For extraordinary results you need an extraordinary team

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The maritime and river agency Agent Plus was established in 2007, and it achieved excellent results in a very short time. From the moment the company was founded, the vision was to make it a leader in its field in the territory of Southeast Europe. This they achieved – with hard work, rich previous experience and professional attitude towards work and clients.

Zoran Netkovic, the director of Agent Plus, says in an interview with eKapija that they today operate in the market of Southeast Europe, managing 6 enterprises and 12 business units in major ports on the Danube, Adriatic and the Black Sea as well as in main regional centers.

– This year we are finishing a large project involving the acquisition and commissioning of our own transportation capacity on the Danube. Also, we have completed all logistics preparations for the expansion of our LCL shipping service from the Far East, Oceania and India, with direct consoles to Croatia, Central Europe, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Mid-2015 saw us opening a business unit in Podgorica because we will have increased activities in Montenegro in the following period on the implementation of capital project – construction of Bar-Boljare highway, in cooperation with China Road and Bridge Corporation. Our team in Novi Sad is expanded substantially as we intend to increase our presence in the market of Vojvodina in the time to come. The plan is also to significantly improve our range of port agency services – Zoran Netkovic announces in the interview with eKapija.

eKapija: It took Agent Plus a relatively short time to achieve enviable results. How did you manage to do that?

– Agent Plus was established in 2007 with a vision to become one of the leading regional companies in southeast Europe. Through hard work and owing to rich previous experience and professional attitude towards both job and clients, we have created conditions to fulfill this vision. Today we operate in the market of Southeast Europe, where we have 6 enterprises and 12 business units in major ports on the Danube, Adriatic and the Black Sea and all main regional centers, and we continue to achieve our long-term goals.

For success in business, it is necessary to have a vision and a good team of fellow workers. Vision and the sense for business are something you either have or you don’t, but a good team needs to be built. I would particularly like to point out that the Agent Plus group brings together an excellent team of professionals, a balanced combination of youth and experience, where professionalism and correctness in business are highly appreciated and applied. Our permanent policy is to connect with European and international companies, expand the circle of users of our services, work with respectable companies that we hire when providing various forms of transportation services, apply business and technological achievements and innovations, create a modular corporate system in the region, get familiar with broader market, anticipate market trends, have a quick access to relevant information, keep working hard and stay committed to work.

eKapija: Agent Plus has a broad spectrum of services in its portfolio. Is this your advantage?

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– Agent Plus is already recognizable in the market of Southeast Europe for its broad spectrum of services pertaining to the organization of all forms of transport. We have avoided the danger of over-diversification by hiring narrowly specialized experts for each form of transport. In this way, service users are offered comprehensive services at one place. For any type of transport they require, service users only need to come to Agent Plus. Our offer includes the organization of overseas container shipping and transport of all kinds of goods by river and sea. We have developed a modern port agency service that includes the organization of transport of oversized cargo, transport by air, road and rail, storage and logistics services and customs brokerage. Also, we have developed our own direct LCL (Less Container Load) shipping service from the Far East under the name ‘Balkan LCL Express’. This year we expanded our service to cover 15 new countries in the Far East, Australia and Oceania, so that all importers who use our services will now be able to have goods directly, quickly and securely shipped from these destinations.

It is a well-known fact that our company StarAgent Plus has been the general representative of the international container shipping company Maersk Line in Serbia for seven years now, as well as shipping companies Safmarine and SeaGo. This fact speaks volumes. Justifying the condifence of such a demanding mega star of the global economy and transport is a conclusive evidence that we are on the right path.

eKapija: What other comparative advantages of Agent Plus over other competitive companies can you name?

– I have already stressed that certain postulates of our business policy were defined right from the start of our operations and we still do not deviate from them. Professionalism, correctness in business, flexibility and fast adaptation to new conditions in the market, creativity, coverage for all segments of transport and good position in aforementioned market make a very good basis for successful operations. It is very important that behind everything listed above stands a real quality in the very business. We quite often witness the lack of quality practice behind a very pompous marketing appearance.

Without a vision and carefully chosen goals, chances to achieve a significant success are small. If you add to this equation a well-composed expert team made of smart, cultured, fighting and persevering young people, you can count on success with a great dose of certainty. In order to rise above the average, you must have an above-average staff.

On the other, but equally important, side is the method and quality of company organization. In order for everything to function well, you must timely react to all happenings in the market, innovations in information and technological systems, you must know when the certain level of development of the company is surpassed to take a qualitative leap in each segment of business and company organization. Not every decision gives good results, but it is very important to make it and, thus, avoid confusion among employees.

Aside from everything mentioned above, it should also be noted that Agent Plus delivers a complete service of organization of transport of various shipments and goods. A modern way of organization of door-to-door cargo transport entails collecting goods from the manufacturer or vendor, transporting them to the desired destination and meeting all specific requirements in terms of temperature, size and other characteristics of goods, insuring goods, providing various permits, certificates, preparing necessary documents, constantly monitoring the transport, and reporting to the dispatcher and recipient of on the whereabouts of goods. On request, we store goods in a warehouse and do the customs brokerage. We very carefully choose companies to work with when delivering our services, meaning that we hire high-quality shipping companies, transporters, control and insurance companies, freight-forwarders and other companies that are all important links in the complex chain of multimodal transport, which allows us to meet all requirements, even some quite non-standard ones, as well as to offer a very competitive pricing.

eKapija: How do you evaluate cooperation with competent government bodies and domestic and foreign expert institutions and professional associations?

– I am deeply convinced that the cooperation with government bodies and professional associations in the country and abroad represents a mutually beneficial necessity. The Agent Plus group has a good cooperation with the Ministry of Construction, Infrastructure and Transportation of Serbia, as well as with competent ministries in countries where our independent enterprises operate. We also have a dynamic cooperation with the chambers of commerce of Belgrade and Serbia and the Faculty of Transportation in Belgrade. This list is not final given that the nature of our business requires us to join and communicate with numerous international professional associations, which definitely contributes to the greater quality of our operations and bigger volume of work.

In partnership with the Serbian Ministry of Construction, Infrastructure and Transportation and the Faculty of Transportation in Belgrade, we initiated the launch of Forum Talas conference, where all important topics pertaining to water transport, vocational training and education, new technological solutions and other issues relevant to the development of water transport in the region. The foums has grown into a significant professional event where all subjects whose operations have something to do with water transport can receive the information they need as well as education.

This year, at the invitation of the Ministry of Construction, Infrastructure and Transportation of Serbia, we organized an expert discussion about the status of shipping agents and brokers in the Draft of the new Law on Commercial Shipping. On that occasion, a very constructive discussion was initiated, resulting in the acceptance of suggestions relating to the status and obligation of licensing the activities of shipping agents and brokers, as well as protection of participants in transport in case of inability to collect claims.

It is important to underline that Agent Plus has become an associate member of the Federation of National Associations of Ship Brokers and Agents (FONASBA). So far, we are the only associate member of this Federation from Serbia, but our membership provides us with an opportunity to make it possible for the Republic of Serbia to take part in the work of FONASBA through Agent Plus, initiate the formation of the national association and, thus, be at the source of all the latest events in the world of water transport, shipping mediation and representation on European and global level. Through promotion and application of FONASBA quality standards, Serbia has a chance to attract a large number of renowned shipping companies that got used to operating in financially and professionally stable conditions. Membership in this organization also contributes to international reputation of our company.

eKapija: Do the results the company achieved fit in with your long-term vision for the development of Agent Plus?

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– Eight years ago, we brought the most important and priceless capital to Agent Plus: experience, know-how, plenty of energy and commitment, knowledge of regional market, and openness to the opportunities that globalization offers, but it also got refined with the advantages we have thanks to our quality personnel, vision and good knowledge of the local market. The result might be unusual for the Serbian economic scene, but also expected to those who had known us from before. It was really necessary to have courage and embark on this venture. Today, Agent Plus is one of the leading regional companies when it comes to the organization of all types of transport, with the reputation of a reliable and secure company.

I am surely satisfied with what we have achieved. Maybe these results even exceed initial expectations. I say ‘maybe’ because we haven’t set any limits on new initiatives and ideas in our company. So it is normal to expand the plans with new projects. Last year was a record-breaking in terms of both turnover and profit. But our business registers an enviable growth every year. In 2014, the volume of operations grew between 27 and 48%, depending on the business segment. When we know that 2013 was also a record year, then the results we achieved gain even more in importance. I would especially like to point out that the increased volume of business did not affect the quality of our services. Namely, last year we enhanced the quality of our services that has already made us recognizable in the market. Despite these results, I think we keep both feet on the ground and that we are not blinded by our results. We know that the moment ideas and energy disappear, when you stop moving forward, you’re on the definite road to stagnation and failure.

We follow global commercial and marketing trends in our business, integrating technological development into our operations. Last year we completed a complex process of introducing ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software, which we developed by ourselves with the support of first-class young experts from Serbia. All our companies in neighboring countries are now part of this system, which is great as we can use the latest data and information to make timely and sound decisions.

The Agent Plus group employs more than 100 workers, meaning that we have quintupled the number of employees in eight years.

It is very important that the progress is made by all members of the Agent Plus group – in Croatia, Romania, Montenegro, and Serbia.

eKapija: What else can Agent Plus boast about?

– Although I already spoke about results of Agent Plus in 2014, I must also stress that based on an analysis of last year’s financial operations done by the leading Swedish group Bisnode, which is a leader in the Serbian digital information market doing the certification of the most successful companies in Serbia by the license of Dun&Bradstreet and whose core activity is providing business and credit rating information, Agent Plus got a high business (credit) rating score for the second consecutive year – the AA solvency excellence rating, thus joining only 1% of active companies in Serbia having this rating.

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Last year we took several significant steps for the company that might also be interesting for the Serbian economy. The entire previous year was marked by No. 1. Namely, we became the first company in Serbia to obtain GMP+ certificate, which is a must-have for all links in the chain of production and transport of animal food that is shipped to ports in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria and it applies to manufacturers, transporters to the port of loading, the port itself, trucks, ships, railways and brokers participating in the organization of transport. This certificate opened the door for us to organize the transport of animal food to the markets that we already covered with the transport of other kinds of goods.

In partnership with the Miteco company, we took part in a pilot project calling for the first time ever for exporting toxic waste from Serbia by river. Before this project, toxic waste was transported by road, regardless of the fact that the transport by river is not only more environment-friendly due to a smaller emission of exhaust gases and the possibility of transporting a bigger amount of waste at once, but also cheaper, while the difference in the duration of transport is insignificant.

The fact that we are leaders in a number of fields speaks in favor of not only proactive approach of the company in the fields in which we operate, but also of our goal to win the No.1 spot in the organization of transport and logistics in the market of Southeast Europe.

eKapija: What are your plans for the following period?

– I already stressed that we had achieved more than planned in the previous period. Not because our plans are modest, but because our plans and activities are very dynamic. This year we are finished a large project involving the acquisition and commissioning of our own transportation capacity on the Danube. The plan is to hire 10 to 15 professionals in this area of business. It is only a logical continuation of our broker activities pertaining to the organization of river transport, which will still remain in the focus of our operations. Our own vessels will only increase our capacity and quality in this sphere of business.

Also, we have completed all logistics preparations for the expansion of our LCL shipping service from the Far East, Oceania and India, with direct consoles to Croatia, Central Europe, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Due to increased interest of our clients, we will also work on the expansion of our storage capacity. Growth of exports in all countries of our region will give us an opportunity to keep up with this growth by increasing the number of containers and amount of goods in export.

Mid-2015 saw us opening a business unit in Podgorica because we will have increased activities in Montenegro in the following period on the implementation of capital project – construction of Bar-Boljare highway, in cooperation with China Road and Bridge Corporation, with which we also successfully worked on the construction of Zemun-Borca Bridge. Our team in Novi Sad is expanded substantially as we intend to increase our presence in the market of Vojvodina in the time to come.

The plan is also to significantly improve our range of port agency services. Although Agent Plus is already a leader in this field, we want to increase the level and volume of our services significcantly through the monitoring of vessels in ports, organization of supplies for vessels along the entire navigable section of the Danube River through Serbia, and the provision of all other services that domestic and foreign shipping companies require. Based on our experience, it is necessary to form a quality and comprehensive offer for port agency services in line with European standards, while also making operations in the grey zone impossible, protecting the property of shipping companies and allowing them to feel more secure and do their job faster.

The forthcoming period will most certainly be also marked by an intensive work on the implementation and development of ERP and new technological solutions and IT innovations. We will also work on the improvement of structure of companies within our group. This is not where our plans end. We have just mentioned few plans that seem more significant then others and deserve more attention.

For Table of Contents of the Topical Newsletter “Logistics Drives Your Business”, click HERE.