Mr. Wood, you have been in Romania since 1998. Please tell us in a few words why you chose our country?
Growing up in the West during the Cold War the countries behind the Iron Curtain always fascinated me. They were much less known than anywhere else in the world. I came to Eastern Europe in 1990 to explore the bipolar shadow of Europe. There was a sense in which Eastern Europe had suffered for the sake of Western Europe. I expected to like it much more than Western Europe and I did and still do.
I liked the other countries in the region but none of them had nearly as much impact on me as Romania, which I fell in love with within minutes in 1990. I knew in half an hour that it was where I wanted to live my life.
Back in 2011 you stated in an interview for Romania-Insider.com that “the country I lived in 1998 was also a much more interesting country than it is now, from my point of view as a foreigner. That is partly because Romania now is much less exotic, much less funny, much less interesting, compared to what I was used to”. Now after 7 more years, what is your opinion on that?
Romania has continued to change very fast and become more like Western Europe. There is an epidemic of poshness, for example. Good, cheap restaurants and useful shops are replaced by pretentious ones, because of high rents. Much more important is the change in thinking. People have become pluralistic, consumerist and less conservative, as was inevitable. In many ways the changes are for the better, but in many ways for the worse. People continue to want to copy the west and few want to critique it.
The biggest change is to rural Romania, the real Romania, which is dying. The biggest problem Romania faces is depopulation, the unintended result of the EU policy of free movement.
You own and run a recruitment company here in Romania since 2000, AppleSearch. What have been your challenges in this period and what are your objectives in this role?
When I started recruiting in Romania in 1998 the challenge was the economy, which was shrinking, while the average monthly wage was $96. It went down further after I came. It was hard to make money then, but new international firms were continually coming and wanting the services of executive search firms.
From the beginning I recruited in all sectors but specialised in lawyers and the Big Four tax and audit firms, to which I later added real estate. We work with the biggest names in these sectors.
After the years spent in Romania, how would you define the local recruitment market?
Semi-mature. Now we have many competitors and we live in the age of LinkedIn, which some people thought threatened the future of headhunting. But things for us are very good because the economy is booming and, after twenty years, we have a long list of satisfied clients who come back to us. The big challenge is to keep abreast of rapid changes in the nature of work. These changes will accelerate with Artificial Intelligence
How would you characterize AppleSearch’s team in Romania in three words?
Ethical, creative, intelligent.
This year we celebrate 20 years of activity of British Romanian Chamber of Commerce and 80 years since the establishment of British Council in Romania. As a former London resident now living in Bucharest, what’s your message to our readers on this occasion?
Even though Great Britain is leaving the European Union, something many Romanians are sorry about, my country is not turning away in any sense from Europe or Romania. I have the sense that Great Britain is very liked and respected here. 411,000 Romanians last year lived in the UK, an increase of one third on the number the year before. England from now on will have a large Romanian minority and the two countries will be closely bound together.
Blue jeans did more to make the world classless than Marxism did and cheap flights are doing more than anything else to bring people from different countries together. Free market economics brings people together.
It was different in 1998 when an Englishman in my first week here told me, ‘You know what’s the best thing about living in Romania? It’s thinking about your friends back in England who are feeling sorry for you.’
My message is that too many clever Romanians fail to see the good things that they possess here, that have been lost in many Western countries. Bismarck had it right when he said that the country which copies another is lost. I hope to attract more Romanians from the diaspora to return and local people to stay.