Bravo Avni Ponari
He is the man Albania needs to move forward and take off towards prosperity once and for all. He is the businessman, the entrepreneur, the former navy captain, the lawyer, the friend, the chief executive. My interactions with SIGAL CEO Avni Ponari since we first met last October-2015 provide an answer to the quintessential question “Who’s in a better position to lead Albania forward?“.
Off the record and in our numerous informal conversations Avni Ponari shows his deep concern with the governance challenges Albania faces, considering every political party in power far from ready for the job of conduction. One of Europe’sthree poorest countries only ahead of Moldova and Kosova, Albania is today closer to a banana republic ruled in a rather caciquist manner, than a candidate to join the European Union.
The current chief executive officer (CEO) of SIGAL UNIQA (the largest insurance company by market share in Albania, Kosova and Macedonia) is a multidisciplinary leader who also holds the Presidency of the Albanian Basketball Federation and the Honorary Consulate of the Kingdom of Japan in Albania.
In a country well-known for its acute corruption and mafia-oriented business practices, where bribing has become a daily routine for every citizen, where dozens of parliamentarians with dubious reputation are allowed to remain in the major parties, and the judiciary system is extremely biased towards the wealthy and powerful, Avni Ponari maintains his superb reputation intact and impeccable.
Countries must be managed by highly-educated professionals, intellectuals -what philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset called “personas excelentes“- not by perpetual politicians who have little sense of the real challenges in healthcare, education, infrastructure, the economy, the job market or transportation. A country in desperate need of improving its business climate, of attracting foreign direct investment, of radically improving and turning around its malfunctioning job market, needs a visionary and ambitious business leader as captain and therefore president. The role of the president in the current republic of Albania is that of a non-executive Chairman.
My interactions with Avni Ponari since my arrival on Albanian soil this past 30-August-2015 have been numerous. I first met Avni Ponari in his pristine office on the fourth floor of SIGAL Business Center on Saturday 17-October-2015.
After our first encounter we have met numerous times for lunch and dinner at SIGAL Business Center Fifth Floor Restaurant, for coffee and breakfast at The Sheraton Hotel Tirana and SIGAL Business Center Fourth Floor Conference Room. I have even traveled with Avni Ponari to northern Albania to see on the field his philanthropic work supporting local communities in underdeveloped areas ofVermosh.
Since 2008 I have met in person circa 3 000 leaders of every field of activity in 43 countries, including circa 200 in Albania. I am very impressed by Avni Ponari. He is cautious and calm, serene and audacious, instinct-driven and smart. And most important he has what most politicians would never dreamt of: a proven track record. He loves Albania and ethnic Albanians, which has pushed him forward to open subsidiaries of his insurance firm SIGAL in Kosova and Macedonia.
The former navy captain during the harsh dictatorship of Enver Hoxha in the 1980s, Avni Ponari switched into maritime insurance becoming the Branch Manager of the National Insurance Company’s Tirana Office in the 1990s. In the aftermath of the civil revolt of 1998 and having completed his Law Degree at the University of Tirana, Avni Ponari founded SIGAL in 1999. Seventeen years later SIGAL is market leader in three countries namely Albania, Kosova and Macedonia. The three very clear and distinct stages of his professional life have taken Avni Ponari from navy captain to public employee and branch manager to successful entrepreneur, business leader and chief executive officer.
I have interacted with Avni Ponari in his business hours and in his leisure time. My impression is acute: his manners are robust and solid, he keeps the navy captain’s spirit inside his armor and manages his firm as if he was a submarine’s captain. An effective management and orderly and tidy delegation liberates much time he spends in non-profit leadership activities such as Honorary Consul of Japan in Albania or President of the Albanian Basketball Federation.
Albania’s extreme individualism is endangering my very own ability to set up a High Performance Team, a meritocracy at the service of society commanded byAACE President Dr. Faruk Kaba as Prime Minister and Avni Ponari as non-executive President. The extreme individualism among professionals and intellectuals proves counter productive and ironically contradictory to the very own efforts these individuals confess prioritary: the need to unite forces is a sine qua non condition to take off towards prosperity and be in a real position to compete with other European Union countries in vital areas such as agriculture, textile, education or hospitality/tourism.