Emerging Economic Leader
By Michelle Valigursky
She was born in ex-Yugoslavia and survived a mortar shell attack as a young girl while her father was imprisoned in a concentration camp. Hoping for a better life, 14-year-old Maja Vujinovic 07L and her family relocated to America and began anew. Now, this tenacious alumna advises United States companies on holistic and sustainable economic investments in emerging and frontier markets.
Whether she is supervising construction of a power plant in Mali or participating in the World Energy Forum in Dubai, Vujinovic is always focused on the big picture. “My goal is to develop infrastructure projects such as energy, agriculture, technology, and mining while simultaneously focusing on profit, sustainable development, and local economic growth,” she explains. “My work is all about initiating economic empowerment.
There are many books written and many studies done on how, in general (excluding extreme cases of natural disasters and wars), aid simply does not create greater local economic development nor does it benefit western societies. I have seen, first hand, that leveraging private capital, helping countries better manage their natural resources, and encouraging governments to educate its people and make their regulatory frameworks more fit for international competition, is a way forward for both the investors and local communities.”
Developing a Bird’s Eye View
Vujinovic’s family suffered great losses in the war. The family was well-to-do and quite successful. Her mother was a professor and her father an enologist. Yet war immeasurably changed their lives. She recalls, “We lost everything overnight.”
At fourteen and new to the states, Vujinovic was the only family member to speak any English. As they reestablished their lives, the family relied on her to advise them where to live and handle the negotiations. “At the time, I didn’t know I had so much responsibility,” she remembers. ”I just did what I had to do. It’s great to realize how this experience has translated into my work. I did whatever was needed to accomplish the project, and I still do.”
She shares the example of how she works to develop a power plant. “Certain tasks are definitive. Here is the strategy, here is the execution, no major deviation – just get it done,” she explains. "But working with other cultures requires persistence, flexibility, and the ability to think outside of the norm. You need to be able to adapt quickly and revise accordingly.”
The Path to Global Leadership
With a degree in international relations and finance from Georgia State University and a master’s certificate in diplomacy from Georgetown, Vujinovic attained a law degree from Emory Law School in 2007. In the years since, Vujinovic has worked for several public and private equity firms that operate in high growth markets. “I realized that I was delivering large amount of value and assets with no room for career growth,” she says. “So I learned the whole work cycle, put in my time, and spent years abroad.”
She has since founded Orpheus Investments, which focuses on helping larger companies, investment firms, medium-sized service firms, and startups on operations, market entry, and execution. In combination with her expertise in various industries such as energy and health care, “My hard core skill set provides me with the ability to see things with a bird´s eye view,” she says.
In her advisory role, she shares the expertise she’s gained from supervising countless multi-national projects. “United States companies often approach global projects with Western mentalities. They need to leave these thought processes in the US and begin every project with flexibility and adaptability.” With each new undertaking, “We go in with a conscious mind, awareness, and sustainability built into a business model that will really grow the economies companies invest in.”
Her world view is born from experience. Vujinovic has made her home in thirteen cities, such as London and Brussels, and speaks English, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Spanish, French, with a basic understanding of Russian. Though she now makes her home in affluent New York City, at varying times, she has been “on the receiving end of services from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs),” she explains. “US companies can have a solid diversification by investing in emerging markets where the growth in urbanizations, such as new housing developments, a need for infrastructure development is in a great demand and where younger working age populations is the majority of population. The opposite is true in the western world. US entities have an option to invest either directly, through private equities, managed accounts, bonds, Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs), dividend stocks, or commodities. United States companies want to invest in these markets.”
Vujinovic adds this bit of advice for others wanting to work internationally. “When you pick up your life and you move to another place, whether it is a city, village or country, it gives you an edge because you have to look for answers, be flexible and thrive in the unknown,” she says. “Always remember to find your own niche and think outside the box.”