Jurkovič Heating Plant, the renovated National Cultural Monument, has been, for quite some time now, a unique workplace for many freelancers, creatives, but also larger organizations. AmCham is one of them. This seemingly conservative organization decided to move to a quite untraditional workplace. In our interview with Ronald Blašek, Executive Director of AmCham's Bratislava branch, you will learn what was it about the community oriented, flexible office space BASE that charmed AmCham so much that they decided to take this big step?
Can you first introduce us to your organization and tell us more about what it does?
The full name of our organization, American Chamber of Commerce says a lot about our field of activity. We bring together organizations at home and abroad and strive to improve business environment in Slovakia. Our mission is to fulfill the potential of the countries in which we operate, and Slovakia still has a lot to offer.
"Our activities help improve business conditions, we communicate with the government, parliament and other public institutions that have impact on the business sector."
We also provide hard-to-find information to our members. Last but not least, we organize quality networking events which can help our members find new business opportunities. Our membership base currently consists of 25% American organizations, 40% Slovak organizations, and the rest comes from other countries of the world.
In how many countries does AmCham operate?
AmCham operates in approximately 150 countries around the world, like McDonald's, for example. We work closely with our sister organization, the US Chamber of Commerce which is more than 100 years old. The European network, known as AmChams in Europe, includes both the EU members and non-EU members. There are approximately 40 members in total. Until recently, AmCham Russia was also included, AmCham Ukraine still is. We cooperate closely with AmCham Israel and with countries from the Caucasus region.
Could you specify what other benefits, apart from networking and information sharing, you offer to your members?
We have a document called “7 Good Reasons to Join AmCham” which summarizes the reasons. One of the main benefits is being a member of a club full of inspiring and like-minded organizations. We are perceived as an opinion-forming organization with a good reputation and a stable value environment. As one of the few organizations of this type in Slovakia, we have our own code of ethics. Beyond our efforts to qualitatively increase the level of business environment, we also strive to improve business ethics. Some of the tangible benefits of the membership include participation in conferences and events. I would highlight the possibility of obtaining a promo via classical communication channels and social media. Members can also participate in the process of legislation creation which can benefit the business sector as well as the country itself.
Talking about your Slovak branch, how many employees do you have in BASE?
"Our office space in BASE speaks for the fact that we are accommodating, dynamic and offer flexible forms of employment."
We have full-time employees, part-time colleagues, and colleagues on maternity leave. There are currently about 12 of us.
Do you also have foreign employees in Bratislava?
In the past, several colleagues from abroad worked here. I am, in fact, the first director with Slovak nationality. A colleague from Ukraine worked in our branch in Košice. After the outbreak of war, we provided the Ukrainian residents with job opportunities. In general, it is common to have American colleagues in almost every AmCham.
AmCham has employees and a board. Can you tell us more about this system of operation?
The membership board elects the Board of Directors which then chooses 1 president and 4 vice presidents from among themselves. The Board of Directors consists of 17 people from organizations operating inside and outside of America. At the last general assembly which took place in May, we discussed new by-laws. These will influence the number of the Board of Directors members and the length of mandate which is being extended from 2 to 3 years. The by-laws will be effective from next year.
What was the process behind finding a suitable workplace for your organization?
'We are a relatively conservative institution. Therefore, we were looking for a place which would enable us to create work environment our employees would enjoy all the while remaining representative in the eyes of our members.'
We also considered the future trend in terms of whether our team will grow, shrink, or remain approximately unchanged.
The selection process was lengthy, but not entirely difficult. Although the office market in Bratislava is quite saturated in comparison to other regions, it does not offer as many options on the international scale. Fortunately, our brand is an interesting customer for many organizations. We were approached by several developers offering offices in their buildings. We even considered an offer from one of our member organizations to be based in their premises. The pandemic also affected our decision-making process and changed the way of working for two years. However, during this time, a new, interesting project emerged which was attractive inside out. The Board of Directors is included in the approval process for the change of headquarters. The decision was made with a majority approval, and I am very happy with our choice.
How does BASE suit your work?
The location in the administrative heart of Bratislava is very important. We have several members and public institutions within sight. I like architecture very much which is why I appreciate residing in a National Cultural Monument.
"On the other hand, BASE meets the requirements of a modern office building. We are in a community zone full of other organizations, we have several meeting rooms to choose from, and a big plus is the opportunity to organize events and conferences right at the organization headquarters."
In close proximity to BASE, there are several cafés, food establishments, even a gallery which contribute to the pleasant environment our members like returning to. I believe that our workplace is one of the reasons why our colleagues enjoy coming to work every day.
Is it safe to say that you find the concept of BASE to be more convenient than the typical office space?
Definitely. In fact, the prospect of moving into a classic office building rather discouraged us. It's not all about the price. It is important that the space inspires people to come up with new ideas and motivates them to go to work. I would like to point out the possibility of organizing events. The competition in similar event organization is vast, but the attractiveness of the premises makes our events stand out.
You mentioned that you are a conservative organization, yet the office in BASE has a rather non-conservative approach. Isn’t it quite an interesting paradox?
It certainly is. The US Chamber of Commerce in Washington is based in a majestic and imperial building right across the White House. It is a demonstration of power. In general, all AmCham premises in any country evoke power and majesty.
"Personally, I think that BASE is a perfect expression of our field of activity."
We strive to create a modern labor code, we promote new forms of flexible employment, an agile approach and transparency. A traditional space would be somewhat contradictory to what we are trying to advocate. I think that this is the future of our country, and I am glad that we can be a part of it. I like that we are trendsetters in a way. We want to show that even a Chamber of Commerce can keep up with the modern world and does not have to have its own headquarters. Other foreign chambers are also considering this step and I am proud that we were the first ones who had the courage to do it.
Were you looking for a space that is in tune with your values?
Exactly. I think that the building and concept of BASE underline the message we want to be represented by. There is something monumental about it. Brick walls, few windows and its sheer mass compared to its surroundings create an impression of a fortress. Inside, it is modern, glazed, and open. Not many industrial buildings in Bratislava have been preserved. Jurkovič Heating Plant was brought back to life by the clever people who stand behind this project but also by those who work here. BASE gives us the opportunity to stand out.