Macedonia’s average monthly salary of $670 and its zero tax for reinvested profit are enticing prospects for cost-conscious investors. But for Belgian bus manufacturer Van Hool, another factor was significant in the decision to locate its bus assembly plant in Macedonia. “We concluded that the country is run the way a manager would run a company,” says chief executive Filip Van Hool.

Mr Van Hool’s statement seems to be confirmed by the World Bank, which for a number of years has praised Macedonia’s governance and widespread reforms. In the most recent Ease of Doing Business ranking, Macedonia ranked 25th worldwide for its overall business climate, ahead of countries such as Japan, Switzerland and Austria.

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Macedonia's emergence from years of stagnation can largely be attributed to Nikola Gruevski, the country's prime minister since 2006. Mr Gruevski, a soft-spoken former broker, tells fDi that despite never having worked as a CEO, he does apply some elements of business management to ruling the country. “I worked my way up when working in a bank, starting from a very basic position, so I know how companies function... especially when it comes to the economy. There are some steps that are similar in running a company and a country,” he says.

Talent call

One such step is attracting top talent into the country's government. One of Mr Gruevski’s first tasks as prime minister was to go headhunting for top fliers within Macedonia’s diaspora. This enabled him to import best practices from abroad. “I invited about 30 Macedonians with experience gained in other countries to work with me. It has never happened before for someone from the outside [of the ruling party] to be invited to work with the government,” says Mr Gruevski.

To further widen the pool of talent and expertise in the country, in 2010 the government launched an initiative in which Macedonian students can enrol in the world's top universities and have their expenses paid, as long as they are willing to work in Macedonia for at least six years after graduating.

Mr Gruevski says when it comes to talent, it is not so much the résumés he is interested in, as the candidate’s ability and willingness to make a difference. “The most important thing is to have the best people in the right places, not whether they are from Skopje, New York or London,” says Mr Gruevski. “As a Chinese proverb says, what matters is whether the cat is chasing mice or not,” he adds.

Given that in 2012 Macedonia’s capital Skopje recorded a huge 900% year-on-year increase in inward FDI – with companies such as Johnson Controls, an American industrial manufacturer, and Johnson Matthey, a UK chemical company, expanding their Macedonian operations just a few years after entering the country – it seems that Mr Gruevski's 'cats' are ahead of their game.