By Douglas Williams
Colin Lovering is a debonair gentleman passionate about many things, but few more so than Romania. His passion for this country is clear and infectious and it’s also refreshingly sincere. A frequent speaker at events big and small it’s no surprise that when OZB catches up with him he’s in the midst of composing his next speech due to be delivered in London the following week at a British Romanian Chamber of Commerce UK event. “Sometimes when I talk about Romania, Romanians come up to me after and thank me for being so positive about their country. I can’t help it, I just really like Romania and I find it an easy sell.”
We meet in the brand new Commons shared office space in Unirii, un uber cool setting where small companies, entrepreneurs and solo operators can come and work 24/7 utilising the excellent facilities and comfortable surroundings. See www.commons.ro for more information.
Lovering is many things to many people but chiefly he is Chairman of the British Romanian Chamber of Commerce and Senior Vice President of Avison Young Romania. And now, after nine years living here, Lovering is happy to call Romania his home. “I’d spent many years living internationally and thinking ‘is this my last year here?’ but now I’ve decided that Romania is my home. Over the last couple of years I’ve really began to put down roots and this is where I’m going to be staying and, I’ll tell you, it’s a huge relief.”
Growing up in quintessential and picturesque rural England – Herefordshire – where dinner was always taken round the table Lovering appreciates the traditions and the strength of family still present within Romanian society. “The McDonaldisation, the TV dinners approach now so prevalent through much of the world, is still not the norm here in Romania, yet, and I like this. This is especially the case if you get even just a short way out of Bucharest. It reminds me of my childhood and I like it and I think it’s to be valued and cherished.”
Lovering’s anecdotes range from tales of childhood kick abouts with the vicar after church to trips in private jets to that fateful day he decided he was going to take a punt on Romania. “I was walking from Piata Victoriei down here to Unirii and over the course of that walk I decided I was going to move here, set up my business and make a go of it.” The business in question was Achieve International, a consulting and training organisation, and it would be fair to say Lovering didn’t just make a go of it, Achieve has been a huge success.
“Things just get better and better here in Romania in almost every way and that’s in stark contrast to much of Western Europe. It’s a very exciting country to be in and I think Romania greatly exceeds the expectations of most people who come to live here, she certainly did with me,” says Lovering, impeccably yet casually attired. He counters: “There are a couple of exceptions to that statement – whilst the level of driving has improved, the traffic has gotten much, much worse. And, it saddens me to say, nobody seems to have any sort of plan for how to fix that. Additionally the government or perhaps the governance also seems to be getting worse. Decisions are being made – be it on taxation or justice issues – that have far reaching and largely negative ramifications, particularly on inward investment, we see it all the time. And this is frustrating and saddening.”
On Brexit the Chairman of the BRCC is sagely diplomatic likening the situation to driving: “Where before, within the EU, it was like we were driving with a friend who was helping us to navigate and find our way but post-Brexit, we will be on our own and we’ll need to figure out exactly where we’re going by ourselves.” The trouble just now, according to Lovering, is the uncertainty. “This is hugely damaging, once we have the facts we can work with them but just now no one really knows,” and this from someone whose friends and colleagues have identified as an “Obsessive Optimist”.
“Everyone’s a psychologist here, they have deep conversations and I like this.”
Another thing Lovering likes about Romania is the way that, in contrast to the UK where, when people gather, they tend to joke about and “have a laugh”, Romanians enjoy philosophical conversations. “Everyone’s a psychologist here, they have deep conversations and I like this.” He observes in the younger generation of Romanians a far more progressive approach but with this being more obvious among the fairer sex. “People are much more tolerant of disability and orientation these days though, in place of the class system that we still see in the UK for example, I feel that here there is still too much emphasis attached to status with some people determined to drive a fancy car even while they live in a tiny apartment.”
Lovering also somewhat despairs at the irony of the brain drain with bright young Romanians leaving to seek their fortune elsewhere while international corporations are flocking to the country only to find recruitment and retention a major issue. “I’d like to see more being done to encourage those Romanians living and working abroad to return,” says Lovering, a keen fan of both Spurs and Hereford FC.
Retention of staff is one of the quintessential English gentleman’s bugbears and something he has clear ideas for improving. “Disloyalty” plays a big part in this and one of the solutions to this, according to Lovering, is to create office spaces that foster community. “When the place where you work is also the place where you have your friendships it’s much harder to just walk away for an extra 50 euros per month. More open plan and more and better quality community spaces, within offices, where colleagues can mingle along with the bosses help engender a sense of community and therefore loyalty which really helps with holding onto good staff.”
More “wishy washy” is how Lovering describes his manner prior to Romania. “I was very British, more concerned with being polite than with saying exactly what I mean. To begin with I found Romanians to be a little abrupt, even rude, but I’ve since learned that it’s not really rude – just honest and more direct. Something else I’ve noticed is that Romanians also enjoy sarcasm, it’s just that theirs is way darker than us Brits’.”
Finally Lovering, a big supporter of both Casa Ioana and Light Into Europe, urges all us non-Romanians to contribute. “I always like to challenge people who are enjoying living here, I say what are you giving back? There are plenty of good NGOs out there crying out for help. Make yourself useful.”