Marko Brkic, as Analyst on the Employer Brand team based in Belgrade, Serbia, shares his experience at BlackRock after joining the company through the firm’s acquisition of eFront in 2019.
Tell us a bit about your role on the Employer Brand team and what you were doing at eFront before it was acquired by BlackRock.
My journey to BlackRock started almost three years ago when I joined eFront while I was studying Human Resources at the University of Novi Sad. At the time, one of my main responsibilities was to build the “cultural aspect” of our company’s brand – better known as the Employer Brand – from the ground up. In addition to that, I was a member of eFront’s Talent Acquisition team, recruiting for technology, client support and financial roles.
In case you haven’t heard of eFront, it’s the leading software solution for managing alternative investments, with over 20 years of experience powering the investment lifecycle for alternative investors. With the continued success of our company and the consistent focus on our people, eFront quickly became a very attractive place for people to work. In 2019, eFront was noticed and eventually acquired by BlackRock. Since then, eFront’s products have been integrated with Aladdin which enabled a whole portfolio approach and accelerated BlackRock’s vision to make alternatives less alternative.
After the acquisition was finalized, I became a part of BlackRock’s Employer Brand team. My current role is quite similar to the role I had at eFront, but on a much bigger scale.
What’s it like to work at the BlackRock office in Belgrade?
Working in the city center, on the main Knez Mihailova street in Belgrade, definitely has its perks. Kalemegdan fortress is a 5-minute walk from our office so your options during lunch breaks are endless. However, what makes our office special is not only the location, it’s our people.
You might be surprised to hear that we have more than 500 employees in our Belgrade office working across many departments. For example, we have experts from Technology, Client Support, Accounting and Risk Management but also teams of people who work in Investments, Legal, Finance, Marketing, Sales, HR and more.
What I like the most about having that many different teams in one location is that it allows us to easily create cross-functional project teams. Having a diverse and knowledgeable group of colleagues in our office helps drive innovation and leads to remarkable results for our business. It’s also been a great learning experience for me to be able to spend time getting to know what other teams at the company are focused on.
In addition to that, our culture is very inclusive, friendly and easy-going. Oftentimes, my colleagues and I go off for lunch together, buy birthday or Christmas presents for each other, or hang out outside of work. Simply said, we like to get to know the people we’re working with, which in my opinion, makes working together fun.
What comes to mind when you think about the working environment at BlackRock overall? What makes it unique?
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about the working environment at BlackRock is how much you can learn. On a daily basis, I’m working with colleagues in different time zones and different parts of the world which reminds me how global BlackRock really is. Being in an international work setting surrounds you with an astonishing number of perspectives and ideas. I’ve also had a chance to take advantage of a number of online learning opportunities that BlackRock offers. For example, the BlackRock Academies which help employees build new skills to grow and develop in their careers. The Academies offer courses focused on client relationships, technology, investments, leadership and more.
Some of the training opportunities that are offered through the BlackRock Academies
One of the best things about learning and development at BlackRock is that beyond the responsibilities of your day job, what you learn is really up to you! You can choose if you would like to attend a workshop to build your virtual communications skills or join a training on effective time management. It’s up to you if you’d prefer to take an intro to Python course or learn the fundamentals of cloud computing. Whatever you’re interested in, BlackRock provides you with endless ways to learn and grow as an individual and as a professional.
What do you enjoy or appreciate most about BlackRock’s culture?
I really appreciate that working at BlackRock allows me to get involved in my community and make a positive, long-term impact on people’s lives. The dedication BlackRock has to sustainability and to giving back to society is almost unheard of in this region. Being a part of two employee networks at the firm has helped me see how things work first-hand.
As a member of the Belgrade Social Impact team, I can tell you that the aim of this team is to put a smile on as many children’s faces in Serbia as possible. We collaborate with non-profit organizations that are mainly focused on helping children without parental care and children in need. Through philanthropic and volunteer events, we’re able to give children across the country an opportunity to live a better, safer and more prosperous life.
Members of the Belgrade Social Impact team participating in an office-wide clothing drive in 2019 to collect and donate used clothing to children in need.
The other employee network I’m a part of is the Belgrade Green Team Network which focuses on a variety of different projects that help to protect and preserve our planet. Since joining the Green Team, I’ve helped organize tree planting events and recycling initiatives. We also spend time educating and encouraging our colleagues in the Belgrade office to act more sustainably in their own lives by doing things like reducing their energy usage or cutting down on their use of plastic which when you add it up, can make a difference!
For each volunteering event, if there are 10 or more employees volunteering, BlackRock will donate $30 (USD) per person, per hour to the non-profit organization that we are partnering with which is a great way to increase our impact in the community.
Tree planting event in 2019 at Zvončica a kindergarten school in Belgrade, Serbia.
These are just two of the many employee-led networks and initiatives that exist at BlackRock and showcase how our employees have an opportunity to make an impact when it comes to helping the environment and people in our communities.
What’s something you were worried about when moving from a smaller company to a larger, global organization?
My concern when transitioning to BlackRock after eFront was acquired was if I would be able to make an impact within a much larger company. Going from a place with 900 employees to one with over 16,000, made me wonder if my own voice and opinions, and those of my colleagues in Belgrade, would be valued in the same way that they were before. However, our office was (and continues to be) seen as a place filled with extraordinarily talented individuals. Throughout the acquisition and integration process, our thoughts, suggestions and concerns have been heard. BlackRock was also open to adapting its own work style to implement aspects of eFront’s culture that benefitted both organizations.
On a personal note, I’ve grown immensely over the last year. Joining BlackRock’s Employer Brand team and working alongside experts in my field has been a dream come true. My team pushes me to dig deeper and find solutions by using critical thinking and a strategic approach. From the moment I joined the team, I was given an opportunity to lead projects and my ideas and suggestions have been valued as if I’ve been a part of the team for ages.
Meet my colleagues! Here’s a snapshot from our Employer Brand team’s weekly meeting with the Diversity Recruiting team.
What’s the best benefit or perk you have as an employee at BlackRock?
Different companies offer different benefits. Some offer health insurance and retirement savings plans, others provide gym discounts for employees. And while we have all those benefits here at BlackRock in Belgrade, what shocked me the most was the fact that we have an unlimited number of paid days off each year. Yes, unlimited.
It’s called Flexible Time Off or FTO, and while all employees in Belgrade have 25 paid days off according to Serbian law (regardless of their seniority), we also have access to FTO which allows you to take as many days off as you need to relax and recharge while still getting paid your full salary. Of course, you must have approval from your manager and do your part to deliver on projects and timelines, but still, I don’t know many companies that provide this type of flexibility to their employees.
How has COVID-19 impacted your experience? Has it changed the way you work?
Since March, more than 90% of employees have been working remotely from home. This has definitely changed the way we work together since everything has been taking place virtually, but I still feel connected to my team in New York and colleagues here in Belgrade.
Throughout the pandemic, there have been additional communications from senior leaders so our employees would stay up to date on important health information and feel supported during this challenging time.
Starting in April, all employees were given a free subscription to the Calm app which provides resources to help manage stress and anxiety which seems to be more important than ever with the pandemic. This summer, BlackRock also hosted its 2nd annual Virgin Plus Global Challenge as a way to motivate employees to stay healthy and active even while quarantining. The challenge includes an app where you can track your daily steps and workouts and see how your team is doing in comparison to other teams around the globe which, in my opinion, adds to the competitive spirit and makes it more fun!
Even though the situation with the pandemic has been changing throughout the year, BlackRock’s approach to continuing to ensure that all of us stay safe and healthy has stayed the same. Most of us will likely continue to work from home either part-time or full-time into 2021, and I believe that BlackRock will continue to evolve and find new ways to support its people as the pandemic and work environment changes as well.
What’s one thing you want people to know if they are considering a job at BlackRock in Belgrade?
As this roller-coaster of a year is slowly coming to an end, we can all agree that it has been proof of how uncertain life can be. It has allowed us to focus more on caring for our families, our friends and ourselves than we did before. It has been a year where, for many, job security and career paths have come into question. It has also been a year where companies have had a chance to show how invested in their people they are.
I’m grateful of the fact that my company has had my back through it all. Over this past year at BlackRock, I have always felt safe, supported and heard. I have been encouraged to focus on myself and my family when I needed to. I’ve been given opportunities to learn, grow and build my skills, all while working virtually, and I’m proud that BlackRock continues to look beyond its own walls and help those in need.
In my view, BlackRock coming to my country has been nothing but positive. And while it’s had a vast impact on me personally, I think it will have an even bigger one on my surrounding community in Serbia.