Expansion mindset

The knowledge it takes to become a leader is often found in mysterious places. For GORICA Group’s owner and Active Chairman, Ivan Fornazaric, it all started in the farming lands of socialist Yugoslavia. Far from the green fields and picturesque mountains of his youth, he reflects on his life and how it has shaped him into a powerful player in the Middle East’s trailer manufacturing industry.

Post-war socialist Yugoslavia was not typically a place where someone could discover their passion for entrepreneurship or learn to embrace innovation, but Ivan Fornazaric considers himself lucky to have grown up with parents who believed in the rewards of progress and were willing to take big risks to get them.

Fornazaric’s father was a farmer at a time when the government was keeping a sharp eye on the goings on of the working class, ensuring no one was individually benefiting from business growth or private enterprise. Not deterred, he became the first in the family’s province to own modern agricultural equipment.

“My father was the furthest example of a typical farmer,” said Fornazaric.

“He was a confident man and I learned from him that confidence comes from within by putting plans to action. He was always a go-getter in his work.”

That lesson has helped Fornazaric weather the storms that come with both enterprise and international strife to build the one of the largest manufacturers of truck bodies, trailers, semi-trailers in the United Arab Emirates.

But there is another aspect to his success – he loves trucks and trailers and has vivid recollections of taking vehicles apart as a child, studying and then rebuilding them.

“My best memory is when my brother Aleksander and I built a go-cart using a scooter engine,” he said. “Boy, did we have a blast speeding on that scooter around the farmlands.”

Ivan Fornazaric.

Fornazaric’s interest in all things mechanical saw him attend an engineering boarding high school. He secured an internship at a national trailer company where he was able to work during the summer holidays, moving across different production lines. While earning a commerce degree, he continued to work for the company as a technician designing tipping trailers.

When the company started to look for markets to export to, he put his hand up and was selected to join the export department. Along with a senior colleague, he became responsible for the Middle East.

“My first business trip was to Syria and Lebanon, which at the time was facing civil war, but fast forward some years later and I secured an opportunity to represent the company in Kuwait.”

That was 1987 and it was also when his Middle East journey truly began.

Arab arrival
Fornazaric’s time in Kuwait wasn’t lengthy. By 1990 he had been forced out because of the Iraqi invasion and subsequent Persian Gulf War. He had to decide whether to return to his homeland and search for a new job or stay in the Middle East and set up his own company. The problem was Eastern Europe, at the time, was proving to be turbulent as well.

He decided to make the United Arab Emirates his home and his move to Dubai was a welcoming experience for him and his family as they were among many foreigners and Kuwaitis taking refuge there. It looked nothing like it does now, he recalled.

“Back then, it was not uncommon to have camels crossing the road, and there weren’t any skyline towers of course,” he says adding that at the time, his children, Luka and Andreja, loved riding dirt bikes in the desert behind the compound where they lived.

It was in Dubai that he set out on his own establishing GORICA and continuing to sell trailers in the Gulf region.

His first company GOTRADE LLC, which is the predecessor to GORICA, and today’s trading arm of GORICA, was formed in 1990, just before the breakup of Yugoslavia which saw his home become, in part, an independent Slovenia.

“There were opportunities but huge risks as well,” he said – crediting Dubai for offering a positive and open business climate. “Partly it was being in the right place at the right time, but it was also because of the person I had become, and my drive to set something up on my own.”

Challenge and triumph
The organisation moved quickly from importing trailers into the UAE to assembling them and then finally, complete manufacturing, opening a facility in Jebel Ali Industrial Area in 1998.

The company also had to deal with the fallout of the American invasion of Iraq and regular months of turbulence in Africa. These events however, he says, made the company stronger and able to adapt to any situation thrown at it.

“These are all parts of the world where I was physically located and doing business,” he said. “Not only did we survive as a company, but I would say that we even grew during these times. One must accept that challenges happen, but you have to take and accept them, and with some luck they become opportunities.”

Setting up a home, life and business in a foreign country would presumably be fraught with cultural challenges but Fornazaric says Dubai has long been open and tolerant to all cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

“Dubai accepts that we all have different backgrounds and that is what makes the society stronger,” he said. “There are only few places in the world where you can make such amazing connections with people coming from literally all ends of the globe.”

Adding to that is the fact that Dubai was, and still is, very much open for global business which he says is thanks to the foresight of the country’s leaders who have created a welcoming environment for investment.

Reflecting on the past few decades, a few milestones stand out to Fornazaric. The first and foremost was the establishment of GORICA’s independent trailer manufacturing in the UAE in 1998, followed by the purchase of the Krone factory assets in Demark and their relocation to Dubai. Over the years GORICA has opened sales and service, manufacturing companies in the Sultanate of Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as become partners and represent brands that include Farid, Zoeller, Moro, Cubas Segre.

“GORICA’s success is not linked to only one success factor but a combination of many, including hard work, dedication, focus on quality and after sales service, staying true to the brand without compromise and especially staying humble,” he said.

This philosophy has helped them weather economic storms over the decades. Fornazaric describes the turbulence as a rollercoaster with a steady stream of downturns and rebounds, some of which have been wholly unique to the region. He sees the rollercoaster ride as resilience-building.

“We need to understand that the Middle East and Africa, where we mainly operate, are very fragile economies,” he said. “If we compare this to the US, UK, the EU and other developed economies, this is what gives us the edge. We are used to acting very quickly because we have become accustomed to such rollercoaster situations.”

The future
For someone who is known for being hands on in the business, the most recent company change is a personal one – hiring its first CEO. Fornazaric will take on a new role as ‘Active Chairman’.

In his mid-sixties now, he says his day looks slightly different to what it did when he was 35, but he still goes into the office every day. “I travel a little more, and occasionally spend a random day here and there on the golf course, but my thoughts are always with the business, and I love it.”

Hiring the CEO, Martin Kolman, who was formerly the Vice President of transport manufacturing company Hyva, is part of what Fornazaric considers to be ambitious growth plans for GORICA over the next five to ten years.

Martin Kolman.

“We need to take the company and the group to a next level, and I know that more minds that think differently is the way forward to great things,” he said.

Domen Bocker, GORICA’s General Manager of Sales and Marketing, agrees. He said the company is fully focused on investing in new opportunities which include expanding its market reach across Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent State (CIS) countries, as well as institutional partners such as the UN, UNICEF and the Red Cross.

Domen Bockor.

“We are developing new products and re-engineering some existing ones to fit different markets and clients,” he said adding that GORICA’s green program, which focuses on electric, solar and hydrogen technologies, is also a top priority.

For Fornazaric, achieving those goals has a lot to do with continuing to learn from the past. Politically, he still keeps a watchful eye, knowing with experience how to navigate situations.

“We are of course concerned with the civil war in Sudan and the situation in Ethiopia, and we hope Iraq will come back strong and stable, but our surroundings have taught us to pivot and remain agile and understand that the there is no constant,” he says. “We must always be prepared to make changes as the environment around us changes.”

Fornazaric said he is proud of the products that the GORICA brand design and manufacture and is excited about what the future holds for the company.

“My work feeds me with energy, interest, and the urge to build the business further. I am truly passionate about Trailers.”

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