The Economy Ministry and the NGO Slovak Quality Society - a non-profit organisation promoting quality management in Slovakia - said March 22 that the standard of management in Slovak firms has improved to reach a par with its Visegrad 4 (Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland) neighbours.
Speaking at a press conference on management in Slovakia, the Economy Ministry representatives said that a rising number of ISO 9000 certificates (awarded by the Economy Ministry to firms reaching management quality criteria set by the European Union) handed out in the last 12 months to small and medium-sized (SME) firms was evidence of the improvement.
Last year saw 223 Slovak firms awarded ISO 9000 certificates, 55 more than had been awarded in 1999, and bringing the total number of Slovak firms holding the certificates to 729. Of that, 10% is held by SMEs, with almost all awarded in the last 12 months.
The officials added that the Economy Ministry was striving to maintain the advance in management skills the SME sector has seen.
"Big firms have already realised that without the certificate they cannot penetrate the local, not to mention world, markets," Ján Brisuda from the quality and standardising department at the Economy Ministry told The Slovak Spectator.
"However, it was only last year that SMEs started to notice that without a quality certificate they can get excluded from the chain of suppliers' [on specific industry markets]."
A firm awarded an ISO 9000 certificate, the ministry says, has its chances of competing abroad strengthened, the paper acting as a guarantee of quality for potential business partners and customers, and is key to Slovak firms' ability to compete on level terms with other firms on an open EU market.
While large corporations still command the lion's share of awards - 90% of the total number of firms with ISOs - both the Economy Ministry and Slovak Quality Society said after the conference that they had been impressed and encouraged by the growing number of smaller firms picking up the certificates.
One firm singled out for particular praise was automobile supplier Plastcom, a firm employing 31 workers and exporting more than 60% of its production.
"The quality certificate is an inevitable requirement for any firm, it has become a standard," said Juraj Horňák, Plastcom director. "Although Slovak buyers are still concerned more with prices of goods than their quality, I think that our growing exports have been influenced mainly by our quality management performance."
While the 729 firms holding the certificates in Slovakia at first glance fares badly with the higher numbers in surrounding Visegrad 4 countries - the Czech Republic has 1,500 certified firms, while Poland has 1,012 - the figures do not represent the depth of quality management in Slovak companies, the Economic Ministry believes.
"Comparing the proportion of citizens to the number of certified firms in each country, Slovakia is doing very well," the ministry's Brisuda said. The Czech Republic has 10 million citizens as opposed to Slovakia's 5 million. Poland has a population of 40 million.
The Slovak government in late 1998 approved a National Quality Programme for the corporate sector as part of preparations for potential EU entry. As part of this programme the government recently launched a scheme through which the National Agency for SMEs' Development will provide grants of up to 220,000 Slovak crowns ($4,400) to firms applying for the ISOs.
8. Apr 2001 at 0:00 | Zuzana Habšudová