„CLIMBING THE LADDER OF SUCCESS”: BORIS ACKOVSKI – FROM A SHIFT SUPERVISOR TO A MEMBER OF THE TOP MANAGEMENT AND OPERATIONS MANAGER FOR NON-ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES AT PIVARA SKOPJE

Their personal qualities have brought them great professional success. Today they are members of managerial teams and are leading the most successful companies in the country. These are the stories of the successful Macedonians that we will publish in the rubric – Climbing the Ladder of Success. Fakulteti.mk and the Educational Centre of Pivara Skopje, through the Skills for Success training, are showing you the way to the stars.

“Often the operative is the boss. Everything depends on him, even my job, even though I am his supervisor. I need to observe, to ask, to listen in order to learn. If you have a university degree, it does not mean that you are the best. The individual is the most important and his role in the whole team. And we all exist for his majesty – the customer. He is everything to us,” says Boris Ackovski, Operations Manager in charge of the entire production process of non-alcoholic beverages in Pivara Skopje. He runs the plant where the beverage number one in the world is being produced – Coca-Cola. Along with the other brands, each year they produce 65 million liters of non-alcoholic beverages. He started working in Pivara Skopje 15 years ago as a shift supervisor, but today he is part of the top management. This is his story.

Since elementary school he was drawn to mathematics and physics. He went to competitions and it was quite logical that he will continue his education in “Orce Nikolov” or “Korcagin”.

– With several friends, we decided to go to “Orce Nikolov”. Super school. I have many beautiful memories and friendships that still last. When the time came to enroll in college, I was at a crossroads, because at the same time I practiced handball. However, I decided on the Faculty of Electrical Engineering (direction: power engineering). The faculty was difficult and demanded a lot of engagement. Lectures, exercises, colloquia, in order to pass more easily on the exam. In the second year it was easier, you get the rhythm. I was not the best, but I was a good student. I started in October 1994 and I graduated in November 1999 – he says.

While he was studying, he thought he would design power plants, substations, because this was his profession. But he did not work a single day in his profession and what he studied for (except for the internship at Emo-Ohrid, at the office in Saraj).

 

At that time, it was more difficult to find a job

He graduated and it was time to look for a job. Unlike today, there were fewer opportunities and it was harder to find a job. He applied for several positions – it was important for him to start working. So he started at Hi-Tech, a company producing electronic printed circuit boards for cars that at that time was at the beginning. He worked on the design of the boards. He had knowledge of electrical engineering, computers, so he easily learned the whole process.

– But it was a computer-related job, sitting for 8 hours, preparing the boards for production. And I have a more dynamic temperament. Even today, it’s hard for me to be tied to the office for hours, to work on reports. Then I started to work in the production section, and that suited me more, I learned about the processes, the organization of work. I stayed there for three years,” says Ackovski.

In the meantime, he got married. His son is 13 years old and his wife is an economist, financial director at a well-known construction firm in Skopje. Soon after getting married, a job advertisement for Pivara Skopje came out. His CV was ready, but he was indecisive when it came to sending it. On the last day, his spouse has sent the envelope.

– I told myself, it would be in vain to apply. There the competition is huge. In Hi-Tech it was nice, the job was fulfilling me. But I worked in shifts, so I was not free for the weekends. After a while I got a call from Pivara Skopje. The testing began, then several interviews followed and the process started to move. And so I started working for Pivara Skopje in 2004. I started at the plant for production of non-alcoholic beverages as a shift supervisor. And once again, I worked in shifts. That was my karma, but I was already used to it – jokes Ackovski.

 

The operative is the main man

At Hi-Tech he learned a lot, how to organize the production, quality control, safety at work and he very easily fitted into the new environment. But in Pivara Skopje he was surrounded by many good people, from the machine operators to the superiors, who introduced him to the work. At that time, all newly employed went through a cycle of two weeks. They had trainings to get to know the company, how the sectors operate, the employees, what is teamwork, communication, quality, etc.

– These were intensive trainings, spending 8 hours in the classroom; representatives from all sectors came and talked about their part of the work. It was interesting. Then I switched to the section where I had to work and I could easily make the first step – I already had foreknowledge. That’s good at Pivara Skopje – they do not expect you to finish the work the first day. You have a certain period of time to adapt to the environment. It is important during this period to show that you can communicate well with the people, that you want to learn, that you are curious and that you are interested. When they give you a task, you’re even happy. My colleague and I shared the same computer for two years. We were employed together at the same time, as engineers of production. I spent eight hours a day in production, I studied the processes. The company invested in me and someone allowed me to learn it all, to follow the things, to acquire the knowledge, and then to deliver results. That’s something rare,” says Ackovski.

Every day was a challenge. In the area where he works there is a lot of technical equipment – machines, equipment, various installations, for electricity, gas, water, automated machines with inspection cameras. From a technical point of view, his desire for technology was satisfied and he was involved in what he studied. But he also had space to learn a lot, so in the course of time he also became a technologist and mechanical engineer after being an electrical engineer.

– Over the years, I upgraded my knowledge. Now I know about technology and microbiology, food safety and mechanical engineering much more than electrical engineering. It is important that you want to learn, to be interested. There are people with great knowledge around you and you need to use it. I was very lucky; starting from the ordinary operator working on a machine, all the way to the director of production, everyone had great knowledge. You will learn the most from the operative. If you sit next to him, you ask, you talk to him, if you collect information, he will explain everything to you. He is here all the time, 8 hours with the machine, he sees it, he knows how it works, knows every detail about it, every screw. If you want to learn, he will tell you. You just need to approach him correctly, to help him whenever it’s needed. If you have graduated from college, it does not mean that you are at a higher level. He’s the main man. If you want to learn, to help, to be interested in the work of the others, they will accept you – Ackovski is decisive.

 

The great test

Over the years he has seen all kinds of situations. People who want to manage the team after three working days. You cannot do that, he says. Until you learn the work of the people you work with, you cannot manage the team.

– You do not know the weight of their work. Either you will overload a person or he will not be used. Today I have a team that is under 30 years. They run the whole plant. What we are looking for, what we see in the individual is how much he wants to receive knowledge, to communicate, to progress, to learn more about the things he needs to do – explained Ackovski.

In the first years he worked as a shift supervisor at the plant for non-alcoholic beverages. He had his own team, he led the shift. They started to achieve great results. And the company has a system to identify people who produce good results and have the desire and capacity to take an extra step.

– Over time, the company gives you the opportunity to learn, advance, have various trainings, in terms of organization, people management, leadership, finance. The company invests in your knowledge and your skills are increasing over time. However, the company invests only in the employees who give a signal that they want the company to invest in them – he is decisive.

Then he was given a project in Pivara Skopje. In both plants, he was supposed to implement new work management systems – Lean Manufacturing Management. The corporate project was realized in the entire Coca – Cola Corporation, and he was given the opportunity to lead the project in Macedonia. He already had experience from several plants in the region – in Belgrade, Kostinbrod near Sofia, Zagreb, Sarajevo. He learned, he gathered experience. The new system was successfully implemented and it opened a door for him to progress in his career.

– It was a kind of test. We implemented the systems and in the coming years we had huge benefits – from the aspect of efficiency, productivity, cost reduction. And so I became the manager of the whole production of non-alcoholic beverages – Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite, Schweppes and all the extensions and different flavors that come after them. Since last year we also have non-carbonated beverages – Next Joy that we produce here. It was also my project. They promoted me to an operations manager for non-alcoholic beverages – says Ackovski.

 

How does the production part of the non-alcoholic beverages in Pivara Skopje work

Today, he runs all the processes related to non-alcoholic beverages in Pivara Skopje – import of non-alcoholic beverages, planning of deliveries (as different raw materials are imported from different countries), production, quality control, safety and health at work, maintenance and engineering projects, all processes. Literally everything from the beginning, from planning of raw materials and supplies, deliveries, arrival, storage, conversion to finished products, all the way to distribution.

Annually they produce 65 million liters of non-alcoholic beverages. Most of them are for our market, but one part is exported. Ackovski explains that the Coca – Cola Corporation is functioning completely the same everywhere – the organization, the way of work, the processes, the organizational structure is literally the same. Perhaps the plant has a different size, but the essence is the same. It’s a system that must be the same everywhere. Pivara Skopje is the only plant in the world where the employees can be part of two systems – Coca Cola HBC and Heineken. Everywhere in the world they are separated, only here they work together. Thus the employees draw on knowledge from both systems, from every aspect – organization, people, markets.

– The main obligation is to cover the domestic market. It’s our mission number one. We must not remain without a product on the Macedonian market, and then everything that we have as an extra capacity we can use to meet the needs in the region – explains Ackovski.

It is more than clear who is the most sought after and best-selling product. More than 50% of the total production comes from the Coca-Cola brand, and in the other half, the other beverages are added. Pivara Skopje is part of the Coca – Cola HBC – the authorized company for production of the non-alcoholic beverages of the Coca – Cola Company that operates in a total of 28 countries in Europe and in Nigeria, Africa. They also work on many joint projects with other countries.

 

The company is not leaving you in a comfort zone

15 years ago he was responsible for a team of three or five. It was important to him that there were no problems in his shift, to provide a quality product, the health and the safety of the employees not to be threatened, to have appropriate working conditions, to fulfill the norm, to keep the team motivated. Today, he manages 65 people who coordinate and organize all the processes, literally the entire plant.

– Every higher position carries more responsibility, and this is normal. Everyone has a choice. We are not an isolated island, we do not work for ourselves, but for Pivara Skopje and it is important that the company sells the product on the market. We are all in the service to sell that product, for it to have the highest quality on the market at any time. And we make all the plans in that direction. The company is not leaving you to sit in a comfort zone; it offers you new challenges all the time. And that’s good – it keeps you awake, gives you the opportunity to learn, and that’s very important. Personally, I have participated in many projects that have been associated with other sectors – Finance, Commerce, Logistics, wherever there was a need to be involved in projects. They even let me run projects that are outside of my sector. And that’s good because you get to new horizons. You may discover something about yourself in some other part of the job – says Ackovski.

Because the market and the customers are the most important, each employee goes on the ground to see what’s happening there, how the products and the advertisements should be placed in the stores and markets. Every employee should hear the buyer’s voice.

– The one who buys the product is everything to us. And we do everything to please him. Let’s hear the reactions. The one who works in production does not know the weight of the work of the one who works in commerce and who every day faces satisfied or dissatisfied customers. And he thinks, “I am working on a machine, in three shifts, the colleagues from commerce must have an easier job.” But when he will accompany that person for one week, he will see what kind of a working day his colleague has and he will realize that it is not at all simple. Like that we all become aware of what matters to us as a company – explains Ackovski.

 

Everything which is excessive is not good

He says that he cannot resist it himself. “Yes, I drink it, I love it. It’s the most delicious.”

– We are constantly giving new proposals and options. Apart from the standard Coca – Cola, the consumers can also consume Coca – Cola Zero. All of us who are part of this business are the ambassadors of this product, each employee individually. And we know from what the product is made and we promote it everywhere, we explain it to the people. To all who ask us, we tell them the recommended dose to drink and emphasize that you need to be physically active. Everything is written on the declaration.

Everything which is excessive is not good, and our motto is to consume everything moderately – says Ackovski.

In 1920, the Coca-Cola Company used the feature of Santa Claus for the first time in the Christmas advertisements. A few years later, the company helped create the image of the white-bearded old man who today is an inevitable part of the New Year’s holidays around the world.

– For us the most frequent period is before the New Year, that’s the time when it’s sold the most. Of course, apart from July and August, when there are over 40 degrees outside – says Ackovski.

That the whole company exists for the consumers and buyers and their requirements, shows the telephone line, which everyone can call, satisfied or dissatisfied customers. If the remark is related to the production, the employees of this sector must contact the buyer or the consumer within one day in order to answer his questions and explain everything that interests him. Often Ackovski does that too.

– There was an interesting question: “After you open the bottle, how much time can it sit on the table before drinking it?” I said, until it’s delicious, you can drink it. But, let’s put the joke aside, on each bottle there is a shelf life and we guarantee that the product will be good, open or closed, until that date, says Ackovski.

 

We cannot afford protection, and no quality

Did he think that he would reach this position 15 years ago? Ackovski says that at the beginning you cannot know what to expect.

– I think that a person should not set specific goals, but find what fulfils him; he should try to get more knowledge and to learn more. Everyone can get to where they did not suppose they would be. Honestly, I have not set up an objective to be here. The development of the events brought me here. In general, Pivara Skopje prefers for the things to function that way. As a system we cannot afford to work on a level of connections and protections, so there won’t be any quality – explains Ackovski.

Such is the company’s system. Each year there is an assessment, creation of individual development plans based on the performance that the employee has given in the past period. The estimates are given by the superiors and people who are on the same level with the individual. Ackovski says this is a very open process – if you want to advance, you have to fulfill what is required of you.

– The system is designed so that the quality must come to the surface. You can be the best in everything, but if you do not have good communication with the people, you have to overcome that shortcoming. So a plan will be made how to overcome that and create a change in you. If not, it immediately signals that your potential is not at the level required by the company. The system itself guides the things. There are very clear criteria, rules, about who, what, where and how should do – explained Ackovski.

Thus, development plans are made for a longer period, for 2-3 years, and the place is positioned up to where a particular employee needs to progress.

– There is an open communication and everything works. I openly ask every employee in my team, where he sees himself in 2-3 years, so we can make a plan how to get there. My success is if I bring him there – Ackovski is decisive.

 

What best Coca – Cola in the world means?

He tells everyone who would like to be part of the company to be persistent, persevering, to want to face the challenges, not to flee, to deviate, to want to learn, to be curious, to gather as much as knowledge as possible. Every job is an experience plus, which in the future will pay off in some way. If I was a student now, looking for a job, once again, I would not be too picky about the jobs.

– As a student I worked at a bakery, and in cafes. And all of that has brought me here. Acquaintances, constantly new contacts or persistence, all of that is a plus and in some situation it will separate you from the rest – says Ackovski.

When asked if he feels satisfaction that he manages the plant that produces the most famous beverage in the world, he answers:

– Because I produce it, I feel responsible that the product must be 100 percent of high quality. I cannot make a mistake. Why is Coca – Cola the number one brand? Because the quality is always superb and it’s the same everywhere. There is no difference. Wherever you go, you get the same. It is a challenge, but also a pleasure. You can boast that you are making the best Coca – Cola in the world. It’s interesting. Especially because you can compare yourself with the others, because we have such information from the surrounding countries. Coca – Cola produced in Pivara Skopje was selected twice as the best in the whole world. This means that everything that came out of our factory on the market was 100 percent quality. There is no deviation from the standard quality parameters that the company prescribes. What we give to the customers is 100% good and the formula for the best Coca – Cola in the world is due to the combination of the best quality raw materials, the most sophisticated equipment and, most importantly, qualified and well-motivated employees – concludes Ackovski.

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