THE MONEY ACADEMY
Interview with Osnat Peled
General Director Mentor Finance & President of BWFR
I want to invite you to speak a little bit about your roots, and if they, in some way, influenced you in your professional and business path. What can you share about your first steps in the business arena?
Since the early days of my career, I started with a state - that I would always be working. I was born and raised in the northern part of Israel. As a student, I was very interested in the opportunities that the university had to offer but at the same time I worked in 3 part-time jobs and this has helped me to get a very good managerial position immediately after finishing university. I worked as a business development & training manager in an insurance company. After less than one year I figured out I want to have my own company and opened my own business in the domain of business development & training. It was 15 years ago. Even though some people around me were against the idea (why leave such a good job?) my guideline was that if it will not “work” I can always find another job. I felt I had nothing to lose, so in that sense, it is better to start your own company when you actually risk less. The first problem I encounter was the fact that I didn’t have a portfolio and whenever I met a potential client I actually didn’t have what to “show”, so my first goal was to create a portfolio of clients and projects. It was the hardest part, and my strategy was to take as many works as I can even if the fee was very small or even for free. Eventually, the company was a successful one and I was gradually building my clientele, struggling with good projects and challenging projects and kept growing the activity.
The challenge was always to continue and be creative for existing clients. In the same time, to grow my network and contacts for new clients to come was the most challenging issue but fortunately, it was solved through a women organization I joined in Israel and its support and activity encouraged me today in creating a similar model in Romania with the non-profit organization BWFR, Business Women Forum Romania.
This was a very interesting period for me, I must admit that looking back it was a relatively good entrance to the business, mainly because what I had to offer was new, fresh, unique and I was also very dedicated to my clients
Is the business culture in your home country very different from the Romanian one? Was that an advantage, or disadvantage for being successful in Romania?
The business culture in Israel is indeed different – Israel is a small country (meaning a small market), with creative and motivated people (meaning – a huge competition ), together they create a combined issue – in order to be successful, you must be unique, move fast, be dynamic to the changes that the competition brings and actually run all the time to the next step.
When I came to Romania I figured this environment does not exist here. Romania consists of many creative and motivated people as well, but because the market is so big you can be successful just by being very good at what you do. I really liked it. It gave me the option to develop the business in more directions, to dare and work on larger projects which you usually don’t meet in Israel (like infrastructure projects) and build things that are based on the long term as well.
From the cultural point of view, I believe that any nation brings cultural differences but business behavior is identical worldwide, mostly in European countries and in Israel. I admit that the Israeli business arena is far more aggressive and is much more demanding and service-oriented but I can say that after 10 years in Romania, you can see the enormous change the Romanian market was gone through and the progress.
Did you have any business mentor? If so, which are the business lessons that you value the most, retrospectively?
Unfortunately, I never had any Mentor. I always dreamed to have one and in hard days I used to wish for someone to give me “the answers”. I think that the fact of never having a Mentor brings to my life 2 important elements – one, is to trust myself and to know I am the only one who can help myself, to actually take responsibility over my actions, the second is to help whoever needs my help. Sometimes I go too far in this…. I get too involved because I care so much and love to help. I feel I have so much know-how gathered during this “fieldwork” in different businesses, projects, clients that I have been involved with, that is such a loss not to share it. That was actually one of the reasons why I founded BWFR (Business Women Forum Romania)
Do you evaluate yourself rather as an entrepreneur, or as a manager? There are entrepreneurial components of your work?
I am 100% entrepreneur! To be honest, I never liked being a “manager”. Whoever worked with me during the years knows that they must know how to manage themselves. Besides that, I am traveling a lot to meet financiers and clients outside Romania. I am not an office person at all.
I am supervising, I am very involved and I do by myself the majority part of the work…I am a bit workaholic and prefer less the managerial side more than the actual work completed. Some will probably say I must learn how to empower more, the truth is I enjoy my work and this is my style, I am blessed with great people that surround me, take responsibility for their tasks and I trust them 200%. I am not looking to retire and I am not afraid of hard work.
Did you ever recruit money for a business of your own? Is it easier or harder to recruit money for a business of oneself?
Yes, I did it in my past. It was one of the hardest parts of the work. From that experience I took with me several elements that I implement in my work until today – the major one is that every person who comes to me asking for financing is connected to his projects also on an emotional level (as if it were a child). It is very hard to get negative feedback on your “child” because they are the most perfect one on earth, same goes for a project. We as financiers tend to forget that sometimes because we see so many projects which are bad ones, unstructured, risky and generally wrong. But behind them stands a person with a dream, we must be sensitive and see how we can make this dream to become real instead of just saying “No!”.
The second lesson that I acknowledged is that the deal is not done until the money is in the bank. When you work in financing, in some cases the progress can be amazing and you feel like the deal is closed, but actually even when it is closed and signed if the money has not been transferred everything is still open. This is a key element in my work because we work in parallel in multiple directions until the deal is completed. It might sound obvious but it is not, it is considered to be the “hard & long “ way but I believe in this way, as in this one you do not sell our self “dreams” but remain fully aware that things might still go wrong until full completion and remain prepared with several alternatives.
On how many markets is your company operating presently?
We have been focusing on CIS markets (Moldova, Russia, Ukraine), and currently starting to look again at the Romanian market. Mentor Finance provides worldwide services so we have clients all over the world, mainly in Europe.
Which was the market that you feel is the most attractive right now for opening new businesses in Eastern Europe? How do you evaluate Romania in this context?
Our group vision targets are always long term ones. We do not believe in “seasonal success” and “speculative businesses” that might explode every day. Eastern Europe from our point of view is the best market, in general, to invest in as it still in need of more services and business development but still maintains stability and lower risk, which we take into consideration. If the proposed business activity is smart, unique, well fitted to the market and financially feasible it will work everywhere. We determine the business success, I do not agree that the market determines it for us.
I believe in the Romanian market, the market is stable now, increasing slowly with reasonable values after the 2008 crisis.
This is the exact environment for developing long term businesses.
Do you evaluate yourself as a risk-taker, or rather as a conservative businesswoman?
I was never a risk-taker; at least I don’t see myself as such. Some of my friends might think I take risks with the fact of moving to Romania for example, but I don’t consider that as a risk. So maybe a “risk” is something each one of us sees in different ways.
I am not afraid to try new concepts, to enter new markets or to take a challenge. As an investor, I invested as well in concepts and not all of them were successful, sometimes you win sometimes you don’t win, I do not think I lost! After so many years in business, you are getting used to the fact that some things can generate great incomes and some can generate less.
Because I am used to working with money, it has become virtual to me. I do not feel the pain in “losing” money, I feel more excited to “make “ money. Maybe this is a mechanism I developed to protect myself and motivate me to keep to work because whenever something is not working I always stop and think of the next step and create the next “to-do list”.
How do you select your clientele? Is it important for your business to have a certain type of clientele?
In the last few years, because of the global financial crisis, it became harder to access the financing. It has forced us to choose wisely our clients and be more selective when we select a project.
We usually start with a short analysis. I personally meet with every client and company who approaches Mentor Finance, because the personal element is extremely important.
In my work I am actually approaching banks, funds and investors for different types of capital raising. I am actually the “face” of my clients so if I do not believe they have a good project with good people behind it, I cannot do it and I will not burn my reputation over that as well.
The guide line for choosing a client is based on the combination of – how strong is the concept for their project, is this a feasible one, did they moderate the risks and are they suitable as people/company to bring this to a success.
In many of cases I meet, not all the criteria are fulfilled, so it is likely that as they approach a financier they will get a negative response .We wish to avoid it, so we actually optimize & “perfect” their projects, we create perfect files to attract the financiers and open their appetite.
We sometimes work also with less “matured” companies of clients just because we liked the project and believe in its potential, however, the key points are for the client to come with an open minded approach and flexibility because our interests are the same, to close the financing for them and bring it to success. It is based a lot on trust.
Can you share some of the biggest deals you financed? If you are not allowed to disclose the names of the companies, can you speak about the business in general – the field, the scale, the milestones in achieving targets?
I usually do not share any type of information due to strict confidentiality concerns, however, I can share that in the last few years I am involved in a very large infrastructure deal outside of Romania (CIS countries) volume in 100 mil € . This financing has been challenging from every aspect you can think about but we have overcome them and it is in its final stage in this period.
Which do you feel are your strengths in business? Were some of these strengths built through training?
My strengths are focused on the peak point of my work – when I meet with financiers. During the years, I built a worldwide network of financiers from all kind of domains. The meetings with financiers, in my view, are considered to be the hard and challenging part of the work. It is simply not for everybody! Financiers look at projects in a very simple way “what are the risks, how we can reduce our risks”. Once you understand this and put the emotional parts outside you can have success. But this has to come also with deep understanding of the work frame, terminology and sub context of the massage they provide you during the meeting. In my career, I have held meetings with bank directors, governments, owners of investment banks…you name it.
Some meetings were extremely stressing, and I learned that a key line is to come very ready because there is absolutely no room for mistakes.
In my case it is not about training but the actually practice in work, and a lot of analysis which was done after each and every meeting which has brought me to the level I am now.
Which was the environment that added the most to your character, and how important is character in business?
When the crisis came to Romania, the whole financing arena was suddenly blocked. It was quite a shock to see how one situation where money is so “easy“ to get is exchanged so fast with another one.
I already knew how a financial crisis looks because when I started my business in Israel, I had the same situation after the first year of activity, the hi -tech bubble exploded and thousands of people and companies were in bankruptcy. Back then I decided that my direction is to develop products and services for distressed companies and unemployed groups, I developed a special program in collaboration with the Ministry Of Economy in ISRAEL, which was a great success and “saved” me from falling down in this crisis. By that experience I learned that even during crisis you can identify needs and also that every crisis eventually ends. This has brought me to look at the financial crisis in Romania in a different way, while everybody was deeply depressed, we continued with new developments and new markets.
What are the most common mistakes that you encounter to the entrepreneurs who come to you to help the recruit money for businesses?
There are several common mistakes: the main one is the lack of proper business plan, or mistakes in the business plans. The fact that they don’t look at the plan and the risks like a bank, they tend to hide some of the risks instead of resolving them. Most of the risks can’t be resolved and it is better to “attack them” rather than to hide them.
Do you work abroad a lot, or only from time to time? Do you have other offices abroad, except from the Romanian Headquarters?
The majority of the financiers in our network are outside of Romania, so I travel a lot and sometimes every week. I have offices in several parts of the world – Moldova, Ukraine, Russia and also representatives in Italy, Africa and USA.
Did you assisted Romanian entrepreneurs expanding some business outside Romania?
We have helped foreign investors to invest in Romania as well we have helped Romanian exporters to expand their business outside the country by several financing products we have structured for them
You recently founded BWFR – Business Women forum Romania. Can you speak about this initiative, and about its goals?
This is one of my great passions! BWFR is an NGO, non-profit organization which is made by women and oriented to support women in business. Our membership is free; we have already hundreds of members from 4 tiers - company owners, corporate & SME's managers, NGO managers and entrepreneurs (start-ups). We meet a few times a months within BWFR workshops and networking sessions. I admit I enjoy every second which I spend in BWFR!
I have an amazing advisory board and I have the chance to inspire other business women and get inspired by them as well. I am very involved as well within the workshops and seminars and host it from time to time by myself, with a lot of attention on the practical “tool kit” point of view.
We are constantly looking for interesting keynote speakers to participate in our workshops and share their know how within our forum, which is a multinational one as well.
I invite our readers to join us as well and create their network within BWFR at www.bwfr.org
How does a normal business day look for you?
I am starting very early – usually at 6:00 am, I like to answer all my emails before I start the day. I reply to any open issue from clients/financiers, my LinkedIn, emails from BWFR members…. It is never boring, so I actually “clean my table” to start a fresh day. I have 2 children, so I help them get ready for their day as well and only then do I start my formal day, around 8:00. 2-3 times a week I am going to the gym in the morning and only after that begin my official day (I admit since BWFR started, I have less time for that but I’m optimistic).
The days are usually full with meetings and conference calls, I don’t have lunch breaks.
At 16:00 I usually like to pick up my children , so I finish my “official “meeting day then and work the rest the day from home, sometimes I also spare some time for fun afternoon activities with the kids but I wish I could have done more than I am doing. The day is usually finished at 18:30, unless some urgent email arrives, I usually like to answer on the spot even if it is 22:00 in the evening …
Do you have any “addiction” for some gadgets or accessories? What happens if, for example, you forget you phone at home? You go back for it, or let it aside and continue your schedule?
Not too many addictions in this respect, but if the phone is at home I will for sure come back to take it, because I must be available to whoever is looking for me.
Interview with Mr. Alexandru Răducanu
Foto: Sebastian Moise Make-up: Monica Panait Şedinta foto a avut loc la Hotel Prince Park Residences Bucureşti *Articol apărut în Business Woman Magazine, ediţia 65
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