OZB People: 10 Questions for Valentina Saygo

Valentina Saygo –  an atypically expert accountant with an artist soul.

  1. Please tell us about who you are and what you do.

I am Valentina Saygo, expert accountant, tax consultant, entrepreneur, trainer, manager, blogger, writer, colleague, friend, woman. I’m passionate about travel, photography, books, Japanese art, gastronomy, live music. I manage an accounting company, a tax consulting and a VAT refund company, I teach entrepreneurship courses and also I have invested in a food truck with papanasi and mini pancakes. I have been involved in civic activity for over 10 years, respectively in the social dialogue groups of the business environment in relation to the authorities. I published the “Beginner Entrepreneurs Guide” with Liviana Tane, and in August I just finished the first draft of a fiction book of which I’m very proud.

2. Share your backstory with us. How did your business or organisation come about and what was it that switched you on to this area in the first place?

I have a beautiful profession but it’s hard to be understood, so I chose to translate the Romanian accountancy, and do things differently. I became an accountant by chance. I wished to be a teacher or a writer, but my mother said I would starve doing either of those. So I’ve taken my profession very seriously. In the first few years I struggled but I have managed to gain a lot of experience over the last 20 years. I didn’t dream to become an entrepreneur either, I thought I would remain an anonymous accountant, a good contractor who will work with the past. But, here’s how life surprised me and now I’m involved in several business areas, each different from the other. The accounting company was born by chance, after I had been working with my ex father-in-law, an expert accountant, but I resented his way of working. That’s when I decided to do things differently and start on my own. At about the same time (in January 2010 to be more exactly) I started to show the ANAF dysfunctionalities in relation to tax payers. I still have the financial newspaper from which it all started. I am amongst the first few accountants who dared to speak, without being afraid of the fiscal administration or inspections. Since then, I have got involved in a lot of law projects, that I have managed to change or contribute to improve them.

Tax Free has started as a project to respect the right to avoid double taxation. Even though there was a law about this, no one knew it or obeyed it. Since 2013 I have implemented the Tax Free concept, and from 50 authorized shops we have reached now almost 1.000 shops all over the country. In 2017 we opened the VAT refund office inside Henri Coanda International Airport. Tax Free is the expression of a civilized society, a society that know and demands it’s rights.

I started with papanasi purely by chance, by supporting the dream of two kind and dedicated young people, my partners in Dulcegaria Food Truck. I’ve often donned my apron, with heels and pearls, for official events, and I have been enchanted by people’s joy at the counter. Now it’s harder because there are no big events or festivals but we will not give up on the idea of promoting traditional recipes and natural ingredients, made with lots of love, out of respect for our customers.

3. What do you think or hope the future has in store for you and your business? Where do you see yourself or your organisation five years from now?

I was very optimistic at the beginning of the year, with well thought out, daring strategies for each project that I am involved in, but the pandemic has messed up our plans. The future was promising. In the last few months, I learned that God laughs at us when we make plans, so I learned to think short term. I only hope this time will pass and we can finally implement our strategy.

4.How has lockdown been for you and for your business and what have you done that has helped you personally and professionally?

The lockdown has found me freshly returned from a vacation in Malta. For me this time was not boring – I had time time to clean the closets or also for introspection. I threw myself directly into the midst of civic involvement events and all social dialogue commissions, writing petitions, proposals for measures, reading draft laws, publishing blog articles, holding free workshops for entrepreneurs, giving press interviews. I was in direct contact with the ministry of finance, the ministry of economy, the ministry of labor and fiscal authority. My businesses have all been affected, more or less. I made decisions I didn’t think I would ever make in my life. It was hard, very hard and it still is. After the health crisis, I estimate a severe economic crisis. Each company that struggles will pull 10 more down with it, because we are all wheels of the economic mechanism and we depend on each other. The good thing about the pandemic is that we have managed some legislative changes to use more online/digital when it comes to public institutions, and otherwise we would not have changed soon. We will come out different, as people and as businesses. We will do things differently. We will have other landmarks and other priorities. But we will come out stronger and with healthy companies.

5.What’s your take on Bucharest and Romania. What are the highs and the lows in your opinion?

You grow to love and hate Bucharest at the same time, and I was born and raised here. I love it for it’s vibrating heart, for the charming places, for memories of old times, for the historical and elegant buildings. I hate it sometimes, when it’s crowded, chaotic and refuses to modernize and civilize. The pandemic has brought something good to Bucharest – it has brought silence, lack of traffic and fresh air so that I could see the Carpathian Mountains from my balcony. I loved it even more then.

Romania is a beautiful country, rich and authentic, but it is lead by people who rob and cripple it. What hurts me the most is the corruption of politicians and the filth created by the people. I would really wish to live to see Romania as it really is, as it should be – clean, made to shine at it’s real value.

6. What is your must do/must visit/favorite thing to do or show off to visitors here in Bucharest and Romania at large?

To wander the streets of downtown and admire the old buildings, walk around Cotroceni and count the blossoming magnolias in the spring, ride the bike under the trees in Kiseleff, stop for a great coffee at Origo, get lost in the Botanical Garden in any season, walk around the old markets where you can meet authentic peasants and smell tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes, to try traditional dishes, to lose yourself in Vacaresti urban Delta and rest in a coquette terrace and enjoy the local wines, from white to red and all the way again. And since it’s autumn, I would send you to George Enescu festival, to enjoy the classical music and the energy that vibrates your soul.

Romania is a country where you cannot get bored. The place I gladly return to every year is the Danube Delta. I lurk in the boat for hours to capture a kingfisher, and flora competes with fauna so you do not know which way to look. Do you want me to tell you about the traditional dishes made with fish? Better not ruin your day. But let’s not forget about the beautiful Bucovina, with villages that have stopped in time, clean and untouched by technology, households, with pure simplicity, with simple and pure people, that keep their traditions. Eternity was born in the village, as a Romanian poet once said. Stop at a simple house, eat a piece of cheese with a slice of bread, walk around the grass barefoot, take a nap in a meadow. Life is simple and it’s kept simple there.

7. What is your number 1 recommendation now for a book/film/series/app/ or gadget?

The last read book is always the dearest. Now I am in love with JR Moehringer and his The Tender Bar. I love his way of writing, clean, simple, authentic, straight forward. The last movie I saw a few days ago, Call Me by Your Name – made me see the father’s monologue as the most beautiful lesson of parenting that can exist. I rewound it 5-6 times, just to enjoy every single word, I transcribed the scene in my Moleskine films notebook. My favourite TV series is Black List on Netflix, but I basically couldn’t watch the last episode, edited during the pandemic, a mixture of footage and cartoons. I’m waiting for them to resume filming. As far as apps are concerned, I could not live without Uber and Glovo anymore. I’m not a technical person, I still use at least three notebooks daily and I like to hand write with my red Montblanc pen, but besides the laptop that I write my thoughts in, I could say that my Fuji XT3 camera and my photo troller with 12 kg of photo equipment, is my favorite gadget. And every time I have the chance on holiday, I purposely abandon the phone (it has been on silent for about 3 years and I don’t have my business email on the phone).

8. If you could eat in any restaurant in all of Romania and have dinner with anyone in the world (not a husband/wife/relative) which restaurant would that be and with which person?

I would love to have dinner with Angela and Jonathan Smith, two photographers that live in the Masai Mara and take wonderful photos of big cats. I would love to discuss with acclaimed Japanese author Haruki Murakami and learn some of his discipline as a writer. I was fascinated by his books about writing, because I am not disciplined at all. My name has Japanese origins, even though my father and I are both born in Romania, Saygo means five swords, so I am fascinated by this culture. And last but not least, I would have a chat with the economist Joseph Stiglitz, so he can tell me about ways to relaunch Romania and to suggest him to run for Romanian presidency.

9. Sum up your business in one sentence, what it is and why should people engage with it.

Work in accountancy may not be exciting but is daring if it’s made with passion, beyond the required standards, so we do things differently, helping entrepreneurs understand the “why” behind their obligations and translate for them the fiscal legislation, so they can make their own decisions and use the accounting information in order to grow and protect their business.

10. Describe your Romania in one word.

Demanding – because nothing is easy to do, but the satisfactions are huge when you succeed.

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