Maxim Behar in the business podcast "What Money Can Do"January, 2023
Host: As I was preparing for today's edition, I came across a confession of yours that one of your favorite life rules is "If your dreams don't scare you, then they're not big enough." What was your big dream this year and did it come true?
Maxim: My dream this year was to do my job well, to have a good team, to get along with my colleagues, to keep my clients happy and my kids to love me. All this came true in a bunch. Even though this year, I'm now 28 years in business and 15-16 years in journalism before that, this year has been the hardest year to do business at all. Mostly because of three factors. The first, of course, is the "post-Covid" situation. We've had the post-covid, we've had various troubles, we've been cooped up at home, the pandemic and so on. However, it passed. We didn't know how it would pass, we didn't know if it would pass at all, what would happen. The second factor, of course, is the war and all these war-related consequences - inflation, shortage of raw materials, nobody's making chips. The third factor, however, I think is more long-term, and that is the new generation that is coming into the market. Generation Z, or as I called it in one of my books, Generation F. The new generation that's come on the market that are between 18 and 24.
Host: And what kind of factor is this that's now showing up on the market? In what sense are you talking about this generation? How do you see it as someone who is in business and knows about social media?
Maxim: These are young intelligent people, very well-educated, quick to fix, quick to react, who have not had any difficulty in their entire lives. Never, on any occasion. They don't remember hyperinflation, they don't remember the hard winters, they don't even remember the crisis of 2008-2009. These are my colleagues, we make a huge effort to train them on corporate standards, on attitude to work, on attitude to customers. These are young people who are quickly learning a profession, but they do not care very, very much whether it is this is their profession or the other or the third, they have a completely different value system.
Host: Let me interrupt you, because you say it is "good news" that they have not gone through these difficulties, however, to take you back to what you said a moment ago - "This is one of the most difficult years". Well, it is not just difficult for you, it is difficult for everyone, including this generation. How are these people going to cope without any preparation in a difficult time.
Maxim: This year, as difficult as it was, did not reflect so much on society in Bulgaria. Inflation, yes - 15-20%, we've never experienced anything like this before, but it's not some kind of shocking difficulty for a young person, who is supported by their parents, because now they are just starting out in business. Whether it's spending a little more money on a restaurant or buying one less loaf of bread a week, it's not a big drama.
Host: You mean the main inflation measure for this generation is their family?
Maxim: Rather, they feel this difficulty, but not as we have felt the difficulties in the past years. I hope that in 2-3 years this generation will come up to speed very quickly. But, for me, these three factors that met in 2022 created difficulties. On the other hand, they showed who can do how much. I have a friend who now runs a very large IT company, but when he was 20 years old, he was a sailor, he graduated from naval school, and he really wanted to shine. He went to the captain every day to ask him if he was any good. The captain got fed up at one point and said "Wait until the first storm comes and I'll tell you". Then you see when there is a tough year, when there is a storm that you have to overcome, when you have to get out of a tough situation, then you see who can do how much. In that sense, difficult years make good people.
Host: The year with the storm has come. Now, as a globally recognized PR expert, can you identify the events that are an absolute success or failure globally in 2022?
Maxim: It was filled, with great regret, with many more failures than successes. I don't divide it into pessimism and optimism, this is the situation, the real picture. I have already said about the war. What happened in Bulgaria cannot be optimistic and cannot be positive. We have not been able to form a government, a government has fallen that was legitimately elected after a very complicated scheme of compromise with a very thin coalition. We still do not have an elected government...
Host: However, you know what, I'm listening to you very carefully... You said a moment ago about the generation that is very highly educated. Well, this government that fell at the beginning of the year was again of people who are very well educated and where they need to be...
Maxim: Yes, I was, unfortunately, a big fan of these young people who had a good education, probably practical experience too. But they couldn't cope in the jungle of very complex relationships that exist on the Bulgarian political scene. There you have to have a bit of compromise, you have to have a bit more long-term vision. I cannot analyze why this government fell, but the fact is that it failed to do what we had high hopes for. To change the market in Bulgaria, to be able to fight inflation. After all, I have a degree in economics, and I am in business from morning to night. I have the feeling that the package of anti-inflationary measures that have been imposed have actually worked in the opposite direction and have increased inflation. I do not want to go into a subject that is not entirely mine, but the results are what they are. On the other hand, internationally, the war, the complicated relations... There was, however, good news in Bulgaria. Georgi Gospodinov's novel “Time Shelter” was published in more than 20 countries. I follow Georgi Gospodinov closely. It was and continues to be an extraordinary promotion for Bulgarian culture. Maria Bakalova was nominated for an Oscar and did some very good projects. Ruth Koleva signed with Warner Brothers. Polly Genova made a very good Christmas album, which I think is world class. I was one of the first to hear it. I mean, in culture, as much as we blame ourselves and say "Balkan culture", well, a lot of people came out and did something good. In business, we have several companies that are on international exchanges, one of them for EUR 280 million on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. A Bulgarian company that I have known since its foundation, which had 5-6 people in the company when I first saw them. Now they have over 1000 people. They produce very sophisticated smart home devices and own 40% of the German market. Bulgarian company! It's all made in Bulgaria and China, however it's sold everywhere. All technology development is actually happening in Bulgaria. There are several such companies that are very successful. So I think they give mobilization, especially to business, maybe they spoil the politicians. We in business are focused and purposeful, we change our values, we change our priorities.
Host: Now let's talk about 2013, generally one of the good years that the world was in. In general, after the 2008 crisis. Then you were elected chairman of the Davos PR Forum. Do you know Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum?
Maxim: Yes, I know him. We had good meetings with him. He wasn't very happy that we were doing a Communication Forum on the back of the World Economic Forum because we did it right after. So that all the company spokespeople, PR experts could join our forum as well. When it turned out that he wasn't so happy with that and that he just wanted to operate at that time, we started doing our forum a few months later. Moreover, we have PR experts coming to us from all over the world and, for example, our colleagues from Africa were very cold in February in Davos, so we decided to do it later in April. Unfortunately, we haven't done a forum for three years, but now we are planning to get together again in April 2023, as this year we had the ICCO Global PR Awards live again after a three-year break. Before that we had our PR Summit in Dubai live again for the first time in three years. Life is coming back, personal contacts are coming back, but the value system is changing completely. For example, we did the forum three years online and I always said how much money we saved. Hotels, transportation. The online forum was very successful because we recorded everything, then it's posted on the website, everyone can see it and download the recordings. There are advantages and disadvantages.
Host: We got there because of Covid, didn't we? And to bring the subject back to Schwab. Have you read the new book " Covid-19: The Great Reset "? What did you think of that book and the ideas it promotes?
Maxim: He basically doesn't give a very pretty picture of the world. But I agree with his thesis that business is changing its values entirely and that post-Covid, we're going to see an entirely different business. During the pandemic, I wrote a book, of course, I can't compare at all with Klaus Schwab, which is called "The Morning After," in which I analyzed everything that happened. Yes, I think everything around us has changed, we have changed and we don't feel it because we are in the forest and we can see the trees around us but we can't look at the trees outside. But if we stop for one day and go back 10 years, my business had nothing to do with what it is now, I had nothing to do with what I am now. We're far more pragmatic, we're far more results-oriented. In that respect, all this hysteria about the pandemic has been very sobering for business.
Host: I want to go back to a book of yours, "The Global PR Revolution," which has become one of the world's best sellers in this field. Who's the most famous reader you've autographed the book for?
Maxim: It was released late 2019 in America and a few months later in Iran, which surprised me. I have no recollection of who's the most famous, I've given it to presidents, I've given it to kings, I've given it to whoever. I think the most valuable reader I've signed it out to is a friend of mine, Paul Holmes. Probably not such a famous person, but in our circles, Paul Holmes is a great man, he is unreachable. And he actually wrote the foreword, which is on the back cover. He's really someone I've learned an awful lot from. I value my business colleagues the most because they will understand it. Inside there are the opinions of 100 experts from 65 countries. It gives a complete picture of what's happening in the PR business in general around the world, because I think our business is one of the main drivers of change in the world right now - social media.
Host: In Bulgaria you are a member of the Board of the Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum. Does this mean that these are the richest people in Bulgaria?
Maxim: No, not at all. I am one of the founders of the Forum. We don't look at who is rich. It was founded in 1998 by Prince Charles, now King Charles III, with one purpose - to encourage ethical and honest business in Bulgaria. He showed great interest and then came to Bulgaria. With us, the most important thing is to be transparent.
Host: And since we're on a business podcast called What Can Money Do? Can you give us a definition of a rich person in Bulgaria?
Maxim: A rich man is one who knows how to invest his money in an even more successful business. Today everyone is a leader. And I'll relate that to money. A good leader is one who knows how to make his customers happy and his colleagues happy. When you have horizontal management, my colleagues work well and give good service to our customers. I work well so I can manage my colleagues. A rich man is one who earns good money, but also knows how to invest it.
Host: And as we talk about rich people, how did you take the news that Elon Musk, the richest man, might visit Bulgaria?
Maxim: Nobody can assume that Elon Musk, who manages billions, manages his own social networks, but even if he is, at best he just sees a picture of the Belogradchik Rocks on his profile and goes, "Ah, how pretty they are." This is the most optimal, the best option. But that doesn't mean he's coming to Bulgaria at all, and all of a sudden some e-mails came... If he's coming, he's welcome. Of course, it was a made-up story. I really want him to come because Bulgaria should be put even better on the world map. And this is the job of several ministries, because Bulgaria is not just a tourist destination. Bulgaria is an investment destination, Bulgaria is the people, Bulgaria is all of us. There are great people here with European values, young, intelligent and they should be represented abroad. Bulgaria has neither a good logo nor a good slogan to the world. We also need a very good vision for 10 years ahead. Unfortunately, we do not have these things. I am optimistic and I believe that one day we will have them. Our country has enormous European value and we must constantly show it.
Host: A moment ago you mentioned the Seychelles. You are the Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Seychelles. It sounds very colorful, but what does it mean and what does it give you?
Maxim: This gives me the opportunity to get to know a wonderful people. And when I go to the capital city of Victoria, where there are 8,000 people, it means that I know everyone and everyone knows me. These are great people, very ethical, very punctual. Seychelles is the country with the highest percentage of protected areas - 65 percent of the territory. I visit the islands sometimes 4 times a year, sometimes 2 times a year. I have a lot to learn, I enjoy working for this country. The capital of any country is the people. And if we in our promotion of Bulgaria present the people, the successful businesses, artists,, athletes, writers, that is our great strength.