Robert Hellwagner, Selgros CEO: After 4 years of living here, I see Romania as my home
“After 4 years of living here, I see Romania as my home. I’ve been fortunate to discover many wonderful places, a great culture, and a lot of potential for growth.” - Robert Hellwagner, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Selgros Cash & Carry Romania.
The Romanian story of Robert Hellwagner, an Austrian executive with vast experience in the FMCG industry, started about four years ago when he joined the local team of the cash & carry chain Selgros. He is now the CEO of Selgros Romania.
“I only knew Romania through the eyes of the Western media before joining the Selgros team. During my first year in Romania as Chief Operating Officer, I had the opportunity to get a deep insight into our business, travel to all our locations and learn a great deal about the country, its every region and its culture. […] I was inspired to take this opportunity as Romania has greatly exceeded my expectations,” Hellwagner told Romania-insider.com.
Currently living in the charming mountain city of Brasov, in the even more charming region of Transylvania, he is feeling at home in Romania. He is a big fan of local villages and their rich traditions, the food and the wine, and the incredible nature. Plus, he says that the people’s warmth, openness, and generosity have been quite an inspiration.
“I admire Romanians for their flexibility, can-do attitude, and resourcefulness. This is particularly relevant in the retail business, a fast-paced environment where change is the rule,” Robert Hellwagner said.
Meet Robert Hellwagner and discover his Romanian story from the interview below. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___
Please tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up in a small village in Austria, close to the German border. Already during my schooling years, I was very interested in business affairs. My education was focused on general management and was heading in a PhD degree in Economics from Johannes Kepler University in Linz. After 8 years of experience in the banking sector in Austria, I joined the FMCG industry with Heineken Austria. I worked both in Austria and Switzerland, focusing on HoReCa customers, so the move to the retail sector was a natural one.
I love to play tennis and golf, but I am also a big fan of skiing and mountain biking. I am always curious, exploring and learning every day, therefore my years as CEO of Selgros have been a great experience so far.
Please describe your first encounter with Romania. Have you visited the country before joining the team of Selgros Romania?
I only knew Romania through the eyes of the Western media before joining the Selgros team. During my first year in Romania as Chief Operating Officer, I had the opportunity to get a deep insight into our business, travel to all our locations and learn a great deal about the country, its every region and its culture. Business-wise, Romania had the reputation of a solid market with great growth opportunities, so I did not have to think too much about coming here when I was given a chance. I was inspired to take this opportunity as Romania has greatly exceeded my expectations.
How has Romania changed since you first arrived?
Over the last 4 years, I have seen Romania developing from an economic and a social point of view. Especially the interest in gastronomy is rising, and so is the demand for premium, organic, and local products. I am proud to say that at Selgros, we have changed together with our clients. In the last few years, we have grown significantly in many areas, making our services even more professional. We have modernized our customer service and are currently introducing professional telephone sales for our B2B customers. At the same time, we have also further improved our delivery processes and optimized our range for HoReCa customers. But we have kept our focus on final consumers as well, as we have made it our mission to cater to their needs as well in the best possible way. Thus, it is easy for every Romanian to get a Selgros card in a matter of minutes in all Selgros stores and enjoy an extensive range of products – around 50,000, from everyday ones to premium ones at fair prices.
What are the three things you like most about Romania and why?
After 4 years of living here, I see Romania as my home. I’ve been fortunate to discover many wonderful places, a great culture, and a lot of potential for growth. First, I love the people here. Their warmth, openness, and generosity have been an inspiration for me ever since I first came here. The team at Selgros made my adaptation to Romania easy and smooth, and I want to thank all of them for our journey together.
A real treasure in Romania is its nature. From this point of view, Romania is very privileged. The wilderness and biodiversity are unique, and we should take all possible measures to preserve them.
I was also impressed by the wine and the gastronomy, the traditional meals where I have been invited have always been a feast.
All of these – people, nature, great food are to be found in Romania’s traditional villages that I love to visit whenever I can.
What don’t you like in Romania and what would you change here?
I think traffic situation and infrastructure are areas where improvements are needed. The traffic in Romania takes some getting used to, and the trip from Brașov to Bucharest is sometimes a lesson of patience. More investments in this direction would help the country and the economy stay attractive in an international context.
If you had to advertise for Romania as a country, what would be the top things you would mention to promote it?
I would mention the things I have already talked about – the lovely people, the incredible nature, the rich traditions in the traditional villages, the wine and food.
What are your favourite places in Romania and why?
I adore Brasov, of course, the place where I live and work. It is the perfect place for me – its charming streets, the mountains right at my doorstep. But I was also greatly impressed by one place in Romania that does not resemble anything we have in Austria or anywhere else I have been – the Danube Delta. It is a place of magic beauty with great gastronomy and charming people.
What advice would you give to a foreigner that comes to Romania to live as an expat?
My advice would be to forget all preconceived ideas they may have and open up to the experience. Be curious and talk to people, you will be amazed by their kindness and sense of humour.
Based on your experience as a company CEO in Romania, please mention three things you think Romanians are really good at.
I admire Romanians for their flexibility, can-do attitude, and resourcefulness. This is particularly relevant in the retail business, a fast-paced environment where change is the rule. Selgros is all about passion, passion for gastronomy and passion for excellence. Passion and excellence are both in the Romanian DNA, so it was not particularly difficult to translate these concepts into facts in our company. I am confident that thanks to the involvement and dedication of my colleagues, Selgros will continue its mission to be a reliable partner committed to the development of the gastronomy sector in Romania.
How would you describe the experience of doing business in Romania?
The potential for growth and innovation here is immense, making it a very exciting place for doing business. I am grateful for these opportunities for development and growth. I would invite everyone to come to Romania and do business here.
Selgros Cash & Carry, part of the Swiss group Transgourmet, is one of the most important players in the Romanian retail sector. Its local network comprises 23 stores and a distribution centre. In 2020, the company’s turnover was RON 3.86 billion (over EUR 800 million).
Irina Marica, email@example.com
(Photo source: courtesy of Robert Hellwagner)