A steely man for FYROM

SKOPJE – Minco Jordanov believes excuses are for wimps. The no-nonsense steel magnate says he took his toughest decisions when the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) was on its knees. And he has little time for those who blame the war. «I cannot accept the argument that some make – that the political situation was bad and that’s why they didn’t succeed. I just can’t accept it,» the 60-year-old told Reuters in an interview. Now FYROM’s government hopes to benefit from the «who-dares-wins» motto of the cigar-smoking entrepreneur and simultaneously revive the country’s so-called «idle industry.» Jordanov was speaking ahead of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development annual meeting over the weekend in Belgrade, expected to focus on fostering growth in the Balkans after a decade of war, sanctions and political upheaval. In 1997, Jordanov was on the board of Swiss-based steel giant Duferco when it paid $16.5 million for a 54.4 percent stake in Makstil, one of four production units established as independent companies with the break-up of FYROM’s old metals complex. A former general director of the communist-era metal works, he took over at Makstil and set about an ambitious $15 million overhaul just as the investment climate in FYROM dramatically turned sour. A massive influx of refugees from the 1999 war in neighboring Kosovo threatened to overwhelm the country’s meager resources. Then in 2001, FYROM stared civil war in the face as security forces spent seven months battling Albanian rebels. The country survived but its economy emerged severely bruised. Already the least developed in the former Yugoslavia, FYROM’s economy shrank 4.5 percent thanks to a drop in trade, frequent border closures and investor uncertainty. But Makstil rolled with the punches and expects profits this year in excess of $10 million. Jordanov, who says he made «a fortune» expanding Duferco operations in the former Soviet Union, has just opened the first private hospital in FYROM’s capital Skopje. «We pursued the restructuring process in the period during the Kosovo war and the Macedonian conflict,» he said. «We did what had to be done… we had a concept of where we wanted to see our company. I’m only sorry there aren’t more examples of this in our country.» Promising FYROM’s two million people an economic revival, the coalition government in December appointed Jordanov as an «expert» deputy to Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski. He now heads an economic affairs team independent of the finance and economy ministries and is pushing for a national strategy to resuscitate the metals industry that once formed the backbone of FYROM’s economy. At its peak the state iron and steel works produced 1.2 million tons of steel products per year and was the main supplier of steel plate to Croatia’s shipyards. It employed 11,500 workers. A Greek trade embargo following FYROM’s independence in 1991 and United Nations sanctions on Serbia deprived the complex of much of its former market and supplies of raw materials. It collapsed and lay dormant for six years. But Jordanov insists there is again potential for growth, particularly with the rapidly expanding market in China. «We must complete the process to define a national strategy on steel,» he said. «Interest in Macedonia’s idle industry is growing and provides hope for the country.»