Interview with Zlatko Stojcheski, Head of Corporate and Legal Affairs at A1 Makedonija about his background and best practices.
CEELM: Can you walk us through your career leading up to your current role?
Zlatko: I grew up in a family where law and justice were my daily subjects, since my father was a judge. I also used to visit him in the local court during my childhood, as we lived nearby. I guess that sparked my interest for law and order. Therefore, when the time came, choosing the Law Faculty for my higher education, and after that joining the judiciary branch, was a natural choice for me. So, in 1996 I started volunteering at the Prosecutor’s Office in Skopje, where, after passing the judicial exam, I became an expert associate. After five years, I felt I needed a change, so I decided to continue my career in a completely different area of law. In December 2001, I joined the only mobile operator in Macedonia at the time – Mobimak –as a legal specialist. I left the company nine years later as Legal Director.
CEELM: How and why did you join A1?
Zlatko: Having spent almost a decade in the telecommunications sector, I didn’t have to think long about joining Vip at the beginning of 2012, after I was offered the position of Head of Legal Affairs. What also drew me to the company were the challenges of working for a company that had a totally different approach and method of functioning. Being the market challenger (Vip operator was then the third mobile operator in the country), it demanded much more innovation and fast and out-of-the box thinking from the team to keep up with the pace of a very competitive market. This was an enormous learning curve for me and I have never regretted joining the company. At that time, A1 Makedonija still didn’t exist, as it was established almost four years later with the completion of one of the biggest mergers in the country.
CEELM: Tell us about A1, and about its legal department. How big is your team, and how is it structured?
Zlatko: The foundations of today’s company were laid down in October 2015 when the merger of two mobile operators – Vip and One, was finalized. Soon after, in May 2016 a third company – Blizoo, previously acquired by Telekom Austria, joined the recently-merged company. After the mergers it was a challenge to unify and harmonize colleagues from all three companies. Each of the teams had different working habits. As time passed, some colleagues left the company and new ones joined. Today, we are a small team of six lawyers in the Legal Department. Our structure is flat and we work very closely with each other. We cooperate well and communicate openly, and we have the perfect mix of seniority and young talent in the team that provides the best potential and ensures optimal output to our internal and external clients. To cut the story short - I’m proud of my team.
CEELM: Was it always your plan to go in-house? If so, why? If not … how did it happen?
Zlatko: As I mentioned earlier, my first love was the judiciary. But, as I matured in my professional life, my youth ideals have slowly faded away and I’ve started to feel that I want a complete change of my professional field of expertise. At that time in 2001, mobile communication services were the next big thing, a modern and promising new industry, so I didn’t hesitate when I was chosen as the best candidate for a legal specialist position in what, at that time, was the only mobile operator in Macedonia. This change has profoundly affected my career, so I have spent almost 19 years in the telecommunications industry, with one short break.
CEELM: What was your biggest single success or greatest achievement with A1 in terms of particular projects or challenges? What one thing are you proudest of?
Zlatko: As the final touch to the forming of the new company identity, the rebranding of the company started in 2019. This project was designed not only to launch the new A1 brand on the Macedonian market, but also to implement a new and unified company culture and to revisit all aspects of our business functions – including technologies, processes, documents and practices – in order to identify and tie up all loose ends. So, the scope of this project was quite complex and multi-disciplinary, touching on all aspects of the company and involving more or less all employees.
It gave me great pleasure to support and see the enthusiasm and positive energy that this project created in action. None of us had any problem providing the extra effort and work longer hours that were required to make things right and on time. The project ended up as a great success. It provided a big positive kick to the company not only on the market, but also internally across the entire company. It transformed A1 Makedonija into a truly modern and dynamic company with a high degree of customer focus that is easily recognized on the market.
I’m very happy that I participated in this exciting project and contributed to its successful finalization.
CEELM: How would you describe your management style? Can you give a practical example of how that manifested itself in the legal department or helped you succeed in your position?
Zlatko: I tend to see myself as first among equals in my team. I’m not a fan of “bossy” type of superiors who draw their authority strictly from their position. I give space and autonomy so my colleagues can really use their potential and creativity at work, but I also provide guidelines and coaching in order to set the basic expectations and standards of work. I support open discussions and share of opinions since for problem solving, a collective mind is always much more effective than a single-minded approach. Also, creating such an atmosphere encourages people to ask for advice and help when needed. To conclude, I deeply believe that mutual trust, respect, and open communication are the building blocks of every team, and it is worth investing the time and effort to create and nurture them.
In practical terms, creating such an atmosphere brings confidence among the team members and a sense of belonging, which increases the cooperation, effectiveness, and productivity of the whole department.
CEELM: Do you have any personal habits or strategies you employ that may not be common but that really help you succeed in your role? Things you’ve developed yourself over the years that might not be obvious?
Zlatko: I cannot say that I have any unique wisdom to share, but I do have some basic, general rules that I use. Here are a couple of them:
First, have empathy – when having a dispute, try to understand the other side as well. Then put it in perspective, find some compromise, and you might be able to come to an effective and viable solution.
Second, do your homework – when preparing a document, especially a contract, always be clear and precise. Don’t leave uncovered aspects which seem obvious or implied, as they usually turn to be most problematic afterwards. Always lay down all principles and outcomes of cooperation on paper thoroughly, no matter how trivial or obvious they look at the moment. Remember, people only read contracts thoroughly once a problem arises, so having a good and precise text can be a real help in reducing the possibility of a dispute. In the opposite case, a few unclear and murky clauses in a contract can keep your company in court for years.
Finally, it is better to be safe than sorry – finding a way out of a dispute before it gets out of hand is always a much better solution than spending time and money on long and unpredictable court processes. Unless you have a really waterproof case, use court as a last resource. Try to compromise first.
CEELM: What one person would you identify as being most important in mentoring you in your career – and what in particular did you learn from that person?
Zlatko: Soon after my graduation I started volunteering at the District Prosecutor’s Office. I was assigned to Roksanda Krstevska, an experienced prosecutor. She was a great professional, and a very knowledgeable lawyer, but also had that fine sense of justice and fairness that comes with great experience.
I learned a lot from her back then, starting with those practical necessities like attention to details, preciseness, proper analyses and elaboration of facts, but even more, on the importance of integrity, objectiveness, and standing your ground. What I learned there remained with me throughout my entire career.
CEELM: On the lighter side, what is your favorite book or movie about lawyers or lawyering – and why?
Zlatko: I was still a student when I watched the movie A Few Good Men. The story and dilemmas elaborated there are universal and valid at anytime and anyplace and the acting was excellent. The remarkable scene in the courtroom with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson and their clash of beliefs– it’s a classic! I would recommend that the young generations of lawyers watch it. Those are two hours well spent.
This Article was originally published in Issue 7.11 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.