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Through our interviews for New Silk Road Network, we have spoken with various companies headed by men and women, and indeed, there have been differences in the way business is conducted. The business world portrays and demands masculine qualities, which has been the norm and the image for decades. However, as more women are ushered into the space, new and efficient ways of doing business are being introduced, making our logistics world more productive and more equal.

With these thoughts in backdrop, this month we spoke to Nadezhda Nikova, the Managing Director of Mireks Shipping, Bulgaria, a founding member of New Silk Road Network. With over 19 years in professional experience and running the company for 17 years, Ms. Nikova has mentored many young professionals who have learnt the various values of the company. While creating a thriving workplace for her employees, Ms. Nikova promotes human values in the dry and rigid industry. These values have permeated through their business as they create solid bonds with their customers and partners worldwide. In the challenging times of the Covid-19, Ms. Nikova's belief of 'Human to Human' has supported the company, as they offered flexibility to their peers and their customers.

(Nadezhda Nikova, Managing Director of Mireks Shipping)

Across our conversation, we covered various aspects such Bulgaria's interest in the Belt and Road Initiative, Mirek's vibrant portfolio and finally, how women offer an alternative and successful business model to the world of logistics.

In conversation with Nadezhda…

NSRN: Mireks Shipping was established as a subsidiary of Extrans Ltd.. Since then the company has expanded into sea, air and road transport. In these 17 years, what are the company's achievements and how do you see Mireks positioned in the local market?

Nadezhda: Mireks Shipping was established as a subsidiary of Extrans in 2004 while highly prioritising sea transportation. In April 2005, after I had already started working at the company, our business targets expanded and shortly after, we started offering a one-stop-shop in the logistic services. This was essentially the first big step in these 17 years.

Extrans Holding, is the main shareholder in Mireks Shipping. Extrans Ltd, a part of the holding, was the first company in our group, established in 1995, focusing on road transportation, customs brokerage and warehousing. With the support of Extrans Ltd and their splendid management team, Mireks Shipping has achieved an expansive portfolio of services. At the end of 2005, we not only had a well-developed FCL service, but we have also launched our own LCL direct service from the Far East to Sofia. We also offer air transportation, inland haulage services, local distribution, cargo handling in Bulgarian and Greek ports and the full range of logistics services in the Bulgarian market. Since our establishment, I am really proud to say that we have stayed true to its principles of reliability, loyalty, responsibility, and professionalism.

It is tough to rank all the company's achievements, so at this point, I would like to say a big 'Thank you' to the whole Mireks Shipping's team! It has been a great pleasure to bring this team together and to have the opportunity to manage them. I am really honoured to see them come a long way and gather the knowledge and attain the satisfaction of a job well done.

A personalised approach is one of the key factors behind our enduring bond with the customers, and we always work in our client's best interest. The job is not simply to determine the best route and means of transportation based on the desired time, the nature of the cargo itself and the clients' wishes, but to ensure transparency and safety throughout every step of the process.

One of the most significant challenges in front of us was finding a way to manage the COVID-19 situation during 2020 and this year. Our team is so reliable and has proven to be very successful even when working from home. Human responsibility is paramount in the current situation. At the same time, I am thankful for a loyal and trusted customers base that allowed us to stay strong during this challenging and strange COVID-19 year.

In these 17 years, Mireks managed to develop loyal and reliable relations with partners worldwide and found its place in the global logistics networks. At this point, I can briefly highlight some of our remarkable achievements:

1. Our LCL service from the Far East, which started in October 2005, after a big competition with the biggest co-loaders on the Bulgarian market at that moment: Ecu Line, Vanguard. Even a company like Shipco could not launch such a service in Bulgaria! In a matter of a few months, we managed to launch a weekly-based consol box from the Far East with consolidation in Hong Kong to Sofia, via Thessaloniki. We started with 20'DC, and after that, we continued with 40'DC,HC. Our main aim was deconsolidation in Sofia. 16 years later, this consol is still active, with the same frequency!

2. We also have a strong foundation in air freight. Once we transported 38 x 40'DC in 4 charters from Hongkong to Sofia, in one of the biggest aeroplanes: Boeing 747 – 8 F. Max payload 140 000 kgs, length 54.30 m, load volume 857 m3, and all this delivered in one month. This happened in 2017. It was one of our biggest projects.

3. We also have many other pick-ups and delivery of out gauge cargo from/to Bulgaria to India, Mexico, China, etc.

We are very well positioned in the Bulgarian market, not just for customers at home but also for our partners who are outside the country as well.

(Nadezhda Nikova with her team)

NSRN: What were your motivations to choose the field of logistics as a career? As the Executive Director of Mireks, what are your duties and responsibilities? How does your day to day look like?

Nadezhda: This a very good question. I set out with no clue what logistics really is and what impact it has on our lives. I came across this word in 1998, just after I made a very sudden decision that I did not want to be a construction engineer, as my parents would have liked (laughs), but instead in the last moments, I decided to choose something new and different. This was my 'leitmotif' when I started getting into the world of logistics. Something that I like to say is that "Fate knows its path.'

I joined the University of National and World Economy in Sofia, Bulgaria, to study Business Logistics. In 2002 I started working at one of the leading spedition companies in the country, where I had the opportunity to see an extensive part of logistics' practical side. In 2005, when I started working at Mireks Shipping, I had the inner feeling that it was about time that I followed my own path and to do things in the way I liked on my terms. Logistics processes are very dynamic but logical – just like in mathematics! You can find the correct result using different approaches. There is more than one way to get to your target to fulfil the task. All you need is an individualistic approach and the will to express your passion and personal engagement. I believe that young people should be given a chance to learn and develop, to express their high motivation through work.

Women in my opinion are very responsible, more creative, more communicative, and we show extraordinary patience during stressful times. Daily dynamics in logistics, the variety of knowledge and skills and the diversity of cases, combined with personal motivation – these factors contribute to individual satisfaction and present women opportunities for career growth.

So to all the women reading this: Dear ladies, there are no men and women when it comes to working. There are only targets that you are motivated to reach. If you put in a little more effort, if you have patience and persistence, and of course a bit of craziness (in a positive way), then you can gain anything.

NSRN: The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly altered our lives and our business. What changes were witnessed by Mireks and in what ways did you cope?

Nadezhda: In our conversation so far, I have already mentioned Covid-19 so often because it is part of our lives now. In January 2020, we started hearing about this new virus; everything sounded too surreal as if it was something that would never affect us. The problems started while organising deliveries to and from China, which was the first thing that shook us. Flights to and from China were very limited in number, but the sea transport was still operating regularly. We anticipated that this would be temporary and that everything will get back to normal in a couple of months, but in February, the virus came to Europe and countries like Italy went into lockdown. It was only a matter of time before such restrictions were to be applied in Bulgaria as well. We had 2 weeks to think it through and organise work from home for our employees – a practice that was unknown to us at that moment. Thanks to the high-level of IT support that we had, the deal management tools that we were using, and our employees' cooperating attitude, we managed to implement working from home as a very successful initiative.

Personally, I do not prefer to work from home. After my daughter was born, there was a period of time that I worked from home and even though it was very productive, this way of doing business does not correspond to my character. This is why, while everything was closed (shopping malls, businesses, schools, restaurants), I continued going to the office every day.

(Nadezhda Nikova with her daughter)

As of now, the employees whose type of work allows them to work from home are continuing so, which is about two-thirds of our employees. This challenge is something that have we dealt with successfully. Moreover, staying healthy has always been a top priority for us!

The reduced capacity of human resources is something that affected the global economy. This is one reason for the raising problems in the supply chain management in all types of transportation – air, ground and sea. This disbalance contributes to a higher demand for transportation and logistics services, which requires an immediate and adequate response from our end. There were no particular high periods for us, but we managed to maintain the levels from the previous year for sure. We hope that this year we still hold on to that stability because the various issues, such as container shortage and so on, will continue to be problematic. In my belief, the concept of 'human to human' leads us, even in big corporations, where the system is showing. However, behind every business, stay humans. This pandemic will activate the Human with big ‘H’.

NSRN: As Bulgaria is a part of the 17+1 partnership with China, how do you position yourself to companies from the East? What benefits do you think are available for those who wish to conduct business along the New Silk Road?

Nadezhda: Yes, Bulgaria is a part of the 17 + 1 partnership with China. The Chinese Government always shows immense respect for the relations between Bulgaria and China. In 2017, I was invited to a 25-day educational initiative in China, as a representative of the Bulgarian Forwarder's Association, via the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce. During my visit to China, I became aware of the Belt and Road Initiative and its opportunities to all countries involved. Meanwhile, the rail link between China and Europe was already functioning. Many investments in ports and infrastructure were already a fact. Four years later, my opinion is that businesses are ready for the new opportunities that BRI gives them. Seeing how the new connection is working, the companies request more of everything – faster speed, improved frequency and broader delivery services.

With the connection of BRI, one of our youngest team members is a force to be reckoned with. At only 22 years of age, Lena Todorova became a silver medalist in the field, which only comes to prove that innovation and flexibility are always valuable in an ever-challenging industry such as logistics. Lena's success came during the international skills competition "The Belt and the Road" in Chongqing, China, where she managed to earn a silver medal in the freight forwarding category. Her achievement was a brilliant success not only for Mireks Shipping but also for Bulgaria since this is the first award to have ever been received by a Bulgarian national in the field.

From a geographic point of view, Bulgaria has an excellent position between the Near East and Europe. We are an EU member; at the same time, we are located very close to Asia. Ocean connections are via Istanbul, Piraeus (one of the main points of BRI for Europe, with rail connection to Budapest, Belgrade, with an idea to connect to Sofia)and Thessaloniki. Unfortunately, we don't have a direct link to China on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. But these two Greek ports suffice for now.

(Pic Credit: Mireks Shipping)

On the other hand, Bulgaria is not in the direct way of the (land-based) Silk Road Economic Belt (like Poland, Germany, etc.), but it has the opportunity to use both options. One of the Bulgarian market benefits is that customers can make their choice between both BRI options, based on the place of loading/unloading, their budget, time for delivery, priorities.

Comparing the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and The Silk Road Economic Belt, when it comes to Bulgaria, I always find more advantages in the first one, especially if the loading place in China is near the port. If we take Piraeus port as the first EU port and direct and transshipment port from main China, ocean transit time can reach 19 days + 3 days delivery to Sofia, which can compete for an optimal logistics solution in terms of time and costs.

NSRN: What are the future projects that your company is preparing for? And what do you think are the general expectation in 2021 for your business?

Nadezhda: It is necessary to take up challenges, make plans, and have general expectations for the business in 2021. However, at the moment, I will keep my plans for myself. You may take it as a bit of superstition on my part, however, I believe that what needs to happen will happen. Of course, we will manage it well for it to happen. At the moment, the first priority is to be able to travel! If this happens then, the rest will fall in place too.

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