interview by Bozhidara Georgieva; photography by Dobrin Kashavelov

The Senior Director Infrastructure Solutions at Telelink Business Services on IT as a way of life

 teodor dobrev TBS

Perseverance, ambition, enthusiasm to learn and to adapt to the everchanging game are qualities crucial for the success of any company in the competitive IT field. Telelink Business Services is a case in point. The Bulgarian company was established in 2004 as a system integration provider, the following year it was already a CISCO Gold partner. The 2010s were a time of both geographical and portfolio expansion: TBS stepped on the market in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Albania and North Macedonia, and broadened its services and solutions. Based on a holistic approach towards digital transformation it now offers hybrid cloud, application services, information security and service provider solutions, along with modern workplace and enterprise connectivity.

The company's successful transformation is also evident in the professional stories of the people who work in it, such as Teodor Dobrev. He started in TBS in 2005 as a junior engineer, but his eagerness to learn and do more took him to more demanding tasks. In 2010 he headed the managed services department and then continued with running the integration and pre-sales departments. In 2019 he joined the Management Board of Telelink Business Services Group. We talked to him to learn more on how the environment in TBS and his passion for technology and management proved to be the perfect match.

How did you join Telelink Business Services?

When I joined Telelink Business Services, I was 22. My last year in university wasn't going very smoothly, I really wanted to join a company where I could learn and live the technologies I was reading about. The IT market in Bulgaria was still developing, there weren't as many options as today. I started as an intern. I did not realize what was in the future, but this proved to be an important milestone. This is why today one of my favorite things about my job is giving chance and trusting the younger generation.

How did TBS and your career change through the years?

Telelink Business Services changed a lot, and so did the people in it. Maybe this was the main reason for our success as people are the ones who shape the change in an organisation, respond to new challenges and adapt to the dynamics of life and business.

TBS grew a lot in terms of team members, solutions and revenues, but also as a mentality. Initially we were focused on a specific market segment, offering a small range of technology solutions. Now we are more versatile and cover a wider scope of IT solutions for a broader range of customers. We do not divide our clients into big or small. We'll work with anyone who is digitally mature and wants to do meaningful business, taking advantage of technologies to extend its value on the market. The way we perceive our customers also changed. We now think of them as long-term partners, so the amount of our transactional deals is small compared to long-standing relations.

Being open minded and looking for change, seeking new challenges, offering new solutions that are sometimes adventurous, and being ready to risk are the only constant things in Telelink Business Services. It has always been like this.

I also changed in TBS. I became a senior technology expert and played an active role in our projects. Then I had the chance to cover different aspects of the work as a technical leader, a project manager, and sales and business developer. This helped me when I became a department manager. The best tip that I can give to a manager is that you should understand not only the business, but also the people and their roles, so you can live it, learn it and then manage it.

What was the most important change for you when you switched from an engineering to a managerial position?

When I was offered to become a manager, I said: "Okay, but I want to keep my engineering responsibilities as well." I soon understood this wouldn't be possible as I was now responsible for other people's work. Working with people is a complex thing. You need to know what to do with both the projects and technology, and people's emotions, attitude, motivation and so on.

I learned that you can't show your own weakness. You have to be a role model for your team, to act strong and assertive, to project that you know what to do. Of course, this is not always the case.

Do you miss engineering?

I'm still an engineer. I participate in the solution creation process and the design, I attend brainstorming meetings and work on the technical details. You can't be disconnected from technology if you want to drive the business in the right direction. Of course, the right responsibility assignment and demanding accountability from the team is crucial to avoid falling into the pitfall of taking direct involvement in project tasks.

Which project convinced you that you are a good manager?

With every new challenge, I see how much I have to learn as a professional and a human being. What really gave me confidence that I was on the right path was the satisfaction of my colleagues and customers, and everyone who forgave the failures but focused on the success.

Being in IT is not as glossy as people think it is. The technology changes fast, the market is demanding and you have to always be on the learning curve to stay relevant. There is a lot of hard work to keep up with the results and customer expectations. All of these have to be translated and justified with everyone in the team. If we are at least a little bit successful, I believe that I'm doing a decent job as a manager.

What keeps you at Telelink Business Services?

As long as I find a new challenge every day and keep learning, I'm happy. What we are today is something very special and significant to me, I have been a part of TBS for so long that I feel a part of it. I mean not only the success but also the failures. I am thrilled that I can say "you know that one time we made a major mistake and then we fixed it beautifully." It's like making history.

TBS is big and growing, but in new endeavors often acts as a startup. This is a challenge enough for me to find purpose in my work here.

What goals did you set for yourself when you joined TBS's Management Board?

I didn't know what to expect, it was both a sign of acknowledgement and of responsibility.

In a way, our management process has not changed much, we still make decisions in a transparent and operational manner. Everyone in the company can come and ask why we decided this or that and is entitled to an honest and complete answer. This was one of my main goals, to remain connected with everyone else and to continue working with the team on the front-line, down-to-earth.

As a management team we want to lead the company to new regions in Europe and the USA. We want TBS to be a cool place where everyone wants to work, because they feel valued, face exciting challenges and can contribute to important projects, multinational customers, and meaningful goals.

What was the biggest challenge you met in this role?

When you work in a company like TBS, every day brings a new challenge. To name a few, it was the increased volume of work and responsibilities, the clear differentiation between strategic focus and putting down day-to-day fires, catching up with the dynamic tempo of IT, and finding the balance between work and life. Managing these challenges is possible through finding the right people and trusting them with responsibilities.

What are your goals for 2023?

TBS's goals for this year are part of a long-term strategy that we constantly adapt to the market, the macroeconomic factors and the technology trends.

We want to grow in the SEE region by expanding further our portfolio of solutions and services. This will require a bigger team and local sales and technical resource hubs managed by a unified operation process and governance.

We aim to set foot on new markets in Western Europe and the USA with solutions streamlined around managed services for IT infrastructure.

We want to bring the conversation with our business customers to a new level, to enhance our portfolio with solutions for digital transformation, process, and workflow automation and IoT. They will complement our core IT infrastructure offerings and will be wrapped with a holistic information security approach.

By identifying the importance of proactive business opportunity generation we will strengthen our technical business development team and dedicate a Sales engineers team.

One of our best endeavors is the TBS Academy. It aims to find young talents and help their career in our company and the market in general. This remains a primary goal for the near future.

Last but not least, we continuously improve our operational processes, inbound and outbound marketing and HR.

What is the most important thing that you learnt at Telelink Business Services?

My work for TBS is full of lessons, sweet and sour. It will be hard to single out just one. However, one of these is that we should never stop learning. We must always challenge ourselves to become better humans and professionals – in that order.


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