A Sardar in SloveniaTIM JUDAH
AT first glance of his business card you could be forgiven for thinking that he is called Marmorni Obok, which would be an unusual name for a Sikh as it means “Marble Arch” in Slovene.
In fact Mehtab Singh’s name is written in very small type in the top corner of the card and this is the name of his company. He wanted it to be called Marble Arch, but when he registered the company, here in Slovenia, he was told that it had to have a Slovene name. Its logo is that of the London Underground with Marmorni Obok in the middle, just like Marble Arch tube station.
Trying to get an English name of his company registered seems to have been one of the few problems Mehtab Singh, who is 27, has had in setting up the European arm of his family’s company in Slovenia.
Back home in Ludhiana, Punjab, it employs some 200 people producing teas and cosmetics including facemasks, shampoo and conditioners. Large foreign companies have found it notoriously difficult to set up shop in Slovenia, but not Mehtab Singh.
“It took me 20 minutes to register the company,” he says. To get all the paperwork together in India to do what he has done here, he says, would take five years. And not just that. People have ideas and offer him help, not least the municipality in Kranj, where he has opened his business, to import and manufacture some of the same products as the company back home.
Mehtab Singh cuts a striking figure as he is, quite possibly, the only Sikh in Slovenia. What he has to say about the country and why he came here in 2011 provides an interesting insight into why he decided to open up the European market for his business here, apart from costs.
It is all about reputation.
First of all, he says, Indian and Chinese companies in his line of business have a declining reputation when it comes to product standards. He recounts how in 2010 the European Union banned Indian honey because of cases of adulteration.
A frequent visitor to Slovenia before moving here, Mehtab says that if he tries to sell his products in the former Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria or even Norway, the “Made in Slovenia” brand really counts for something.
“I am also planning to go into Russia and there too it [“Made in Slovenia”] has a value, but so does anything made in Europe and Europeans are not using their reputation to its full extent.”
To date Mehtab has seven employees, though only two of them are actually Slovene. He wants young people because “they are faster” and finds that young Bosnians and those from other parts of the former Yugoslavia are more amenable to hard work than young Slovenes.
Today Slovenia’s economy is under extreme pressure and its banks are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy but Mehtab does not seem unduly worried. Referring to his teas he says that for a population of just over two million Slovenia has an awful lot of places that serve tea. According to their statistical office there are 5,103 cafés, restaurants, cafeterias and other places registered which can serve tea. This means that there is roughly one for every 402 Slovenes, which makes for fertile ground for a pioneering Punjabi venture.
[Courtesy: The Economist. Edited for sikhchic.com]
September 26, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Ari Singh (Sofia, Bulgaria), September 26, 2012, 8:06 AM.
Good luck, Mehtab Singh ji. I am in real estate business and planning to move into other lines such as foods and cosmetics. I would be glad to offer you any assistance you need to enter Bulgarian, Ukranian and Cyprus markets. I plan to introduce food products into Slovenia, so if you have any interest, let's exchange contact details.
2: John Mesec (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), September 26, 2012, 5:12 PM.
Interesting acculturation going on here. As an ethnic Slovene, I would be careful to say young Slovenijans are adverse to hard work as it is arguably only the hardworking nature of the Slovenijan people that have kept the domestic economy competitive during this economic downturn. However, I think it is absolutely amazing that Mehtab Singh ji has decided to venture to Slovenija. Slovenija, as opposed to other European markets, although small, is very well situated in Europe and also known for its creative and progressive approach to business. All the best in your efforts and as they say; Srecno pot!
3: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 26, 2012, 5:23 PM.
Wow!... the world is teetering on the brink and we have this Sikh guy breaking into Slovenia! Mehtab Singh is the future!
4: Hitpal Singh (New Zealand), October 01, 2012, 11:25 AM.
Keep it up. Every step taken will be a new beginnig especially when turban is under a lot of bigoted pressure in some European countries.