Ana Čalić of Croatian-based regional Yanmar and marine equipment distributor Navela talks to us about the importance of digitisation and sustainability in the family business founded by her mother in 1992.
What attracted you to working in the marine industry?
My mother, Nevenka Čalić, founded Navela in 1992 and I was a business baby from age two. I would travel with my mum to meetings, sitting by her side and attending almost any boat show where she would go. Liferafts were among the items of marine equipment we distributed, and I would play in them as a kid, so I was always there. We also own a boat and get out on the water each summer, so the marine industry and boating have always been in my DNA.
I started working for the business five years ago in marketing. My role has expanded to lead generation, working with clients, and managing communication. I'm also doing some work in purchasing to broaden my experience of Navela as I hope to eventually inherit my mother's position as director and CEO of the company.
Tell us about your business?
Navela is based in Pula, a small coastal town in northern Croatia. We are a family-owned company with a small, efficient team of 10 to 12. We like to say in-house that we act as a family because our roles are interdisciplinary, and we all work with each other very efficiently.
In 2018 we moved to a new purpose-built business centre where we centralised our offices and warehouse and fully digitised the company with a warehouse management system. We also created a service area where we carry out specific technical training for our partners and certified service dealers. This move was a very big milestone that we are proud of.
Regarding the business, we are a long-standing distributor of Yanmar engines for Croatia and other countries in Southeast Europe, including Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Serbia and Albania. We have established a service dealer network in 30 locations to serve the boating market here.
We also distribute marine equipment brands, including Plastimo, Flexofold, Goiot and Andersen. We have a small number of partners for a distributor, but it has always been the mission of the company to focus more on quality rather than quantity.
What interesting trends do you see in the industry?
Digitalisation and smart data have been the number one trend since the COVID pandemic. People have been working on reorganising their internal and customer data for marketing purposes and making the organisation more efficient. A data analyst role is now one of the most requested positions in almost any business. Sustainability and decarbonisation are, of course, the other big trends driving developments like alternative propulsion and recyclable materials.
How are you tackling environmental impact reduction as a business?
We are working alongside Yanmar's sustainability strategy, which provides a road map to 2050. What we like about this approach is that Yanmar is working to be fully sustainable in product manufacturing and placement and the whole value chain, including distribution through to the end user. It's good because it's a complete solution. That means for us as a distributor, it won't be enough to distribute an electric propulsion system to market – we need to ask if there are any charging stations.
Regarding Navela's actions, today, we are digitalising the business, and we are, of course, recycling. We are putting solar panels on our business centre, looking into ways to use rainwater for internal processes efficiently and examining clean energy resources we can use for our consumption.
We also want to raise awareness. Last year I founded an initiative called Misli more Misli plavo (Think sea Think blue). It's an educational platform focused on sustainability and career opportunities in the boating industry. We want to show young people how to be more sustainable, where they can work in the marine sector and how they can innovate and implement sustainability.
Your mum was a pioneer for women in the marine industry – do you think times are changing for women now in the sector?
I often joke with my mum and say she should write a book about being Croatia's first lady in the boating industry. It was challenging to be a female leader in 1992.
It remains a male-dominated industry, but we are seeing more and more women in key leading managerial positions now. I think there are still some hurdles, but I don't feel them personally. Women have a competitive advantage now through education and the use of soft skills to build a promising future. If a young woman believes in herself and has goals and values aligned with her working environment, she can thrive.
What is the importance of METSTRADE to your business?
METSTRADE is the biggest B2B trade fair where we can meet our clients and principals from Yanmar and the other brands we represent. Most importantly, we can see new industry trends and visit for education and inspiration. Those are our main takeaways.
Which METSTRADE areas and activities do you most look forward to?
We always focus on the propulsion segment – our core brands and competitors – to evaluate and educate ourselves on new developments. In terms of activities, I'm always personally engaged with the Young Professionals Club and any events providing places to network and connect with people.