Radoslav Koshkov: I Love Directing What I Want to Happen

Radoslav Koshkov, Regional Manager of Schneider Еlectric for Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania и Kosovo had an interview for Manager Magazine on July, 2021

Team: Georgi Staykov, Yuliyan Donov, Rositsa Gerasimova

According to the statistics a person changes 7-8 jobs in 2-3 countries in hisentire lifetime. However, Radoslav Koshkov has been working for more than 20 years in the same place and has been managing a multinational company in 4 countries. We talk to him about the qualities of the manager of the future but first we take a stroll in the past that has passion, strategies and… film directing.

Did you find Schneider Electric, or did the company find you?

It happened in 2000. I had just graduated in Communications from the French Faculty of the Technical University but I already knew Schneider Electric. I had visited their manufacturing facilities in France. What impressed me then was that everything there was  well-structured and well-arranged. I saw a company that had changed, and I noticed that they were not only looking for new trends but had started to invest precisely in that direction. I applied for a job and it happened as it does in a marriage: I had a great interest and they were looking for that person. If I have to look at the facts, at that time I had better offers but somehow deep down in myself I had chosen Schneider Electric.

Which of the job interviews for Schneider Electric had the greatest importance for your future?

My first interviews were only two but both of them were very important. At the first one I was applying for a marketing position but they offered me a job at the Trade Department. By the way at our company these are two separate worlds. I do not know how my career would have started had I been selected for the first position because it did not fit me intrinsically. At the second interview I was very impressed with how well prepared the man who was asking the questions was. This was very instructive for me because when you select – as it often happens to me now – it is not enough to have merely read the applicant’s CV – you must have seen what “shows” through himself and ask very specific questions.

The interesting thing is that fifteen years later I had a deja-vu. There was a candidate  who apparently wanted to be part of the company but he was applying for a position for which, firstly, he was not very convincing before the interviewer that he really wanted it, and, secondly, it was clear that this was not his strength. Similarly to my case we offered him another position. He accepted, started from it, and currently his career at the company is rapidly advancing.

In One of Schneider Electric’s ads the company is explained by what it is not. What are you not as a manager?

I am not a person who loves telling people what to do. That’s not my job. I can give directions, I can “translate” the company’s strategy, I can decide something that has to be achieved but in reality it is the people who do it. There are a lot of cases where people ask me what they should do in a very perplexed situation. However, I do not know that well the situation, the customer, or the supplier.

My colleague is “inside,” he is in those things every day so I never them him what he should do, he has to find out on his own.

This is one of the things I have learned in my career when I was in dire straits and asked my manager: “Tell me what I should do now?” He explained  I had to find a solution myself , and I figured out a model that bore fruit almost immediately. Thus, from some quite weak results  not only did we break  even but we had a positive result. Then my manager told me: “What you did is absolutely correct. Most likely, I would have done the same but this is your model, not mine. And if I had made the decision you would not have suffered it, you would not have passed that road, that would not have been you model. You conceived it yourself, you suffered it, and you achieved that result, and deserevedly so.” That’s how that manager helped me by his behaviour and attitude not only to get the things clear for me but to go down that road myself.

Is this now your task – everyone to feel committed?

The main task of every leader or manager is to manage, commit and motivate people so that they deliver the results themselves. When you are on an executive position and think up something you can say: “I did that.” But when you are in a manager’s role you actually do not do anything alone: you deliver through your people. Everyhting is thanks to them. Like the coach who achieves the result through his team. That’s how it is, the leader is never alone.

You are talking about a team. How important is the competitive element?

One should not speculate much about the competitive element because you can have a competitive spirit but the question is what limits you set to yourself. Which is your competition? I am saying it because when someone or some team in  the company decides and starts competing with the others this is not quite well. Compete with the competitors.

If this type of competitive element is transferred among the people in a flat-structure company the collaboration among them will decrease. Opposition must always be constructive, within a certain framework. Like in matches we used to play with the colleagues some time ago. Once you happen to be with someone in  the same team, next time you are in with other people but you always do your best to win. But the game has its clear framework: there is a fair play, there is no aggression, and everything happens with the  full knowledge that the people you are in the same team with now might turn out to be your adversaries the next time.

When you were a kid did you want to be a coach?

I wanted to become a director and sometimes I ask myself the question why I did not do it. I have watched all Italian and French classic movies. I was also very impressed by  the films of Ingmar Bergman. Andrey Tarkovsky is also dear to me because of the way he speaks and the visuality he presents: the picture swallows you up, literally. In David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive I came across the idea that the way we perceive things around us determines our lives. The same thing is said in an even more concise and clear way in his book “Catching the Big Fish”: “The world is as you are.”

But I did not apply to study film directing. Then I was not so confident and since we’ve already spoke to one of the persons who have influenced me I can’t help but mention my wife Mariana who, years after, helped me be much more confdident – to realize and enjoy the success when I achieve something. And not to feel uneasy to say that I have been part of that thing. This is important because on that base you can buildon and on and make other things.

Does that mean that had you known Mariana at the time when you graduated from the French Language High School you would have been a film director now?

Perhaps I would Although back then I was not that confident, and I perceived film directing as a hobby rather than as a profession.

How does you knowledge of film directing help you?

I will explain by way of analogy: film director – coach – manager. Who wins? The team. Who is the most talked of? Either the leading actor, or the leading goal-scorer. However, the one in the background who builds all of that is the one who makes the difference. He is the one who creates the whole product and the feel – when everything has worked as it should have – that what’s been done is terrific. Yes, the game is always very important but for me it is very important who stands in the background. And I like that. I love directing what I want to happen. Finding the right people, seeing the entire “picture” and being “off-camera.” This is the film directorship in my work as a manager.

As far as I get it at Schneider Electric people can change their positions. How do you do that?

I firmly believe that people do change but to do so you must know what they love, what motivates them, what they can do best. And – something very important – what they might not know they can do while being good at it. Even when an employee thinks “I am just fine here!” we can find him or her a new place. This is our practice. We believe that by doing so one enriches oneself and when that happens she/he will contribute much more, both to himself/herself and to our company.

Yes but this causes stress to people…

Well, that is the delicate point of it. You must adopt yourself, follow the change, so that you can have a good dialogue and to get things done. That stress must be managed and here are the options you have. In the first case you call someone who is good at something and order him to move to another position. However, the second option looks like that: you sit down with that person and tell him: “Look now, we appreciate you as a staff member. We know you are very good at this or that. Now there is a new project and we think there is no one more fitting than you for that work. What do you think about it?”

There is a huge difference between moving someone to a new position and someone moving there with self-confidence , motivation and commitment. There is always fear of the unknown. This is what I tell to all of my employees. But when one wants it he  will always manage. I think that every change must be made with understanding and respect because it is part of the development of the person, the position and the company.

But every change creates conditions for omissions to happen. What is an error in your company – a possibility for checking the system or the shortest way to dismissal?

I think that “error” is not the appropriate word because it carries some historic ossification – someone has done a bad thing, the guilty one is wanted, followed by punishment. But if what has happened is a way to get “feedback,” to figure out what has gone wrong, the “error” is something constructive. A chance to know what happens and what does not. So the biggest mistake of the manager is to think he is error-free. We must make errors because this means we are trying. And the more you try the more you develop.

When was the last time you were criticized by an employee of yours?

Yesterday, indirectly. I am saying “indirectly” because it happened in front of more people but I got the message. There was a case of which I knew I had not done so as to get it solved quickly. Accordingly, I already did what had to be done but for me it is important to receive t such feedback.

I want to note that it is very important to distinguish criticism from assault. It is one thing to tell me something in order to make me feel bad, for instance. Then, go ahead, if you think that’s right… But it is quite different if you try to give feedback because I want to know right now that something is not OK and should be changed. So I have noticed that when you ask the question “What’s the aim of what you are saying?” the things get clear very fast and everything comes to its place.

Recently, we started “virtual breakfasts” in order to exchange thoughts and impressions more freely. Three times a year I meet my collegues from different departments in groups of 5-6 peopleWe are constantly discussing proposals of any kind and after we approve them we implement them immediately. For example the most recent proposal: during the pandemic a colleague “went” fully digital in terms of book reading. He said he would bring his paper books here, in the office, and whoever wants to read them will be able to do so in our relax zone. This is an example from the internal life of the teambut we also receive proposals related to the business practice.

If one wants to see the future close by one has to go to your factory in Plovdiv. Apparently changes do not wait but what do we have to prepare for as soon as possible?

For the future. The first thing is change, currently the digital transformation. The pandemic has shown that digitization is already here and we cannot ignore it because it is part of our everyday lives. We see how meetings can be conducted more efficiently, how a bigger group of people can be reached. The connectedness of technologies, systems, products, people in a microsystem makes everything happen more quickly and we are part of that, no matter if we want to or not.

At the same time we must know that those technologies are here to help us. To optimize our operations and make our time more efficient. Digital technologies are also a path to a greener future because we realized that resources, both our resources and the ones of the planet, are far from infinite.

What will the manager of the future look like?

Everything will become smarter, and this means that we will use technologies backed by artificial intelligence. The manager of the future will use a digital assistant. A technology that is fully aware of our habits and you will yourself determine what you want to know, watch, and listen to. The assistant might look like a hologram with the option for choosing different faces: as in the old and in the new version of the film Blade Runner.

This will make the manager of the future ???more efficient. Just as before, she or he will be short of resources, people, time and money but will be able to use much more smart solutions. Moreover, as until now, the paradox will remain: you will have a terrific amount of information but the screening will be increasingly difficult.

In any case, however, the manager of the future will be a human being for sure. And he or she will not manage robots. She or he will manage other people, will commit and motivate them. Recently, we often have to explain that at our smart factiry in Plovdiv we have no reduction in the number of staff but we have changed the profiles of people we are looking for. How they should be  trained and what new skills we will teach them at our training center.

Automated systems are managing our cities, we are doing more things via the Internet but the world looks like an increasingly insecure place. Is it possible for us to “fix” the future right now?

Yes, but as some teachings and religions say we have to choose the middle way between the two extremes. On the one hand, as we have already mentioned the so-called “connectedness,” you must have the freedom to choose. But that connectedness must not become an excessive falling for “everything is possible,” “everything is free.” Because this situation leads to the state called “abuse of freedom.” On the other hand, it is not necessary for us to turn to total security under the pretence that each of us is constantly and maliciously exposed because this restricts development and movement forward.

Everyone has the opportunity to make the conscious and well-informed choice as to what everyone wants to use while being aware of the risks. And we at Schneider Electric as a high-tech company must be led by the choice of the people and resort to neither of the two extremes. People must have trust in the specialized companies because it is precisely they that guarantee the middle way – both having as many opportunities as possible and being well-protected. That’s why one of our most important professional tasks is to inform our customers. And not to have them realize with surprise that they have given their consent to something they did not want at all. Or that they are not protected. Or that they are overprotected. I believe that in the future all important decisions will continue to be in the hands of the informed people and this is part of our mission. There is no way to accurately foresee the future but I am convinced that the best is yet to come.

[text on page 4 of the original document:]

Radoslav Koshkov took the position of General Manager of Schneider Electric for Bulgaria, Albania, North Macedonia and Kosovo in early 2019 after a long career in  the company. He has a Master’s degree in Electrical Engienering from the Faculty of French Training at the Technical University in Sofia and holds a professional certificate in management from the Open University in the United Kingdom under its partner program with the New Bulgarian University and a level 3 certificate under INSEAD’s Leadership Program.

His appointment marked a significant transformation in the local management since this was the first time the company was entrusted to a local manager, which he sees as proof of the development and ripening of the business environment in Bulgaria. Under his management in  pandemic conditions Schneider Electric has managed to avoid layoffs and has even extended its staff and remains an important investor in local economy.

[text on page 9 of the original document:]

Schneider Electric is a global specialist in digitization of energy management and automation. Translated into products and services this means a full portfolio of products for low- and mid-voltage power distribution, for industrial, building and home automation, infrastructure for data centers, digital applications and smart distribution network as well as services for the full lifecycle of the equipment.

The company has been operating in Bulgaria since 1997, and it has a factory here for 21 years now. In late 2019 the factory located in Plovdiv was certrified as a smart factory and became a corporate demonstration center for 14 countries from the region.

With its revenues of more than BGN 215 million in total Schneider Electric has significant presence in the Bulgarian corporate landscape and its numerous awards for employer mark, corporate social responsibility and innovative products rank it among the companies that are purposefully building a good business practice in Bulgaria.