Meet Ilona Baumane-Vītoliņa

We continue our presentations of interesting colleagues at AIMS International. This time we are interviewing Ilona Baumane-Vitolina, representing the team in Latvia. Illona will share her thoughts on Executive Search in Latvia. Ilona Baumane-Vitolina is Managing Partner at AIMS International Latvia and a member of the teams for Board Services.

What is the Latvian economy like?

Latvia became an independent nation again in 1991 and began a rapid westward orientation. It became a member of both the EU and NATO in 2004 and adopted the Euro as its currency in 2014. Latvia is an independent parliamentary democracy and has about 1.9 million inhabitants, about a third of whom live in the capital Riga. About 44 % of our country is covered by forest, which is one of its major natural resources.

Westernization brought an influx of foreign investment into the country and led to a sharp increase in private consumption. This led to rapid GDP growth and from 2005 to 2007 annual GDP growth exceeded 10% on average. From 2011 to 2019, GDP grew by an average of over 4%. In the pandemic year of 2020, GDP fell by -3.8% and recovered the following year by +2.8%. In 2023, the country was negatively affected by rising global inflation and posted zero growth. For 2024, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects GDP growth of +3.1%. Unemployment is 6.7%.

Many large Swedish companies have an establishment in Latvia and some see Latvia as a home market and it is common to have Riga as the regional headquarters for the Baltics. In total, there are about 20,000 employees in Swedish-owned companies. Sweden was the largest investor in 2023 with 29 % of all foreigen investments, other major investors are Estonia (14 %), Lithuania (8 %) and Germany (6 %). The investments are mainly in professional and technical services (21 %), financial services (15 %), real estate (25 %), trade (13 %) and manufacturing (12 %). Some of Latvia’s largest domestic companies have successfully developed as export companies in sectors such as trade, IT, wood products, metal industry, bio-silicon production, building materials and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

What is your background and what attracted you to become an executive search consultant?

I started my career in academia. After graduating MBA at the University of Rostock, in Germany, I became a research assistant at the University of Latvia, Faculty of Business, management and economics and then a lecturer there. However, after couple of years delivering seminars on cross-cultural management and history of economics, I started to think that I would like to have real life experience in business to be more valuable in academia. And then in 2008 I saw an advertisement of researcher’s position in executive search company. I worked there in parallel of full time work at the University and after couple of month I became a project manager. It was fun as I did not have family back then and I perceived both jobs as my hobby. I defended my PhD and became associate professor. I worked for half time initially and then I realized that I have a very wide network of contacts and then I stayed in executive search and became associate partner. Since the end of 2022 together with another colleague we decided to build our own executive search company and we were happy to realize that clients appreciate our work and trust us. In October 2023 we joined AIMS International and are very excited to see the great potential that we can develop in AIMS International together with our Nordic colleagues.

What are your focus areas as an executive search consultant?

In Baltics we do not specialize in a particular industry, because executive search market is too small. However, last year, half of the projects we worked on, were from the manufacturing sector. We have long-term relationships with all our clients and it is a pleasure to see them returning. My background in academic research in the field of management is helping to give broader advice to my clients, sometimes far beyond executive search matters. In-depth understanding of the business models and expansion strategies helps not only to come up with out-of-box ideas for the best candidate fit, which is very important in the current shortage of executive talents, but also provides extra added value for our clients, which is appreciated.  As I am a proud member of AIMS Internationals Board Practice Group, non-executive board member search and evaluation projects are a priority focus that I plan to develop more in the future.

How would you describe the Executive Search market in Latvia?

Our rough estimation of the market is around 3.5 million Euros and it is rapidly growing. In comparison to the situation 10 years ago, when executive search was a privileged service that only big international companies could afford, currently more and more local fast growing companies in various industries understood the value of professional management and are ready to invest in it. Moreover, family firms are evolving in the Baltics and they are also on a track of business professionalization. Besides, the Baltic countries still play an important role for the Nordic economies – several production plants and data centers are placed here.

What can you tell us about AIMS International in Latvia?

Our team are focusing on Executive Search, Research and Training. We are three consultants and an intern. Our competitive advantage lies in many joint years of experience combined with an eagerness to conquer the market. As a dedicating team, consultants are involving in each project from A to Z and this brings an additional quality and assurance to our clients. Our clients range from local businesses to large, well-known international companies. For many local and international companies, the Baltics are one market and therefore we cooperate with our colleagues in Estonia (link to AIMS International Estonia) and Lithuania (Link to AIMS International Lithuania) to solve the assignments for the client.

What is the most important advice for a foreign company wishing to expand its business in Latvia?

There are lot of talented employees here, but the number of skillful managers who can successfully run and grow the business is limited. Labor costs are still lower in comparison to the Nordic countries, but they are increasing. At the same time, many employees are still ready to go extra mile if they trust their employer. Nordic business has positive reputation in Latvia, this plays an important role when the talents are needed in the situation of human scarcity. When starting the venture, the role of general manager is crucial. If before Nordic managers were running new business ventures in Latvia themselves, now we see the trend that they hire local managers. However, choosing the right person for a role is very important here and wrong choice can ruin the venture. Indeed, it is all about people – having the right team at the very beginning would help to accelerate expansion. There are several positive examples of prosperous Swedish expansions from various industries in Latvia: Bergs Timber, Billerud, Bonava, Evolution, Fristads, Plockmatic, Rimi, SEB, Swedbank, Tele2 and others.

How specifically do you handle international assignments?

It varies with the assignment and the desire of our client: we can perfectly handle from Latvia the project if our consultant’s expertise is what counts the most in a specific sector for instance. The main driver is to propose the solution that will be the most efficient to the customer and with the same process. To give you an example. When a company in Sweden would like to have help with an Executive Search project in Latvia they are already mostly a client to AIMS International in Sweden. My colleagues in Sweden are responsible to lead the project and I am responsible to set up the local team in Latvia.

Anything you would like to tell us that could be interesting for Swedish readers?

Culturally younger generation is much more closer to Swedish values than the previous generation. It makes it easy to find common ground.

Thank you Ilona Baumare-Vitolina for the conversation about Executive Search and the future in Latvia.

Ilona Baumane-Vītoliņa

Northern Europe

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Börje has 30 years of investment banking experience. He has worked for Swedish, Scandinavian and international financial companies as Head of Sales & Marketing, Stockbroker and in Institutional Sales. Börje has been active in Executive Search companies for several years and has extensive experience within international recruitment. He studied economics and finance at the University of Stockholm.

LinkedIn 

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