The financial giant Western Union had no plans to open in Lithuania. However, this all changed because of their Lithuanian American employee Gintaras (Gint) Baukus.
This is the story of the man who put Lithuania on the map as a location for the expansion of Western Union to Europe.
From 2008 to 2012, Lithuanian American Gint Baukus worked at Western Union as Senior Vice-President of Human Resources. In 2011, the company opened a service centre in Lithuania, an event which led to Lithuania becoming a magnet for large international companies looking to establish service centres.
“Lithuania was not among the 3 top-rated countries, it was not even among the finalists,” remembers Mr. Baukus. “When we were creating the plans for expansion, I was approached by a colleague who asked if I am from Lithuania. At that moment Lithuania was rated 35th on the list of more than 100 countries we had compiled. When he asked about the situation in the country, I replied that I haven’t been there in a long time, but we could go and see ourselves.”
According to Mr.Baukus, the airport and the road from it were not impressive, but they had been in worse places. Even though the visit was smooth (and bright and sunny, fortunately), upon their return Mr. Baukus realised that the chances of opening an office in Lithuania were still low. Then Mr.Baukus went to his father Mindaugas Baukus, then the Chairman of the Board of the Lithuanian Community in USA, for advice.
“My father told me that he would look into what he could do. I do not know exactly what contacts he used, but they reached the highest level government officials,” said Mr. Baukus, speaking at a forum organised by Global Lithuanian Leaders, a professional network.
Concerns offset by Government support
The right connections helped push Lithuania up the list, as did organising a repeat visit during which the Western Union delegation met the then Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius. Mr. Baukus calls this meeting the break through point in making the decision in favour of Lithuania.
“No other country has ever greeted us with a red carpet on the second meeting. It was a reception of the highest level. The Government told us that they would give us personal attention if we decide to expand to Lithuania. Since then, we have collaborated with them and received a lot of support in understanding the processes in Europe. It was probably the most important support that a Government could give us, and it offset our concerns about the lack of an international business presence in Lithuania at the time, and the political and economic stability in the country,” explained Mr. Baukus.
In the end, Western Union’s list came down to just three cities: Bratislava, Krakow and Vilnius.
Impressed by the talent
The final decision to choose Lithuania was influenced by many factors. At that time, the Chief Executive Officer of Western Union responsible for Europe, Hikmet Ersek, lived in Austria.
“He could not believe that Bratislava, which is close to Western Union’s headquarters in Vienna, was not chosen. I can assure you that, if there had been no direct flights from Vienna to Vilnius left following some airline companies withdrawing from Lithuania, then the decision to come to Vilnius could not have happened,” pointed out Mr. Baukus.
Vilnius stood out among the three cities due to its cost to quality ratio. Krakow and Bratislava had already received attention from large international companies, so the salaries there were higher and rising faster.
“The competence of the prospective employees impressed the visitors. Every person we talked to had a college or university education, spoke good English, was polite, energetic, and neat. These things are important. Moreover, we were told by partners from Ernst & Young that people here learn the principles of international corporate culture and business peculiarities very quickly,” said Mr.Baukus.
Finally, the company conducted due diligence of the quality of external services and infrastructure. They made detailed assessment of the quality of construction work, telecommunication, and legal and financial services.
Looking back on this event today, Mr. Baukus believes the establishment of Western Union’s office in Lithuania was one of the best decisions the company made. This statement can be easily backed up by statistics. In the beginning it planned to employ 500 people at most, yet currently the office in Lithuania employs almost 2,000 people.
How to attract corporations
When asked what countries seeking to attract large international companies should pay attention to, Mr. Baukus singled out talent.
“Talent and competitive salaries. Countries that have cheap but low-quality specialists are not attractive. The only thing worse than that is low quality and high-cost human resources. Besides, there are countries that have a lot of talented people but are too expensive. No one goes there due to the low profit possibilities,” explained Mr. Baukus.
He pointed out that support from the Government and its willingness to cooperate are also very important. It does not have to be financial incentives. The decision can be influenced by sincere attention, administrative and infrastructural support, or participation in the preparation of study programmes.
Mr. Baukus explained that it is less challenging for countries to attract lower competence jobs. Right now the people working in Lithuania have to show that they are able to handle more than they are hired for.
“Don’t think of those service centres as bad. They can be assigned with more and more difficult tasks, can create the knowledge economy that you want, and can pay higher salaries. However, no one starts at the highest level. You have to constantly push forward and show better results. What does a company do when it sees that the investment is good? It invests more,” assured Mr. Baukus.
Since his time at Western Union, Mr. Baukus has taken the position of Vice-President for Human Resources at the mining company Molycorp. Currently, he is also a freelance consultant. On December 28, Mr. Baukus received a Global Lithuanian Award, which was presented by the President of Lithuania, in recognition of the investments he attracted to Lithuania. The event was organized by Global Lithuanian Leaders, a network of Lithuania-connected professionals from around the world.
Source: Verslo žinios