(Originally published in the Summer issue of Esquire magazine.)
It’s not often that a business displays wisdom sufficiently profound that it actually provides an example of how we should all live our lives. And I would add, after the five years I’ve lived here, it seemed even less likely I’d find it at a company in Romania.
But that’s exactly what happened. And despite the inner glow I habitually feel by being a vociferous grouch (or maybe because of it), when I see something this impressive, I feel obligated to share.
So hats off, or raise a glass, or shout a hip-hip-hooray to the folks working over at Lugera Romania, formerly known as Lugera & Makler. The international human resources company, led by its Bucharest team with Cristina Savuica at the helm, has created an identity and a website that radiates with intent and puts others to shame. This is not necessarily because it’s so beautiful or clever or technologically advanced. It is because the company has unabashedly attempted to be what too many companies claim they are but are not: thoughtful and self-aware, even genuine and wise. These are words, you’d agree, you don’t often hear when talking about business.
“We want to show in our logo and rebranding the way we are, loving, caring, funny, out-of-the-box,” Savuica explained. “When you have a look at almost all the HR websites, they are, well, so boring. They are conventional. The people are very serious, hardly smiling, because they consider this professional. We consider professional being more than that.”
Now, for those few of you who know Lugera or have had reason to view its website, then you know its effort at rebranding is not terribly new. It happened a few years ago. But that’s not important. There’s nothing new about this lesson. In fact, the principle they followed is several thousand years old.
The fact is sometimes the lessons to be learned from a business case study are so obvious and powerful, they don’t need to be explained. So I will explain very little here and simply tell you the tale and leave it to you to find the lessons for your company – and quite possibly, even for yourself.
Our journey begins and ends in the land of Lugera. Yes, that’s the brand and the identity. Now it seems it’s also a place. And like anyplace you visit, you might not like what you see and you might want to leave. But at least you’ll know where you are.
“This is in a nutshell the Lugera team in Romania,” the website homepage states. “A bunch of dedicated, happy people ready to face in a natural, positive and friendly fashion all your challenges… a bunch of people at the service of people, unconditionally!”
Ok, so far, it almost sounds somewhat typical. But look at the site and keep reading the text.
“We started with hope in our souls and a smile on our faces when many others were there, way ahead of us. We managed to make our voice heard out loud and the warmth of our hearts touched each and every recruitment we accomplished… why? …because we are caring people, driven by the power of “WE CAN DO IT!”
“And you know what? We continue this way! And Lugera Republic is whatever republic should be: smiles on every face, glamour on every ‘street’, laughter and success in every ‘building’.”
You get the idea. It’s not a company you’ve entered, but a make-believe land with a set of principles and a mission and a coat of arms and wild colors.
So why in the world would a company risk sounding so different, so odd, when it was doing well enough being conservative and “normal”? Here’s a company founded in Slovakia in 1996, which has expanded to eight countries and is now the biggest HR firm in Romania. With 40 million euros in annual turnover, the company provides staffing, payroll, HR consulting and travel services, as well as acting as a financial broker. Why not stay safely with a public face everyone expects?
“Our company ID was very serious,” said Savuica, the top executive in Romania and part owner of Lugera, though the title she prefers is Chief Happiness Officer. “We grew very quickly because we are different than others.” And when the financial crisis hit in 2009, “we wanted to communicate that.”
So Savuica pulled together a work group that met every week, all sorts of people from lots of departments. They thought hard about what the company stood for and how to present that portrait to others. The brainstorming paid off. In fact, it was an entry-level person working in sales that thought up the new name: Lugera, The People Republic.
That gave them a foundation. Now the rest had to be built. And by now, they knew what they wanted. So the company went the typical route and called in the top branding agencies in Romania. Savuica explained the new concept and warned the agencies not to confuse Lugera with a typical multinational. “We’re not like any other company,” they were told. “They are sooooo serious. What they will not accept, we will accept.”
Eight agencies took the challenge and returned with three ideas each. None of them worked. Determined to press forward, Savuica told them to keep trying. This time, five of them came back. Again, each had ideas. Again, nothing was right.
So the company took over. Asking themselves “Who are we?” “How are we?” and “Who are our candidates?” they set out to do it in-house. They asked what would a new country need to have? How would it look? What would it say? How do they marry the principles with presentation? They concluded if it’s a country, employees needed passports not visitor’s cards. A coat of arms was designed to provide a clear symbol. They chose a lion for its strength yet placed a flower in its ear to show it was sensitive. Then they selected fuchsia as the color, because it was both daring and unique. And after nearly two years, the whole thing was launched with Savuica suddenly appointed as a High Councilor with the Supreme Court of The Ultimate Intelligence In Love, Sales & Beauty, fan of Raw.”
“I loved it,” said Gerard Koolen, a Lugera founder, majority owner and a former advertising executive (who despite being Group Managing Partner is listed on the website as President of the Federal Bureau of Innovations, Smiles, Total Action & All Is Possible.) “It covers what we think we are, or what we want to be. We are extremely innovative with such a different set of tools.”
As for the site, I won’t try to describe it. I don’t think I could. I recommend you take a look at www.lugera.com. You might not like it. I’m not sure I do. Indeed, you might be like some folks in Bulgaria who thought “The People Republic” sounded too communist. You might be as repelled as the big bank in Slovakia that cancelled its contract. Or you might agree with the person in Poland who thought the visitor’s card (the passport) was intended for a gay nightclub.
Then again, you might be like a different multinational in Slovakia that thought the idea was terrific. Or you might be like all the new candidates whose attention this caught, which led to a dramatic increase for Lugera’s business. Or you might even be like some others who asked Lugera if it would help in their own rebranding.
But I say that whatever you think, you must admire the attempt. Because being unique is not easy. But every business is unique. Even the creative agencies that exist to create imaginative ways to communicate new messages later told Savuica “we would never do this for somebody” and thought the result too daring, if not stupid. Even they, it seems, got caught in the trap of playing the game, merely repackaging the normal to stay “acceptable” and safe.
And that’s the real shame. Too often we try to avoid knowing who we are, to only present what we want others to see and to put off the truth – assuming we ourselves know it. And we create customers (or friends) who are set up for disappointment and a sense of betrayal. It’s a sure recipe for failure whether for business or ourselves.
“Come join us!” Lugera’s homepage concludes. “We promise a better life, a happier environment and a professional, yet relaxed way of doing business!”
Ok, so that might go a bit far. But somehow, in some ways, I can’t help but start thinking that maybe they’re right.