From the early days at CERGE-EI to 20 years at the EBRD

An interview with Libor Krkoška (PhD 1997) done by our current PhD student, Dali Laxton.

You have recently opened the EBRD resident office in Cyprus, which appears to be very successful. Could you have imagined becoming a global change-maker 20 years ago?

I applied to study at CERGE-EI 25 years ago when it was a newly established institution. It would not have been possible either for me or any other CERGE-EI student at the time to imagine how deeply this would impact our professional careers, as well as our personal future. I was in the third cohort of students and successfully completed and defended my PhD dissertation as the 7th student in the short CERGE-EI history, back in the summer of 1997. It has proven to be an excellent decision. My degree from CERGE-EI has prepared me extremely well for my long and diverse career with the EBRD over the past 20 years. I have also made many good friends. Most importantly, I met my future wife Nevila Konica there as well, so the years I spent in Prague studying at CERGE-EI were very important for me indeed.

Which skills acquired at CERGE-EI do you think contributed to your career success?

The PhD program in Economics at CERGE-EI has provided me with an excellent education that has allowed me to have not just a very satisfying, but also a very varied career at the EBRD. I started as a macroeconomist, analysing the economic development of EBRD countries of operations and preparing economic forecasts, using the knowledge from the econometrics and macroeconomics courses taught at CERGE-EI, as well as from the work I did for my PhD dissertation, including a research paper published in the Journal of Comparative Economics.

The skills acquired at CERGE-EI also allowed me to continue pursuing research in the following years while working in the Office of the Chief Economist of the EBRD. I have published further papers in academic journals, such as the International Journal of Forecasting and the Review of Law and Economics, and co-authored chapters in seven Transition Reports, a high profile annual EBRD publication. Most importantly, I have also been able to use my academic education in more practical matters during the last ten years, as the head of the EBRD resident offices, first in Moldova, later in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and currently in Cyprus. I can say without hesitation that I would have not been able to do any of that without the skills and knowledge acquired at CERGE-EI.

What attributes are the most useful while working at the EBRD that you would recommend?

I believe that CERGE-EI provides a very strong background not only in theoretical knowledge but also in empirical economics, working and analysing real-life data. The ability to combine a deep understanding of the issues in their abstract form with the application of those theoretical principles in practice, being able to find realistic policy implications, is something CERGE-EI prepared me for very well. In addition, I also benefited from spending a year abroad, working on my PhD dissertation as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania in the USA, where I was able to interact with world-class researchers and students. Indeed, I am sure that the experience gained as a visiting scholar, facilitated by CERGE-EI, has allowed me to move successfully through a number of countries for the EBRD over the past ten years.

What are the most important impacts that the EBRD makes on society in your opinion?

We invest in changing lives’ is the best summary of the EBRD in one sentence, and it is also the reason why I have stayed with them for so many years. The EBRD has a vast range of activities and instruments, financing small and medium enterprises, facilitating large corporate investments, helping to deepen local financial sectors and develop capital markets, investing in renewable power generation and energy efficiency improvements, upgrading transport networks, and supporting legal and regulatory reforms, as well as corporate governance improvements. The EBRD is therefore able to support all types of commercial activity with well designed and structured instruments, helping to create new, well paid jobs to improve the economic environment, and assisting in the development of well governed, integrated, inclusive, competitive, green, and innovative economies.

What is your personal impact that makes you proud of yourself?

First of all, let me stress that my work at the EBRD is always as a part of a team. Secondly, there are just too many outcomes I have contributed to and would not like to leave out.

Just to give a couple of examples, in Moldova, where I worked as the head of the EBRD resident office for several years, I contributed to the work of the EBRD on financing and advising for the airport upgrade and air traffic reform, municipal trolleybus replacement, the upgrade of the key road connecting the capital with the second largest city in the country, the completion of the port on the Danube, the construction of the first shopping mall, the upgrade of a small boutique hotel, banking sector restructuring, the regionalisation of municipal water companies, the reform of the private power distribution company, the environmental upgrade of a local brewery, the restructuring of a juice producer, to name just a few. I could give similar examples from Bosnia and Herzegovina, where EBRD financing for transport infrastructure is probably the most visible, although by no means the only EBRD achievement, as there are many other beneficiaries: most importantly many small and medium-sized enterprises in the rural areas that require assistance the most.

Of course at the moment I am most involved in supporting economic development in Cyprus. Cyprus may be the sunniest European country but when I arrived in Nicosia in 2014, it was in a rather dark moment, following the 2013 financial crisis and bail-in of uninsured deposits. I arrived in Cyprus at the time of capital controls, when economic activity was declining and unemployment growing. The immediate task at the time was the recapitalisation of local banks, and we have done our part to help stabilize the banking sector, making equity investments in the two largest local banks and supporting their restructuring and governance improvements. Later on our focus moved to support for the Limassol port concession, financing for renewable power production, helping to expand solar power production in the country by more than 10 per cent, and support for SMEs across the whole island via our trade finance program and advisory services. Indeed, our trade finance program in Cyprus has been a great success and won the EBRD trade finance deal of the year 2 years running. Also the EBRD Annual Meeting, held in Nicosia in May 2017, was a great achievement and helped to put Cyprus on the investment map for many participants.

In all of this I was lucky to be able to rely on the support of my family, most importantly my wife, as well as the skills and knowledge gained during my studies at CERGE-EI.

Could you share a nice memory from your missions? (It does not have to relate to the purpose of the mission itself.)

Again, I could probably share many nice memories, but given the time of the year and the Olympic Games going on in Korea at the moment, what comes to my mind is Valentine’s Day in 2014, when my wife and I were able to watch Torvill and Dean recreating their winning ice skating routine from the 1984 Sarajevo Olympic Games 30 years later in the same stadium. It was a beautiful and memorable moment, which felt even more personal by the fact that I was going to the same ice skating stadium every week with our children during my assignment as the EBRD Head of Office in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

What are the 3 most important values at work for you?

For me, the most important values at work are trust, positive attitude, and teamwork.

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