Iulian Harpa, Managing Partner HiM Public Affairs: How to Become Your Client’s Partner of Choice
High Innovative Mind (HiM Public Affairs) is a consulting firm in the field of public affairs operating mainly in the energy sector, but not only. The concept was created by Iulian Harpa, Managing Partner, in 2014, and its aim is to build relations and consolidate customer reputation on their way to performance and success.
We are talking with Iulian Harpa about objectives, energy sector evolution in Romania and in the region, as well as about ways to develop the business environment in the following period.
Iulian Harpa has an extensive international experience as manager in financial and audit processes for OMV Petrom and Cameron, US, being responsible for the fulfilment of financial and operational commitments in the energy sector, at global level. Iulian was Non-Executive Director in the Board of Directors of ‘Global Finance’ Fund and Managing Partner at the Wing Media Energy Consulting Agency. He is a graduate of the Petroleum-Gas University of Ploiesti, with a degree in Commerce and Services. He also holds a Master’s degree in Petroleum Business Management, at the Petroleum-Gas University, is certified by ACCA and graduated the Dale Carnegie communication and presentation courses.
How did the HiM project start and what are the main objectives of this activity?
Iulian Harpa: In 2014, we set up the company High Innovative Mind, in order to provide consulting services, exclusively in the energy sector, area in which I was experienced, and I had been carrying out my activity for over 14 years at the time.
Specifically, the HiM Public Affairs concept – with integrated services of strategic communication, social responsibility projects, business representation, attraction of non-reimbursable funds (governmental, European and Norwegian), research & reporting and professional training sessions – started last year, in March 2020. Now, one year from the launch of the HiM project, although it was a period full of challenges in view of the pandemic crisis that has affected everyone’s businesses, the results are starting to show and they don’t come accidentally, but in the light of teamwork. I must admit that I had the opportunity to know wonderful people who quickly understood the challenge to start building a team and integrated concept, in which the results don’t come immediately, and the strategy is a long-term one.
What we want is to constantly grow professionally and therefore afford to represent clients at the highest level, with personalized and quality services. It is not always easy, especially for companies with short-term projects, but that is where our role comes in, for a better communication and sharing together with our partners the expertise accumulated in international commitments helping to implement projects, based on sustainable strategies.
Our main goal is to become, in the medium and long term, the first choice of clients operating in the energy sector – which we consider the most competitive sector of Romania’s industry.
After the international experience in the oil and gas industry, with operational and financial audits on all continents, and the various business and intercultural experiences, you chose entrepreneurship. What prompted you to make this decision?
Iulian Harpa: As soon as I returned to Romania, at the end of 2013, from a three-year commitment in the US, and 15 years of activity in the corporate environment, I took up the challenge to start a project in the entrepreneurial area. Being a competitive person, after almost 15 years of operational and financial business analyses – maybe in the most complex business, the oil & gas industry – I set out to use the knowledge gained and try to combine the corporate principles with the entrepreneurial side, thus resulting in a hybrid business solution: planning and strategy on the one hand and communication and human dimension on the other.
International experience has helped me add to the professional portfolio a global understanding of the business environment: the Austrian thoroughness with the American pragmatism and optimism, the culture of Latin countries and of the Middle East, the Asian reliability, the African pace of development and, not least, the German fairness and British commitment.
Although the Romanian business environment is often blamed, after working in over 25 countries with highly difficult commitments from a professional point of view, I can say Romania is an environment in which you can build beautifully if you are persevering and patient. It’s not always easy! Personally, I don’t always relate to the domestic expectation in which miracle solutions must be obtained in several months, but luckily, I am in the position of being able to compare, and my choice where to work was clear: Romania.
What influence did the period in which you worked for OMV Petrom have on this choice?
Iulian Harpa: Thank you for the question! I would start by saying that my option of working in the energy sector is especially due to my family, which has worked at Petrom and from which I inherited the loyalty and culture specific to the industry.
In the over 10 years of activity at OMV Petrom I had the opportunity to understand and verify the processes and activities within the divisions of the largest oil & gas company in South-Eastern Europe. I will always remember with pleasure and professional satisfaction the audit engagements performed on offshore platforms, in refineries, in the power plant, in the tank farms and distribution stations.
I would like to mention very clearly that I was one of OMV Petrom employees who benefited from Petrom’s privatization. At the beginning of my career, I gained knowledge, principles and professional experience, which helped me a lot and which will be useful during my entire career. In the six years in which I worked for OMV Petrom, after Petrom privatization, I can say that the new organizational culture helped the company become competitive and propose its employees’ business principles and conduct.
And yes, any professional experience at OMV Petrom makes you stronger and gives you confidence to perform in the energy sector at a high level of professionalism. In a corporation you acquire essential skills from a professional point of view, and I would mention some of these: business conduct, time management, planning, teamwork, and, last but not least, professional integrity.
How did you manage to cope with challenges and adaptation from the corporate environment to the entrepreneurial environment?
Iulian Harpa: Long story short, after analysing the business strategy of hundreds of managers, with different business processes, I considered it was time to build a consulting firm in line with the business principles I believed in. Being for 15 years a corporatist and auditing, I must admit that it is not always easy to promote in the Romanian business the principle “don’t promise what you can’t deliver!”.
The level of expectation is to get close as soon as possible with the newly created company to the working standard you were used to operate within a corporation, from every angle: location, working conditions, cash flow security, business infrastructure etc. And here you face the first shock at the beginning of the life as entrepreneur, when you understand you have nothing! When you realize that the workload and stress, periodic evaluations, the preparation of a budget and reports that required reviews in corporations seem like ‘caresses’ compared to the wild reality of early entrepreneurship. Another challenge for me was to adapt fast to the new perception of the market when you no longer have a title in an important corporation, and you start “knocking at doors” from the perspective of a simple limited liability company.
As a last challenge, I would mention the temptation of going back to a corporation, with the experience gained in entrepreneurship and here I admit there have been some very tempting offers that I have received and which I had to analyse carefully before declining them.
I chose to build as entrepreneur and the challenge was with myself, whether I can actually deliver what I recommended others to implement. I chose to make the professional change from the financial and audit areas to communication and business representation because I knew what, I knew how, and I clearly felt why! There is a huge room for dialogue, there is a need for professional and technical meetings and there is a real need for tailor-made client representation to be able to build together a sustainable business.
How did the energy sector in Romania and at international level evolve lately from your point of view?
Iulian Harpa: The pandemic period has definitely made its mark on the global energy sector and implicitly with visible effects on the Romanian industry.
Although we are in a period filled with challenges, I would mention two directions that have caught my eye in the short and medium term. The first refers to the huge opportunity of accessing non-reimbursable funds allowing a sustainable capital input for efficient and sustainable projects, through programs with European and government funds. For this purpose, I would mention some: Just Transition Fund, Modernization Fund, National Recovery and Resilience Program, Regional Operational Program, Large Infrastructure Operational Program, Digitization Program, Innovation Fund, Horizon Europe 2021-2027.
The second, closely related to the first, refers to Romania’s commitments before European bodies that must be objective, adapted to reality and assumed by professionals. Here I would refer, for example, to the share of energy from renewable sources at 30.7% and the reduction of ETS emissions relative to 2005, by 43.9%, both with deadline in 2030. About the goals assumed by Romania for 2050 to the zero-emission target, I like to believe that they were well understood and there are viable solutions to be met.
Starting from here, we cannot talk yet about an updated national strategy to clearly show how we can reach these assumed targets, given that coal production still covers during winter 30% of the national energy production. Also, the European Green Deal imposes a transition to a sustainable economy where gas – with a share of approx. 30% of total energy production – seems to have been accepted as transition fuel. And, because we refer to gas, the potential of Black Sea gas production is estimated as being a major one and it can take Romania in the position of the largest gas producer in the EU.
Specifically, Romania has the opportunity to access the funds made available by the EU through funding mechanisms such as: Just Transition Fund for regions dependent on industries that produce greenhouse gases. In Romania, it’s about the following counties: Dolj, Gorj, Hunedoara, Mures, Prahova and Galati. I would also mention the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism, dedicated to relaunching the economies affected by the pandemic, with a budget of EUR 650 billion, of which EUR 30 billion were allocated to Romania through the National Recovery and Resilience Program, with double support for areas: climate and digitization.
Another major opportunity is represented by the Modernization Fund, a mechanism through which the European Commission makes available for the least developed 10 states in the Union non-reimbursable funds for project in the energy sector to support transition to the zero-emission target of the European Union, Romania having a financial allocation of over EUR 6 billion.
As regards the evolution of the energy sector at global level, I don’t think on the horizon there is a consistent recovery in the short term and even more, risks of long-lasting negative economic effects being still on the rise: the fluctuating quotations of the oil barrel are a good example for the oil & gas industry. In this regard, I resonate with the statement of IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, who said in an interview at the end of last year that the post-crisis recovery would be “long, uneven and prone to setbacks”.
How would you describe in a few words the business environment in Romania at this point?
Iulian Harpa: A challenging question, which generates a mix of feelings, but the first words that come to mind are: opportunity and development. And, starting from this point, I can continue to answer on an optimistic tone. Although we are going through a difficult period, right in this period being in the third wave of the pandemic, there is an effervescence in the market, which will definitely be felt more extensively, from an economic point of view, starting with the spring of 2022.
The development gap between Romania and the Western European countries is diminishing at an accelerated pace and this can only bring added value reflected in foreign direct investments, know-how and expertise shared with the community management.
Of course, we need to be realistic and take the specific challenges into account. Here I refer to lack of predictability, excessive focus on short-term projects and a gap of entrepreneurial experience, especially due to limited budgets allocated for international certification and the lack of entrepreneurial tradition in Romania.
What is the role of HiM in the business environment? What is the company’s strategy of positioning in the local and regional market?
Iulian Harpa: The role of HiM Public Affairs in the business environment is to create strategic relations between important players in the energy market and offer its clients the opportunity to identify viable solutions of business development and promotion, starting from the real business needs. Our goal is to ensure the necessary support for clients, so that they can develop and become leaders in their line of business.
As far as our business strategy is concerned, it is one clear, based on reliability, humble approach and the accumulation of internationally certified competencies. Why? Because they provide us with the guarantee of efficient and effective representation of partners who put their trust in us.
Moreover, we want internationally certified competencies in our portfolio precisely to address international partners operating regionally and globally. For this purpose, HiM strategy refers to consolidation of existing partnerships and gradual expansion of the portfolio.
As I mentioned earlier, our main goal is to become, in the medium and long term, the first choice of our clients and partners.
What programs/projects does the company’s agenda include for the future? What major projects have you implemented so far?
Iulian Harpa: We are proud to have managed integrated CSR (Social Responsibility) services, strategic communication and business representation services in the largest project of geological data acquisition carried out onshore in Europe: 1,581 sq km in three counties: Buzau, Ialomita and Braila. It was a huge project, having as beneficiary the US operator Hunt Oil Company of Romania and the strategic partner OMV Petrom. It was a challenge to communicate and develop projects with 39 local communities and municipalities, but we succeeded, and the project was completed a month earlier than planned. I believe the secret of success consisted of communication and partnership developed with the relevant stakeholders before, during and after the completion of the project.
Another important project, which required a major engagement, was the implementation of an ISU working point in the commune of Padina, Buzau County, based on the partnership with the local Mayoralty, Buzau County Council, ISU Buzau and IGSU Bucharest. It is a project that was completed with the support of Secretary of State Raed Arafat, who understood the scale of the project and supported us unconditionally. I would not want to refer to the budget, but operationally speaking the ISU Padina Working Point has allocated 24 professional firefighters and paramedics, it serves 26,000 people 24/7, on a radius of 23,000 km2 and is equipped at the highest technical level, with ambulance and fire truck.
I would also like to mention that HiM Public Affairs was prequalified by EBRD Romania for consulting in the energy sector for two competencies: Energy/Resource Efficiency and Marketing & Strategic Communication. Financed projects are currently underway for companies with Romanian capital in the energy sector and we are proud to support the development of companies in the industry.
Last but not least, I would like to mention the competence in consulting for projects for attracting non-reimbursable funds and here I am not only referring to projects carried out by the relevant ministries, but also to projects managed directly by European bodies: Innovation Fund, Horizon Europe 2021-2027, Just Transition Fund, LIFE Environment and Resource Efficiency Program 2021-2027 etc.
What is in your opinion the most important responsibility of a manager within his own business? How do you measure the success of a company and what should be the main skills of the team?
Iulian Harpa: There are many important responsibilities related to business management and continuity, but I strongly believe that the most important for a manager is to be honest. Beyond any experience and management skills, colleagues feel when you are a fair person, before being a manager. You can influence and manipulate the team with excellent short-term results, but for a sustainable success any company manager must aim to work side by side with the team, be a teammate and therefore be able to inspire.
Another important aspect is to permanently communicate within the team and be prompt in answering requests. It is the duty of any manager to do it and I have recently learned from an article, published on a professional platform, that the most demotivating factor for employees is the lack of prompt answers from management.
Last but not least, in terms of responsibilities, I would refer to the culture of an entity. Beyond any deadline, periods with heavy workload and stress, I believe it is a must to permanently ensure respect in the group, cultivate the sense of humour and not to forget to discuss at least quarterly one-on-one with each colleague in your team.
The success of a company reflects in reaching the proposed targets and, through a well-structured implementation strategy, all the desired goals will be reached. For HiM Public Affairs, success can be measured by the feedback received from clients, by maintaining and developing long-term partnerships and, finally, by the continuous professional development of each member of the team.
How do you estimate the progress of the business environment in Romania in the following three-five years? What would be its development paths?
Iulian Harpa: Beyond any desire or optimistic estimate of ours, we need to realistically assume the fact that at least this year and the next will be marked by the pandemic. Of course, any good news, of potential quick recovery of the global economy is welcome, but I prefer to a remain a reserved optimist.
As far as our economy is concerned, we are in a position in which we don’t massively depend on a single industry like other countries (e.g., tourism or automotive), but a capital injection is needed from the state and here I hope the programs for supporting companies to go through the crisis period will become operational.
If we manage to propose and implement projects with non-reimbursable funds, it will be a great opportunity to reduce the development gap with the other countries in the Community bloc. Romania has a narrow window of opportunity and, at the same time, a historical chance of development in the following five – seven years if it invests in modernization the amount of EUR 80 billion.
Development of industrial infrastructure, of digitization and energy efficiency processes for all branches of the energy sector will allow Romania’s access to a single European market on each level of activity. For Romania, membership to the EU and NATO is a strategic factor of stability that will ensure in the long run the development in the right direction, sooner… or later.