

JM: “What are the top 5 spots travelers to Romania need to see? Bucharest certainly has some big ones, such as Casa Popolurui, but what are some of the most interesting and least-known sites to see when making the trip to Romania?”

RS: Well, as you said, in addition to the very well know ‘House of People’ which is so large it can be seen from the moon, my top 5 spots to check out are:

  1. Danube Delta for its wild life and fauna and delicious fish dishes.
  2. The Romanian seaside for its excellent night life, golden-sand beaches, and beautiful people.
  3. The painted monasteries from Moldavia, which are a UNESCO world heritage site.
  4. The fortified churches of Transylvania, which can be visited by bike.
  5. Bucharest – the entire city, and if you come give me a call as I can be your personal guide around town!