The Knight A.O., Who Always Returns to Bulgaria With a New Business Project...
The former Vice President of the Swiss bank UBS, an amazing PR expert and manager, Alan Ogden has traveled all around our country and always has come up with new ideas and surprises
I received an email, one of many. For years, there are between 2,500 and 3,000 emails in my inbox every day, and yet I almost never miss an important message. I have a system, so I will rarely miss anything, especially from a friend and a wonderful business partner. Even more so in a language that surely only I can understand.
And here is the message from the beginning of April this year: "I'm coming tomorrow. New business. A.O.” I’ve been receiving these messages for exactly 25 years now. The text is slightly different but is always short and always signed with initials. And... always positively charged with interesting and useful projects for Bulgaria.
Really, it all began more than 25 years ago, on a June day in 1996, when
passing by each other in the crowded lobby bar of Sheraton Hotel Sofia
he stopped me, shook my hand and said: "I'm Alan Ogden, Vice President of the Swiss bank UBS and I came specifically to see your conference and to find out if your country is an interesting place to do business in."
I was just starting my business, there were two or three people working in my office, however, I was and still am obsessed with the idea to present the completely unknown then country Bulgaria to potential investors. As a start I organized the first investment conference in the country “Do business in Bulgaria".
Of course, there was no Internet at that time, no social media, and therefore we sent faxes to the Bulgarian embassies abroad, asking them to help us and spread the word about,
as we used to call it, a “priceless event”.
Our ambassador in Switzerland at the time, Elena Kircheva, had come across UBS. They showed great interest in the possibility of opening an office in Sofia and so Alan became one of the first international bankers to come to the then unknown South European post-communist country. There were, of course, wonderful presentations, huge interest and... a gala dinner with the participation of the Bulgarian government. Naturally, the time was taken up with exquisite meals, great wines and speeches, official speeches, long speeches...
Ministers, investors, organizers and more.
we all thought we were near the end
Alan Ogden, who hadn't uttered a single word the whole time, went to the podium without even the courtesy of asking for permission, turned on the mic himself, tapped it with his finger to make sure it was working, and said:
“I may go a little off topic, but I must tell you that what I saw here, in Sofia, in the past few days in terms of organization, quality of the presentations and participants, can be easily seen on World Forums in Tokyo, Frankfurt or New York. My admirations to the organizers and I promise them that I will come here every year, even if there are no more conferences...”
I stood with wide eyes and
I really couldn't believe what I’ve just heard.
At this time, I didn’t even know that one or two years before his surprising speech, Alan had been one of the leading experts in the London office of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, an incredibly professional global PR corporation. I still have a wonderful professional partnership with them, namely because of the email I received months after our memorable Sheraton gala dinner. It said:
“Max, H+K are interested in working with you in BG. Call them. A.O."
During all these years, Alan continued visiting Bulgaria, stayed in the same small and quite unpretentious hotel near "Hristo Botev" Street and always
had new ideas for interesting projects that no one else would have thought of.
At the same time, he visited all the Bulgarian monasteries, took thousands of photos and met incredible people. Whenever he came, his first day always began with a family dinner at home - he really felt like he was in his London apartment.
Sometimes I even have the feeling that Alan tirelessly travels all around Europe as a lone knight and
thinks about new projects,
which would be profitable both for his customers and for Bulgaria. We have a favorite restaurant in the center of London, right next to Hyde Park, in the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Going back, I realize how many interesting projects were born right there during our lunches.
So, let me tell you, if we had at least a hundred more people like Alan, Bulgaria would probably be a different country. But no matter how many like him we have in the future, A.O. will always be the first. Every day I look forward to receiving the next email from him and meeting him again at the airport... I'm sure it will happen soon.
In the picture: Maxim Behar and Alan Ogden outside their favorite restaurant in London's Mandarin Oriental, 2019