Further info and resources from my website

Friday, July 14, 2017

Romania: Between HR technology and childhood memories

The blogger at age 8
wearing a traditional
Romanian costume
Two historic events are taking place in Romania this month. First, King Michael will celebrate the 90th anniversary of his accession to the throne, a record for any monarch in history*. Sure, he lost it 70 years ago, but post-Communist Romania returned, if not his crown, at least his palaces (I am staying just a few blocks from his Bucharest home, Elisabeta Palace), castles (you should visit lovely Peleș Castle) along with full honors and titles (move over, Elizabeth II, your 60 years on the throne are kid's stuff.) The second memorable event is that yours truly is launching from here the first of a worldwide series of HR localization workshops for one of the largest cloud HRIS projects in the world.

Romania has always been close to my heart. That's where my mother's family hails from, and where my Paris-born mother grew up, separated by the Iron Curtain from her Paris-residing mother for 20 years. Amazing at it may sound, between the ages of 2 and 21, my mother never saw her own mother, growing up in the most beautiful region of Romania: Transylvania (known as Ardeal in Romanian.) Dracula's region is indeed not only the most beautiful from a landscape perspective, it is also among the most ethnically diverse areas in Europe: Romanians (the majority) live next to Hungarians and Germans, and almost every town in Transylvania has a Romanian, Hungaria and German name (In another record, Romania recently elected as president a member of the German minority, thus becoming the only country in Europe whose leader comes from a minority group!) Many cities are medieval jewels, in particular what is known as the "Saxon towns."

I spent many a lovely summer in Transylvania in my teen years, enjoying the food (see below), fishing in the Mureș river, trekking through the Carpathian mountains, bonding with the extended Romanian family: cousins galore from Geoagiu de Sus to Teiuș and Alba Iulia, the old capital where 99 years ago the country was reunited, as well as Cluj-Napoca where my mother started university and Bucharest where cousin Felicia lived and where my mother and I  had to hide from the building's Securitate man since we were "foreigners."

Sun of IT rises in the East...and women too!
It is therefore with great pleasure that I always come back to Romania, although now it is more likely to be to Bucharest on business than Transylvania, although the latter's capital, Cluj-Napoca has become a major IT hub, rivaling Bucharest. Many large multinationals are taking advantage of the good infrastructure and education, competitive salaries and tax structure and Romanians' linguistic abilities, to set up engineering and shared service centers. Many of my international clients have consolidated shared HR operations from either Cluj or Bucharest. As an employee, if you have a question about your vacation balance, send an email or pick up the phone and your request is likely to be handled by a Romanian.

An even more remarkable development is that an increasing number of women developers are to be found in Romanian-based IT centers: latest figures show that almost 30% of the tech force in Romania is female. Much higher than in Western Europe or the United States. Communism doesn't have much to recommend it for (my family lost land acquired through hard work when the monarchy was overthrown) but at least it pushed women into science and engineering jobs, resulting  in the amazing stats I just mentioned.

HR in Romania
Although Romanian companies can elicit their share of complex rules (especially when allowances are dependent on absence/time data or extraneous factors such as outside temperature several days in a  row), in comparison with other countries I know well such as France, Italy or Brazil, Romania is a model of simplicity.  For instance, whereas France has a good 20 different types of labor contracts, Romania has, for all intents and purposes, only two: fixed term or unlimited term (permanent.) Temporary employees are not common either, reminiscent of Italy who banned it for so long. But post-Communist Romanian governments have clearly embraced pro-business labor laws, simplifying the tax code (both individual and corporate income tax is a flat 16% rate), getting rid of the quaint labor booklet or cărtea de muncă (similar to Brazil's carteira de trabalho) and overall making life much easier for employers and (some) employees. Although the dreadful and dreaded bureaucracy of old hasn't entirely disappeared, the current situation clearly has nothing to do with the olden days of the command economy.

HRIS vendor market
The Romanian HRIS market can be divided into two groups. Tier-1 vendors cater to the local subsidiaries of multinational groups and large Romanian companies (including utilities such as Romgaz and state agencies such as the Romanian Central Bank). Amazing how history tends to repeat itself, although with a twist: A decade ago I worked on the Oracle localization effort for Romania, leading a workshop in Bucharest; and now here I am running another localization workshop in Bucharest, but this time on the customer side. Tier-1 vendors include the usual suspects we know, with SAP on top (the only one with full localization including payroll) and Workday the #1 cloud HR vendor with limited localization (and the need to improve its Romanian translation).

...and their lei

Tier-2 vendors cater to the other Romanian companies: smaller in size but more numerous. Charisma and Wizrom are top of the pack, with Charisma the payroll vendor used by many multinational subsidiaries.

Culture and the rest
View of Bucharest's Royal Palace from the blogger's
room in the landmark Plaza Athénée hotel
My favorite hotel in Bucharest is the Plaza Athénée (now part of the Hilton hotel chain): in Communist times my mother would book a room there when we visited Bucharest since as a "foreigner" she was not allowed to stay with her cousin (the local authorities in her hometown, though, turned a blind eye - after all, they all went to school with her!) I continue the family tradition in this grand hotel, whose heyday was in the 1930s where glitterati, royalty, diplomats, and spies made of the Paris of the Balkans (as Bucharest was known) their HQ. It faces both Revolution Square (where hated dictator Ceaușescu's fall started) and the Royal Palace. The Old Town and most sights are within walking distance.

Romanian cinema has rapidly become one of the most dynamic in the world winning prizes in major festivals. I strongly recommend   Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu, Cristian Mungiu's at times disturbing Behind the Hills and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Many of Communist-era movies are forgettable, but I would single out the exceptional World War I drama Forest of the Hanged.

Romanians have produced great writers: Eugen Ionescu wrote Englezește fără profesor ("English Without a Teacher") in Romanian before he moved to Paris, Frenchified his name and wrote a French-language version which became La cantatrice chauve, a masterpiece of absurdist theater and the longest running play in French history (it just celebrated its 60th anniversary, playing every single day in the same tiny theater in the Latin Quarter in Paris). During the 30s, like all Romanian aristocrats, Princess Bibesco had a preference for the French language and wrote what is still amazing prose. Although many other good Romanian writers are only available in Romanian, Mihai Cărtărescu's amazing Nostalgia is available in English and I strongly recommend it. Transylvania-born Herta Müller writes in her native German (although she is fully bilingual), mainly about life in Communist-era Romania: for her efforts, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The blogger, at age 10, with his mother in a
photographer's studio in Aiud, Transylvania

Speaking of languages, Romanian is a linguistic oddity: the only Latin-based language that maintains noun cases lost since Roman times, and with a strong Slavic influence. In other words, if you speak Russian and Italian, Romanian will be easy to learn. My favorite Romanian word? The joyful "lalelele" which means "the tulips."

Last but not least, Romanian food has to be sampled: often hearty, it relies on local produce, has some similarities to dishes found elsewhere in the Balkans. Many meats are served with mămăligă, similar to the Italian polenta, a type of mashed corn. I cannot eat eggplant purée, sarmale (meat in vine leaves)  and ardei copți (roast red peppers) without thinking fondly of my childhood summers where we grew those vegetables in the garden (water came from...a well! it was cold, clean  and delicious). Sweet cozonac and ișler (the latter, a Transylvanian specialty that reminds me of the Latin American alfajor)),especially when served with a shot of vişinată should round off your evening brilliantly. 

*King Michael holds another record: He is one of the  few monarchs in history to have both preceded and succeeded his father on the throne.

Next destination after Bucharest: Casablanca, Morocco. 

(This is the latest in a series of wide-ranging articles focusing on a single country. Previous posts:

July 2016: Middle Kingdom: Musings on Chinese HR, technology and the country
Nov. 2014: Of Switzerland, the country, its HR practice and technology landscape
June 2013: Thoughts on India, its HR/technology space 
Dec. 2012: My 20-Year Affair with Spain  - with more than 10,000 views it is one of my most popular articles
Aug. 2011: Brazil Rising: Thoughts on HR, technology and an emerging giant )

NOTE: All pictures are by/from the blogger and therefore copyrighted.

No comments:

Post a Comment