Lukas Tursa for Banker Special: We аre building a technologically-driven lending powerhouse in the region
28.05.2021 Share +
Recently Lukas Tursa, SVP, was invited by Banker Special Magazine to share more about his career path, his TBI journey so far as well as his favorite spots in Sofia, where he came all the way from Lithuania. Take a look at the conversation:
Mr. Tursa or Lukas, you have studied in London and started working in the public sector straight after. Is this a typical career path in Lithuania?
I returned to Vilnius in the late 90’s as part of a big wave of young Lithuanians who studied abroad and then were recruited by the Government. So, in a way, yes, back then it was a smart move for graduates to go for this career but also by the Government – hiring a motivated people with good education and entrusting them with important responsibilities. I joined the Ministry during the 2008 Asian and Russian financial crises. I remember, I was thrown straight away into the action by starting to engage with the rating agencies which wanted to reduce Lithuania’s credit rating from investment to junk level. We decided to get pro-active and set weekly calls with them by explaining how Government will be addressing their concerns. After 3 months of communication and huge phone bill (pre-Viber or Zoom time), we managed to persuade them that Government is serious with the reforms and the currency peg will be maintained.
So, I often advice to young people to try a public-sector job in the field of their interest. This gives you a very different perspective – how economy works, how decisions are taken, how public interest is protected/maintained, etc. Without any doubts, it was the biggest learning experience for me. Eventually, I decided to move to the private sector which gives you more freedom and creativity. However, many with whom we started stayed and made a great career and positive impact – one of them Ingrida Šimonytė is now the country’s Prime Minister, and Vitas Vasiliauskas is the Governor of the Bank of Lithuania, probably most innovative regulator in the EU.
At the Ministry of Finance, you have also worked with Dalia Grybauskaitė, the Lithuanian ‘Iron Lady’ – a former EU Commissioner and President of the country. Could you have told back then that her professional career will be so interesting?
Dalia is indeed the first lady to be elected President of Lithuania and one of the professionals who had a huge impact on my career and professional development. In her career she never hesitated to stand out of the crowd and take unpopular decision. Her whole team saw that – she was very tough, but fair, she brought a completely different, modern leadership mindset to the Ministry as the Vice-Minister and later as Minister. She delegated well and never micromanaged. She let people make mistakes, learn from them, and that way helped a lot of colleagues grow very fast. Grybauskaitė’s table was always “ideally” clean, she never had something “to read later”, she made decisions very fast unlike a typical bureaucrat. And also she was very down to earth. I remember the basketball semifinal of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. We played US’s “Dream team” – and nearly beat them, but that’s a different story. Daria let all colleagues use her office to watch the game and moved her meeting with a Japanese delegation to my small room. She really created a different environment and pushed us forward all the time which I’m very grateful for.
After seven years in the public sector, you’ve decided to move to Kyiv, Ukraine. Was it a hard decision to make?
I was headhunted by an Israeli investment fund which had acquired a bank in Kiev and wanted to quickly transform it into a technologically driven Western style company, a financial supermarket as we said back then. To me it looked like a natural next step to become part of the leadership team in this transformation process. I won’t lie to you – it took me a bit to adapt that you do not have the power or resources of the Government behind you in dealing with challenging issues. Here you need to start from beginning building your reputation and earning trust from your colleagues, customers, and counterparties. Once I managed to do that, I quickly started to enjoy the job. However, it was a big professional challenge. While in Ukraine our bank went through the 2008 financial crisis which was purely liquidity driven. Also, that happened in a weak financial market system аnd within a regulatory framework where decision-making was not often based on market rules. It was tough, but we’ve managed to go through, which made me very proud of the team. After that we often said what Frank Sinatra did – if we can make it here, we can make it everywhere. Now that with TBI Bank I work in Bulgaria, Romania or other EU countries, I am very pleased to be spending time focusing on new business ideas implementation rather than putting fires out.
Surely you have some challenges also in your work at TBI Bank, right?
Of course, we do. Both our main markets – Bulgaria and Romania, are still growing, and adopt new technologies and products while a lot of customers continue to use old-school channels. This gives both challenges and opportunities to our team, but I can say that we have already built an organization that is quicker to adapt to the market or technological changes compared to competitors. Having an EU banking license also gives us opportunities around the continent. We already have business activities in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and now in my beloved Lithuania. And, whatever challenge come our way, we deal with them with our can-do attitude and lean, efficient and pro-active approach. One of the examples – how we manage and communicate our saving products. We are very transparent, but don’t forget the creativity aspect. It produces a great business results by constantly outperforming the market. Just a month ago we were awarded with an Effie for our deposit campaign – the most important global price for efficient marketing communication.
Why did you decide to move to Sofia?
Before I started working for TBI Bank I’ve never been to Bulgaria and Romania. Sure, I grew up admiring Stoichkov and Hagi, but I had to learn a lot of cultural specifics in order to integrate well. You need to understand the people to work effectively with them. Yes, there are universal things – you want to be treated well and have opportunities to grow, but many work aspects are country specific. That is why I’ve decided to move to live in Sofia and be close to the team, better understand the colleagues and the customers. I also spend a lot of time in Bucharest and in Vilnius as my family is there – my wife is busy with her career and our daughter is not keen to change her school.
What do you enjoy most in working for TBI Bank?
First, the Southeastern Europe potential market growth. Also, TBI Bank’s leadership team has a lot of freedom in decision-making within our organizational culture and enough resources to support our business activities. For me as a professional this is a perfect environment to succeed. Overall, our team is very upbeat about the opportunities that we have on our two main markets of operation but also potentially in other countries in Southeast Europe. It is not a secret that we want to build a technologically driven powerhouse in the region.
Is it challenging to manage a multinational team?
I have been living in a lot of places – in London, Kyiv, Chicago, and now in Sofia and Bucharest. Culture is different everywhere. My team at TBI Bank is very young. And in every country, young people are the same – having a passion to achieve and make an impact. And this is exactly the attitude I look for when I hire people. Bulgarians in general are very easy to work with, talented, and very hard working. However, sometimes you can observe some resistance for new things if it is not in their comfort zone. You can hear: ‘We don’t do it like this’; “This is not the market practice, here; etc. Also, what I see with Bulgarians is a certain fear about taking responsibilities for decision-making and cult of hierarchy – I call it ‘nachalnika culture’, but from my experience with the colleagues at TBI Bank I see it can change quickly. Over the past five years we have created a new mindset, where making mistakes and learning from them is part of our culture.
You’ve lived in Sofia for five years already. How do you like the city?
Do you know a joke about the foreigners living in Sofia? They cry twice - when finding out about coming to live and work in Sofia and when he leaves. I’ve always lived in cities much bigger than my home town Vilnius. I think they give you more opportunities, more scope to develop and execute your ideas. Sofia belongs to this list. Architecturally, it is not spectacular, but It’s comfortable and has its unique charm. If I compare it with Bucharest, it’s simply the more convenient place to live in. So, I enjoy the city, love to explore it and find new places – like a small ‘kebabchiiniza’ in Musagenitsa or dyukan (дюкян) with local herbs in Zhenskyi bazar. I am still a bigger expert of central district and enjoy socializing with locals in their beloved places in Shishman or Doktorska gradina areas. And beyond that you turn from visitor to a local when you stop noticing the imperfections – garbage on the street, before the second world war last time renovated houses, service of taxi drivers…So, I can proudly say I am a local now.
What I would miss one day, when I leave are of course the people. But beside them, definitely perfectly balanced weather, the best tomatoes in the world and some routines like weekend’s breakfast with friends in Hlebar or Fabrika Daga with freshly fried mekitsy with sirene and homemade jam.
What other hobbies do you have apart from exploring Ljulin?
I’ve been very fortunate in life to do what I love - finance. You can say I combined the hobby and work together. I also have a passion for rock music. I try to go to as many concerts as possible and attend festivals. In fact I convinced my team to join me for a festival experience in Belgium in 2019 – we went to Rock Werchter and had a great time. I am also collecting contemporary art and play basketball as any Lithuanian. I also ski which is not that typical for us being quite a flat country. When I was younger, I was part of our junior national team in mountain skiing. To put it into context – being on the national team, means I would probably rank in the top 25 on the town championship in Samokov, but I guess this counts, too. But now living in Sofia, I have this amazing privilege to be able to go to Borovets for the early downhill and be back to Sofia by the time of lunch.
At the end would you tell us more about your family?
Well, this might sound as a boring story – I’ve been married only once for almost 20 years now. I have a beautiful daughter who is 13 and I can say that she’s much better than her father in attracting and engaging the followers on social media. But who knows – if the lockdown continues, this could change. Recently, I joined the Clubhouse – becoming the first one from Tursa family.