Speaking with WSI’s esteemed guest, Ante Mandic, I discovered just how different this extremely successful Croatian manager is compared to many other owners, board presidents and businessmen in general. Through our conversation I was able to recognize Mandic’s thirst for knowledge and competitive spirit stemming from a young age, as if already then he was destined for success, though his path towards becoming a successful businessman was relatively difficult.

During his time as an altar server in church, he became well acquainted with his priest and found a true friend in him, and it is for this reason that he became the Croatian Catechism Champion back in 1967. He also enjoyed playing chess and was pretty good at it; so good, in fact, that he had the opportunity to beat the Bishop until his Priest advised him that it would not be polite to win against the Bishop, where in the end the match ended in a draw.

His next victory in life came when Mandic furthered his education. Upon completing high school in Vinkovci, to which he travelled every day by train, Ante Mandic received a military scholarship and registered at the Military Technical Academy finishing third in his class, and became a nuclear physicist. Soon after he received his master’s degree, but opted not to continue his career in science but rather pursue a career in business, where he emphasizes, “Entrepreneurship is only for those ready to take risks.”

His risk was very big considering he was left jobless and was literally forced to fight for his survival. He very quickly started a business, but at that time there didn’t seem to be any serious work on the horizon because IT, and especially software production in the early 90’s in the Republic of Croatia, was still in its very early stages of development.

It is important to emphasize that courage and willingness to risk are not sufficient for success. Simply put, the road to becoming a successful entrepreneur is very often predetermined by a series of ‘chance’ events which, along with great effort, knowledge and determination can create a new ethic upon which the world of business is based. Mandic built his new company IN2 (July 2, 1992) upon the foundations of knowledge, technology and innovation. Back then the company employed six people. Mandic says, “In order to comprehend the level of change that has happened in the last 23 years, I will note, just for the sake of illustration, that at that time, Oracle was a new and inferior developing technology (Version 2) in comparison to Informix and Ingres (both names beginning with ‘in’), and today’s Windows was only just then in its beginning stages.”

Today IN2 is a conglomerate of 12 companies consisting of over 550 employees mostly made up of young and highly educated technical experts. The average age is 33, while annual revenue is over 200 million HRK (approx. 30 million USD). Mandic is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades which include two Croatian Manager of the Year awards and the Order of the Croatian Star with the Effigy of Blaz Larkovic awarded to him by the President of the Republic of Croatia for his exceptional contribution to the development of the Croatian economy. IN2 Group has been awarded the Gold Kuna by the Croatian Chamber of Economy for the best company in Croatia.

Asked how he sees the challenges of IT in today’s world, this successful manger replies, “IT is no longer just technology but something that enables change in the world, its economy and social relations. That’s why today we speak of digital economy, digital transformation, digital society, and digital revolution. IT is in fact everywhere… from objects (Internet of Things) to social networks.” Reflecting on his thoughts, I asked Mandic what his goals are, and how does he regard regional expansion, and does he plan to expand toward the West?

“We can easily say that the countries of Southeastern Europe, the region within which we work, are lagging in IT infrastructure development. And I don’t mean the communications aspect: wires, bandwidth, Wi-Fi, etc., but the public services and registrars that make the State more functional and efficient and make its citizen’s lives easier. We fall under the few IT firms that know how to develop this type of infrastructure and this is why I believe we still have a lot of work to do in the region, which includes regional expansion. We have proven this with the many projects which have developed, mainly in Croatia but not excluding virtually all countries in the region. Today IN2 is probably the biggest company of its kind in this part of Europe with a potential to expand, especially in the West. On the other hand we do not want to neglect the East, considering that for many countries we are considered the West.”

IN2 Group is also making a name for itself in the West. INsig2, one of IN2 Group’s subsidiaries, three years ago was commissioned by NATO and the Office of the European Commission for Fraud Prevention – OLAF, to train American police forces. As well, Mandic participated in Interpol’s conference in Singapore in June of this year. “Educating police who conduct investigations with the use of the most sophisticated digital forensic tools is very important because most criminal acts are tied to mobile phones, computers and similar devices. For example, drug smugglers communicate by phone, not to mention the financial sector where it is virtually impossible to do anything without computers,” says Mandic adding, “The use of special software and hardware tools for seeking and storing digital evidence requires that the police today have an immense amount of expert knowledge. That is why police forces around the world are setting up separate units for high-tech crime. This has opened up space on the market within which globally we have very few quality firms. We realized a few years ago that we have found our niche and I can now say that we are a global player.”

IN2 Group has also worked on an administrative-information system called NBMIS (National Border Management Information Systems) worth several million EUR. Today, according to standard valuation methods for companies of this profile, based on revenue and profit, IN2 Group is estimated to be worth more than 35 million EUR. “In the last 7 years we acquired several software companies which enabled us to own experience,” says Mandic while he speaks of IN2 Group’s strategy and its IPO: “I think it’s only natural for IN2 to transform from a limited liability company to a stock company.”

Listening to Mandic speak, it is easy to get the impression that he is a relatively courageous, bold and educated man, who, unlike the majority of managers today (across the globe), builds his authority as well as the whole IN2 Group upon the foundations of knowledge, innovation and passion. After all, he is one of the rare managers who knows the names of every one of his employees and a comparison of Ante Mandic and Steve Jobs definitely makes sense!

God bless you all.