5 Years at COBE – Through the Eyes of Our Managing Director
Managing director of the Osijek office, MBA graduate (almost), and Manager of the year 2021, in the category of young managers – meet Ines.
Did you know that last year Ines celebrated her five years in COBE? With a degree in journalism and a background in PR, her path to the managing director role of a software company certainly wasn’t a usual one, but is it an inspiring one? Absolutely. Staying with the same company for 5+ years can bring many benefits along the way. To find out how it can affect your professional and personal growth too, keep reading – Ines has all the answers.
Let’s rewind to 2016 for a second – what did it all look like when you first started working at COBE? What was your role, and what did your path to managing director look like?
I came to COBE as the 10th employee, and since I’m a journalist by profession, I started my career in the marketing and PR department – I say department, but it was just me. Nine out of ten people were developers at that time, which meant that lots of non-development tasks were, kind of, overlooked – not because nobody wanted to do them, there just weren’t enough people. Communication with the clients was one of them, and since I had a background in PR, I took on this responsibility. As the company gradually began to grow over the next few years, my role officially changed to Account manager, and with time, I became the Managing director’s right hand. When he decided to leave COBE, I faced the biggest challenge of my professional life – taking on the Managing director role. Even though it was a tough decision to make, I knew it made sense for COBE. Now, looking at the company’s results for the last two years, I’d say we made a pretty good decision at the time.
Of course, it was the right decision! And before we get to the part where we explain why, let me just ask you, how does it feel to be at COBE for more than five years?
The feeling is terrifying, in the best possible way. You know, I moved from Zagreb for this job, and in the beginning, I would have never thought I would stay in Osijek for more than two years. It was a completely new beginning for me – a new industry, a new job, a new place to live. It feels weird even talking about it, but in the end, this job fulfilled all my expectations (and beyond), and I’m incredibly grateful to have been here for the last five years.
The fear of the unknown is completely normal at first, but getting out of your comfort zone has a big impact on your personal and professional growth, don’t you think? And not only yours, but the growth of the whole company. In your opinion, what’s the biggest progress COBE made in the last five years?
When I first joined COBE, the team was working on one, maybe two projects, and there were only ten of us. Today, we are a business of 50+ people, working on 7, 8 projects simultaneously. Our clients are important brands in the automotive, food, technology industry. I’m very proud that the projects we work on are getting bigger and more challenging every day. Having a supportive management and experienced team of designers in Munich also doesn’t harm –we recognize our strength in our togetherness.
Looking at our financial and business results over the years, there’s been a noticeable incline in the last two years. What’s the most significant difference you see in COBE since becoming managing director?
I became the managing director at a time the company didn’t have the best business results and was quite shaken by employee turnover rates. Looking back on that time, the biggest difference I notice is how much stronger we are today. The projects we work on are more complex, and the clients we work with are bigger and more recognized. More importantly, we have a solid team we can rely on, and that can rely on us – both financially and personally. I believe this became most evident in 2020, when the pandemic started, but even now. Over the last two years, our team grew by 100% – there were many promotions, certifications, and some of our employees even had career switches. Overall, we can be really proud of the company we became in such a short period of time.
Working in the same company for a longer period surely influences your personal growth too, especially with a professional journey like yours. How did the managing director role impact your progress?
I had no experience running a company at the time, and to be completely honest, I was scared to do it – I mean, I was taking on the responsibility for 20 people and their 20 families. Luckily, with time, that fear disappeared (and returned briefly when the pandemic began). Now, I can honestly say that I don’t feel it anymore – despite being responsible for 50+ families. I believe that calmness comes from surrounding myself with great clients, even greater projects, and a team that I can trust. And when that team is highly driven, you feel an obligation to grow and progress with them.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the fact that four more people celebrate their fifth anniversary at COBE this year? Nine of them just marked their third year, and Mladen, our Finance manager, celebrates eight years at COBE these days. How do you feel about hearing these numbers? What would you say is our secret?
To me, this is a sign that we’re doing something good, that people are happy here, and that they see their future in COBE. Honestly, I’d like for them to stay as long as possible – I mean, as long as it makes sense for them, but for us too. I believe people continue to choose COBE because they have the opportunity to discover what they’re good at, progress, and partake in the company’s decisions and growth. This is what motivated me to stay. I came to COBE as a communications expert, and after a while, I’ve been promoted to the role of Account manager, which I planned on doing for a while. Becoming the Managing director was never in my wildest dreams, but here I am. One of the first goals I set, then and there, was to enable others the same opportunities I had, and to progress in a similar way – I believe that’s what draws people to stay at COBE. They know that if they start their career as students, they’ll (most likely) get hired after graduation. If they come as junior designers, they’ll have the opportunity to become seniors, team leads, and even project leads one day. Plus, the usual benefits – Christmas, Easter, baby bonuses; birthday and wedding Giftcards; regular medical check-ups; meetings with a licensed psychotherapist; paid father’s leave; internal and external education; and much more.
To keep things transparent – even with all the benefits and efforts of retaining every single employee, some of them still choose to leave. And you can’t take it personally. As you said in your acceptance speech for Manager of the Year, when you work in IT, new job opportunities come your way every single day. Some employees get bored, others search for new challenges. But one thing’s clear – staying loyal to a company, and for that many years, actually is a big deal, right?
It’s true that people get bored easily, but this is where the advantages of working in an agency shine through. When you work in an agency, something new happens every day, the pace is more intense and the job doesn’t allow you to get bored so easily. If you’re a sucker for change, you have the option to switch between projects every couple of months. On the other hand, if you prefer working on one, long-term project, get to know your clients on a deeper level, and work with the same team every day, you can do that too – we have projects we’ve been working on for more than three years. It’s also important to mention that the projects we work on cover different industries so everyone can find something that interests them. But it’s not just that, working in an agency brings many other possibilities. One of them is being promoted to a much higher position over the years. Another one is switching career paths. One of our colleagues recently switched her role from a QA to a Business Analyst. Instead of searching for a new job somewhere else, she wanted to introduce this role to COBE. By proposing the idea and being honest with us, she showed us how, even though she changed career interests, she still chooses COBE as her employer. And we’re grateful for that.
What do you see as the biggest benefit of staying with the same company?
Well, after being in the same company for as long as I have, you can without any doubt say that you know the people you work with. And just as much as you know their strengths and weaknesses, they also know yours. When you’re working with someone for a long time, you learn to approach problems together, you learn how to solve them, and in general, you have lots of common victories behind you. You learn together and you grow together. With certain people, it takes only a look and you both know what you’re thinking – this comes in handy in certain meetings. There’s also the benefit of watching your clients grow over the years and seeing your projects develop.
What drives your progress after five years? What's your motivation?
What motivates me most is the responsibility I have towards my colleagues. I owe it to them to be the best version of myself and to enable them the career they want. Another reason, and this is a more selfish one, is that I want to prove to the world that everything can be done from a smaller environment, like Osijek. I often hear comments about the work pace in Osijek being much slower than somewhere else, and that’s so far from the truth. We do work hard, but the difference between Osijek and a bigger city is that work isn’t our whole life. We have a healthy balance between our private and business lives, while still working for some of the biggest brands in the industry. And I don’t see anything wrong with that.
What’s next in your plans?
On a personal level, I still have a thesis to write, so my next step is to graduate. Learning doesn’t stop there though – I want to continue educating myself on becoming a better leader. As for the next steps in the company, I want to bring our expertise to a whole new level – hire more experts, work on even bigger projects, promote people, educate them, introduce new roles, and uplift our team leads. Our team doesn’t necessarily have to grow in numbers, but I want us to be the best we can be, in everything we do. Another important goal of mine is to keep giving back to the community. I think sometimes we all forget how blessed we are to work in the IT industry. That’s why I see helping others as one of our duties. I want our work to have an impact. Every year we make a smaller donation, but if we joined forces with other companies in Osijek Software City, I believe we could create something much bigger and really make a difference.
Your journey is inspiring to many, me first, therefore, what advice would you give to someone who has encountered an obstacle in their business life? Who wants to progress, but feels stuck?
As a manager, I encountered situations where employees automatically dismissed an opportunity before even talking to someone about it – they immediately thought it wouldn't be possible. Don’t do this – don’t deny yourself an opportunity without giving it a real chance. Talk to your team lead or management and present them with your idea. A manager will rarely turn an idea or proactivity down. Especially if it’s beneficial for both you and the company. So talk to them and fight for it, because, at the end of the day, everyone’s responsible for their own future. And if you want to progress at work, think about the things that are going well for you, things which you are good at, and educate yourself on it. Become a specialist at what you do, and remember to always stay competitive. That’s my advice.
What else is there to add? You heard all the benefits of staying with the same company for 5+ years. Or at least all benefits of staying with COBE. Ines’s story certainly is a special one, so if she inspired you to join our team and see what it’s all about, check our open positions.
It’s time for you to start your journey at COBE too. :)
Katarina is the Marketing Lead at COBE. She loves creating content, showing her creativity, and bringing new ideas to life. In her free time, she's either reading, watching The Office, or learning the art of kickboxing.