A KNOW-HOW MAN

by Ani Ivanova; photography by Dragomir Ushev

Manel Riera Cunill, Executive Director of the consulting company MTM GRUP brings Catalunyan business magic to Bulgaria

Manel Riera

When he founded MTM GRUP 11 years ago, Manel Riera knew what he wanted to do: help small communities develop. At that time, the Autonomous Community of Catalunya was like Bulgaria: politicians couldn't make longterm plans and ordinary people couldn't turn their dreams into profitable businesses. Riera knew he could help. A lawyer and expert in business and public administration, he had extensive experience counselling Catalunya's administrative, construction and environmental ministers.

MTM GRUP offers legal services, consulting on engineering projects and advice on management, corporate finances and communications. Headquartered in Manresa, Catalunya, in 2007 MTM GRUP established its first branch office outside of Spain - in Sofia. Inspired by a short visit to Bulgaria, Riera followed his heart and plunged into the world of Bulgaria. It has turned out to be “the best decision of my life,” says Riera.

Why expand your business into Bulgaria?

I'm the Mediterranean type, I'm emotional and I put my heart into ev-erything. I fell in love with Bulgaria. It's like Catalunya a quarter of a century ago - people are filled with that same lust for life. Besides, I prefer projects that give real results - Bulgaria is just such a project at the moment. Due to EU membership, the country offers fantastic opportunities for development.

What are MTM GRUP's main activities in Bulgaria?

In Spain we learned how to find funding for projects that raised the regional standard of living. For that reason our speciality here, too, is project financing and management. If a municipality wants to build a water treatment plant, we help them secure EU funding and experts to implement the project. MTM GRUP also matches up experienced Spanish companies with Bulgarian firms to create mixed yet equal partnerships.

Do you work in any other sectors?

We offer political consulting to MPs, representatives of the central ex-ecutive branch and mayors. Of course, our work requires strict confi-dentiality, so I'm not able to name names. But I can tell you what our most important advice to clients is: long-term thinking and the abil-ity to plan 10-15 years ahead. One obvious example of short-sighted planning is the overbuilding in Spain, which is repeating itself in some Bulgarian resorts. We also help politicians with their everyday tasks. After all, a good consultant should work on an election campaign for four years - without his involvement ever showing.

Do your clients include any high-level officials from the national government?

We work primarily with local and regional politicians. I believe that a nation's true richness lies in its small towns and villages. MTM GRUP would like to see Bulgarians in both Sofia and rural areas living equally well. In Spain, we achieved this goal in 20 years. Young Spaniards now stay in smaller communities because they feel comfortable there. The same thing could happen in Bulgaria - in only eight or 10 years.

Is using EU funds an art?

Everyone who wants to benefit from them has to learn how to manage them successfully. MTM GRUP and the Bulgarian Chamber of Com-merce organise informational seminars in various cities and towns including Plovdiv, Boboshevo, Bobov Dol, Panagyurishte, Pernik, Rila, Kyustendil and Sapareva Banya. These presentations attract entre-preneurs, students, civil servants and ordinary people who want to see their dreams come true - for example, opening a hair salon.

Do you think Bulgarians believe they can succeed this way?

The case of Spain shows that hard-working people with good ideas and skills can get access to the appropriate EU funds and can turn their dreams into reality. However, EU funds are not a panacea. You don't receive the money immediately, and part of the investment has to come out of your own pocket.

What is MTM GRUP's main goal?

To become the leading consulting firm for the public sector in Bul-garia. For example, if a mayor has problem with rubbish, lack of kin-dergartens or poor infrastructure, we want him to turn to us, just like in Catalunya.

What's the most important thing in your line of work?

A good reputation.

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