homepage_name! > Editions > Number 124 > Interview - BLACK HORSE

Darinka Đuran, CEO of the Black Horse battery factory

A Woman at the Top of a Heavy Industry

The Black Horse battery factory has been bought by the Swiss company, Batagon International AG, and I can safely say that this has been a successful investment since the very acts of establishing proper factory status, restarting production, and preserving the workplaces of all employees are an example of how an industrial giant can be revitalized and make a great comeback. Let us not forget that the Black Horse battery factory from Sombor has been the only battery factory in the territory of the Republic of Serbia since 1952 and the very fact it has been recognized and bought by a Swiss company speaks for itself.

1. Ms. Đuran, where were you born? Where did you grow up and go to school?

I was born in Foča, in Bosnia & Herzegovina. I grew up right next to the Drina river to which I relate my entire childhood. I had a good and, would say, healthy childhood. I spent one part of it on the Drina and the other part in Montenegro in the mountain town of Žabljak, where my mother is from. My father was my support and my tower of strength from the day I was born to his final day. When I look back today, I am happy that he managed to instill me with basic values, which I still adhere to and which tell me that only hard work can overcome any obstacle. As a child, I always helped my parents with their work so that we could lead a decent life and I will try to pass that on to my son. I finished primary and secondary school in Foča, but I received my university degree in Sarajevo, that is, Serbian Sarajevo since I belong to the generation enveloped by the unfortunate war activities of the time. I continued along my path and managed to overcome all the difficulties of that period of my life to graduate from the Faculty of Law as one of the top students in my class. When I reflect on my childhood today, I can honestly say that I was brought up and raised by parents who used nothing but their own hard work to convince me that tenacity and dedication are things that last forever.

2. How did your career develop before you reached the position you are in today?

I gained my first work experience at the Yugoslav Association of Inventors and Innovators where I worked on projects of what was then the European Commission for Reconstruction and Development. After that, at the end of 2005, I started working at the Ministry of Diaspora where I worked for more than seven years. During my work at the Ministry of Diaspora I started working in public administration for the first time and there I gained a lot of work experience and established great cooperation with our people in diaspora and Serbs in the region. During that period, I managed to visit the majority of Serbian associations in the region, Europe, and the world, authored and co-authored several manuals for our countrymen living abroad, and became the Secretary of the first Assembly of Serbs in the region that brought together over 45 distinguished Serbs living outside the Republic of Serbia. I was the Secretary of the Council of Serbs in the region and performed the duties of the secretary of the budgetary fund for co-financing projects of Serbs in the region, but the fact is that I am most proud of being a member of the working group when the first Law on Diaspora and Serbs in the region was adopted and when the first strategy regarding our countrymen living abroad was introduced. I can say that this was not just work experience, but life experience as well. After working at the Ministry of Diaspora, I continued to work at the Ministry of Religion and Diaspora, then at the Office for Diaspora and Serbs in the Region, and after that I started working in a completely different area of public administration, that is, at the Ministry of Construction and Urbanism. I worked in the HR department as the chief officer of personnel and organizational affairs. I successfully participated in the design of the first Law on Civil Servants at the time, which was a milestone that first introduced pay grades in public administration, as well as in the design of numerous other laws and by-laws. When I look at my work at the former Ministry, I enjoyed a more dynamic position there thanks to my character and energy. I soon became the manager of the organizational unit for the issuance of construction permits, which were being issued on paper back then and within an average period of more than 200 days. This was the greatest challenge, but later it turned out to be the right choice, because, after the change of government and the establishment of a new Ministry – the Ministry of Traffic and Infrastructure – I was assigned the position of chief officer for the implementation of integrated procedures on a Republic-wide level following the adoption of the new law introducing the obligatory issuance of electronic construction permits. I was appointed manager of the project team for the implementation of electronic construction permits throughout the whole territory of the Republic of Serbia on the initiative of Naled, USAID and supported by the Deputy Prime Minister Prof. Zorana Mihajlović, PhD. With joint efforts, we managed within one year of extensive and, I may say, unique work, to implement one of the most important reforms, according to the evaluation of the World Bank in Serbia – the introduction of the electronic construction permit was officially realized on January 1, 2016. Within the same year, I received the Naled award for the contribution to economic reforms in the Republic of Serbia and became their laureate for achieved results in this field. Shortly after, I was appointed assistant to the head of the department for the issuance of electronic construction permits, construction land and legalization by the government of the Republic of Serbia, on the proposal of Prof. Zorana Mihajlović, PhD. Within less than three years of my tenure, we broke all records concerning the number of issued construction permits and, for the first time, there was a register of illegal buildings within the territory of the Republic of Serbia, classified according to their purpose. I may say that during that period I learned things and acquired skills, which I carry with me today and which I enhance successfully.

3. It is rare to see a woman at the head of a heavy industry. From your point of view, is that a disadvantage or an advantage? What does facing such a responsibility look like?

It is rare for a woman to be at the top of a battery factory, but this is something I do not think about while fulfilling my daily obligations and I do not look at my work from that perspective. Every responsibility is equal, whether there be a man or a woman in the role of the leader. Moreover, this is another indicator for the ability of women to bear great responsibilities like managing 200 people and five plants operating non-stop in order to produce a final product, the Black Horse battery. I can tell you that it is not easy to bear such a responsibility, especially when you are a responsible person and want to achieve great progress. All my directors are men and there is only one other woman holding the position of a director. The majority of employees in the field of production, being the heart of the factory, are men as well and only two women work in the plastic plant. It is a responsibility, but also an advantage when you look back and see every day that you have made a step forward in all sectors operating within this factory.

4. The Black Horse battery factory, which you are currently the head of, has recently been acquired by the Swiss company, Batagon. What was the reason for this decision and how did the realization of the whole process go?

The Black Horse battery factory has been acquired by the Swiss company Batagon International AG and I can safely say that this has been a successful investment since the very acts of establishing proper factory status, restarting production, and preserving workplaces of all employees are an example of how an industrial giant can be revitalized and make a great comeback. Let us not forget that the Black Horse battery factory from Sombor has been the only battery factory in the territory of the Republic of Serbia since 1952 and the very fact that it has been recognized and bought by a Swiss company speaks for itself.

5. Restarting production is a major undertaking. How much asset has been invested in machine and damage repair? To what level are investments now?

Restarting production was not only a major, but the biggest undertaking at that point. The factory had been in such a condition that it was first necessary to provide basic conditions for the production plant restart (electric energy, installations, gas, preparation of the object for its purpose, complete machine repairs, obtainment of all functional certificates etc.). It cost several million euros and the investment cycle is still ongoing.

6. Can you describe what the current production process looks like and how it differs from the previous process?

Unlike the former production process which produced hybrid batteries, the current process produces Ca/Ca batteries, which is a worldwide trend in the battery industry. This shows that the products of the Black Horse factory are equal competitors to the world's largest manufacturers. Also, it is important to mention that in addition to Black Horse batteries, which are our trademark, the battery factory currently produces two more brands – Tesla Premium Energy and Asian Horse. Asian Horse batteries are designed for Japanese and Korean vehicles, which makes them unique as we are the only manufacturer. In addition, our technologists have also developed a new product – Tesla Premium Energy, which in all its features is at least equal to the world's largest manufacturers. A modern information system and upgraded lines have been introduced so that there is full quality control of each product.

7. How many workers are currently employed and are you planning on opening new workplaces?

The Black Horse battery factory currently employs 200 workers, and we are particularly proud of the fact that these are the same workers who worked at this workplace years back when the factory was the largest manufacturer in the former Yugoslavia and when it was facing problems before bankruptcy proceedings. That says enough about their commitment to the factory and their desire to revitalize it together. The workers treat it as their own factory and that is why we all act as one family. Bearing in mind the project task of the new factory management, which is to raise production capacities to levels close to those during the golden age of the factory, job creation is a parallel activity that we jointly undertake given the specific areas we need to strengthen in all production processes of this factory.

8. One of the main tasks ahead of you is to conquer the market once again, as well as to regain the trust of old customers. How do you plan to accomplish this, what are your main strategies?

The main task of the factory is to return to the Serbian market in a big way. We plan to develop a distribution and service network throughout the Republic of Serbia and we can say that we have already successfully started this process, especially after opening several service locations for the sale of Black Horse batteries from the south to the north of Serbia, where we have not been represented at all in recent years. Apart from the fact that we export significant quantities of batteries to the Russian Federation, Belarus, and a number of European countries, our plan is to significantly expand our sales to the region and all other countries where our products are in demand. In doing so, we are not forgetting the state-owned enterprises, farms, the military, the police and all the other pillars of our country, and we are very committed to getting them to use this local brand.

9. How important is the factory's return to operation to the city of Sombor and do you plan to work with the local community on socially responsible projects?

From the beginning, the City of Sombor has been a partner in the revitalization of this factory, and we are cooperating with the local community at the highest level. The socially responsible work that we have launched during recent months shows that the Black Horse factory is one of the few companies that is reviving its domestic brand and successfully returning it to the domestic, European and world markets in coordination with all partners. The national structure of the factory employees is the same as the national structure in and around Sombor.

10. What are the primary and long-term plans of the factory for the future?

Short-, medium- and long-term plans stem from the goals set by the capital owners, which involve raising production, hiring new workers, and developing new products. All of that is accompanied by the concern for people and the creation of a employment structure tailored to the needs of the company that intends to be a serious competitor to world manufacturers.

11. Successful leaders must have the capabilities and skills that guarantee success for all employees. What advice would you give to young people, future leaders?

In order to succeed, you must be in love with your work.

Today I am “in love” with the Black Horse battery factory and that is why I say: “Black Horse is back in the race”.