Gordana Nikolić – The only female owner of a private University College in Croatia

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When someone as bald as an egg gets his haircut for the first time in 10 years, then you know it is a special day. Namely, I have been declared the fashion icon of Kvarner, but that was not the only reason I visited Rijeka and shaved my majestic head at the Gentleman’s shop.

Dear Leader Joe – Gentlemen’s shop – Rijeka
Photo: Damir Matešković, Flash.hr
Dear Leader Joe – Gentlemen’s shop – Rijeka
Photo: Damir Matešković, Flash.hr

I still remember how I used to look up to people who bought their diplomas and PHD’s from the best private universities in Bosnia and Hercegovina. I was never able to afford that so I had to study at a public university. I wanted to check if it was worth applying to law school and how much would I have to pay for a diploma therefore I have decided to interview Gordana Nikolić from Rijeka who is a dean at the PAR University College because all of the other deans turned my offer down.

Gordana Nikolić – PAR
Photo: Dear Leader Joe, Flash.hr

She invited me to lunch at Nautica restaurant at Kantrida so that we wouldn’t converse on an empty stomach.

Dear Leader Joe and Gordana Nikolić at restaurant Nautica
Photo: Flash.hr

You could have been a secretary down at the docks, a party representative, a receptionist at a hotel or a housewife, but you decided to become a dean of PAR University College in Rijeka. How did you come up with the idea to open a private university and is there a specific education for your line of work or is there someone standing behind you? Just admit that your parents were in fact working for government because there is no way someone from a working class family could be more than a simple cashier lady at the local store.

You know that saying “I have a dream”. There is a small and in my opinion beautiful pitoresque dalmatian place where I like to charge my batteries. One summer day(it was 2006 to be exact) I have had enough of everything and everyone and I spent my time in that special place called Posedarje. I was sitting on the beach with my friend. We have this ritual where we watch a small island in front of us at dusk and quietly enjoy the view. That summer I suddenly interupted the silence and said: “You know what? I will open a private University in Rijeka!” My best friend looked at me, sneered and said: “Pff…yeah right!” I just thought to myself that if I can work for others and do a great job and earn the respect and be trusted with difficult tasks, I could work for myself as well. I guess if you have a vision and you go towards it, your goal comes closer somehow. Only ten months after what I said at the beach, I had my first presentation of the University in Rijeka. Meanwhile I realized that if you really want something, possibilities start to manifest.

I just had a regular coffee with a women I never even saw again and I told her my “dream”. She introduced me to another woman and soon I started teaching at a German University. After a few months, I got contracted to open up another University just like this one based in Rijeka. It has been 15 years since then.
No one in my family was a part of the University society nor was there an enterpreneur before me. My parents were not involved with the Communist party like some other great Croats and I often joke about how it would have been much easier for all of us if they were. When I was a child, they used to say how State Security Service and other odd characters should be avoided so I grew up in a world that was often very dark, never the less, I would always look at it through pink sunglasses as I do today. I always walk on the sunny side of the street.

A woman of the people. I was extatic. I told the waiter: “Give me something really expensive. Gordana will have a fish soup and I will have tuna tartar.”

Restaurant Nautica – fish soup
Photo: @DearLeaderJoe – Dear Leader Flash.hr
Restaurant Nautica – tuna tartar
Photo: @DearLeaderJoe – Dear Leader, Flash.hr

How many students are there at PAR? Are there any foreigners among them and why would someone choose to go to a private university next to so many lovely and cheap public Universities which are generating new staff for the Unemployment center? Are you also guaranteeing your students high levels of unemployment?

Public colleges are really beautiful and free… How much free? That is debatable. We all pay for it… Nothing is free, it never was .. The only question is who pays for it in the end? Like everything that is paid from the budget, even these studies are paid by taxpayers, meaning all of us who fill budgets.

When someone decides to study extra, then his parents or he pays twice … so when he pays extra, he is expected to get a lot more than what he gets where it’s like “everything is free”. He expects real knowledge and experience that will open more possibilities for him. And that is what our students get after three or five years. Our students have the opportunity through professional practice and a career center to get to know potential employers already during their studies. As it is a professional study, our students, in addition to theoretical knowledge, get a lot of practical work, extracurricular activities, as well as international experience. Employers are looking for people with education and experience, and our graduate students have that. We have been pioneers of dual education in Croatia since 2007. Back then they looked at our German model of education strangely, but today everyone is talking about it. Mentoring approach, working in small groups, innovation, applicable knowledge in teaching and as many as 600 hours of practice through study creates successful individuals ready for the job market.

PAR students, in addition to the knowledge they acquire during their studies, have the opportunity to participate in international conferences and workshops, develop their creativity through projects and business incubator, participate in international short and long programs and develop new business models in collaboration with international students.

In addition to foreign Erasmus students studying at PAR, our students often participate in short international mobilities and summer and winter schools, working on joint projects with international students from around the world.

I could have stayed in top management in the economy with all the benefits – a driver and a big contract, but what you get from working with young people, observing them and helping them in their work and growth, is indescribable and irreplaceable

How much does a diploma at PAR University cost? I am asking for a friend because he is now having problems traveling to BiH due to Covid confirmations. I give you the opportunity to give people a reason to buy local.

The school year costs HRK 25,000-27,500 depending on the payment model. We are cooperating with commercial banks and also have cooperation agreements with many institutions as well as professional associations and unions.

We have developed a scholarship model that encourages the development of a new generation of entrepreneurs, rewards excellence, helps vulnerable groups and people with lower financial status. We were the first in Croatia to start a dual career model for athletes in 2008 and developed an education model adapted to top athletes, which was recognized and awarded by the European Commission.

A friend of yours can come to study at PAR, but he will not only get a Croatian, but also an internationally recognized diploma and much more, provided that he attends all lectures and passes all exams. At our University, diplomas are not for sale.

Anchovies and shellfish did not sit well with me. Where is this world going? Not that the man wanted anything for free. He would pay fairly.


Restaurant Nautica – inchovies
Photo: @DearLeaderJoe – Dear Leader Flash.hr
Restaurant Nautica – Scallops
Photo: @DearLeaderJoe – Dear Leader, Flash.hr

In 2015, you received the Business Woman of the Year award. Do you have to be a member of some Masonic lodge to be elected or are there some other criteria? Do you have any other titles or is the interview for Flash.hr your greatest achievement in life? If not, feel free to lie that it is.

This interview is my greatest achievement 🙂 I had the opportunity to work in a state-owned company and with the worst private individuals of the late 90’s, to teach at the state faculty and other private Croatian and international higher education institutions. All this gave me the experience that I can make very good comparisons, recognize both the pros and cons of different systems. The most important thing is to feel good in what you do, do what you believe in and someone will recognize it. Thus, I received the Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Republic of Croatia in 2014, the Primorsko-Gorska County Award for Outstanding International Achievements in Promoting Entrepreneurship in 2015 and the 2016 City of Rijeka Award for Outstanding Contribution to Higher Education. All of this gave me confirmation and faith that what I do, I do well. It was covered by many media, but no one in such a versatile way as Flash.hr 🙂

Each award is dear in its own way, but when you take the stage in front of more than 2,500 people like me at the 2018 Women’s Economic Forum in New Delhi, where I was awarded the “Exceptional Women of Excellence” award, you realize that miracles are possible and that it is possible to work locally and act globally. And as Đole said in one of his poems: “… someone sees it all from above and draws the cards of destiny…” Success follows the brave… This is a reward for women who are pioneers in what they do in their local community… I am still the only woman to own a higher education institution in Croatia. It took both courage and madness to embark on such an endeavor. Like any entrepreneur, I had no idea what was waiting for me, but I didn’t even think about it, I had a vision and a goal and I followed it.

The following year I became a senator for Croatia in the World Business Angels Investment Forum (WBAF) and that year I served as vice president of the Global Women Leaders Committee, which brings together women in the World Business Angels Network. I also got the chance to help out a few excellent Croatian startups.

For years I have been active through a number of associations and projects that encourage women entrepreneurs – WED Ambassador of Croatia to the UN, EU Ambassador of Croatia to the European Commission, President of Business Women KRUG Rijeka, President of the Association for Education HUP and recently elected to the G-100 women in the world representing particular areas. I personally lead the Global Chair for Higher Education, and I believe the G-100 initiative is yet to be heard of. We were presented in September in Geneva at the UN, in November in the EU Parliament, and now in early December at the UN in New York.

Flash.hr has just received an exclusive and that is why it is special 🙂

Some John Dory and Chard to celebrate the exclusive 🙂

Restaurant Nautica – John Dory
Photo: @DearLeaderJoe – Dear Leader, Flash.hr

How do you comment on the appearance of the “Voice of Entrepreneurs Association” and don’t you think that they are a little too aggressive towards the Government and Parasites who just want us to think of others and stop working and just pay them the money we earn while we sit around our cozy hearths. Do you support my initiative to open “VPA” with my syndicalist friend Ribić – Voice of Parasites Association?

I have been following the Voice of Entrepreneurs Association from the very beginning, I believe like most entrepreneurs. It is an incredible energy and desire to change some things, and many things in our society require change. The crisis and the sudden situation caused by Covid sparked discontent and prompted people to speak out, to hear that they are not alone in the daily struggles of the Croatian bureaucracy and administration and to do something. I think it’s fascinating how in a short period of time from informal initiatives on social media it has become an association that has so many members. Along with other professional associations and various associations, it is good to have new initiatives such as UGP that give a new wind in the back of change.

I don’t think you want to hear what I think about your friend Ribić or most of the people who present themselves as trade unionists. Honestly, it is never clear to me whose rights they are defending. I am not saying anything about well meaning individuals, but I would ban trade unions by law. In developed economies, maybe they have their roles, in ours they are just one of the other obstacles to development and change in society. Their role is all sorts except what they should have. If you open UGU, I suggest that you start organizing union holidays, for example on Goli Otok. It would be an ideal place for the members to brainstorm.

She didn’t detach herself from her cell phone. Someone was constantly distracting her. I could tell she was working hard.

Every succesful woman follows Dear Leader on Instagram
Photo: @DearLeaderJoe – Dear Leader, Flash.hr

I am a big fan of women in suits, provided that they are not women like Angela Merkel. I see you’re wearing a Fidelio suit too. Do men take you more seriously if you dress like them and how important is dressing in the business world at all? Today, young people come to business meetings as squatters.

I am of the opinion that a suit does not make a man, but it says a lot about him or her. There is a time and place for everything. I think I have my own style, I express myself through some business casual style. That’s how I experience myself. I love the dresses and femininity they provide, but a tailor-made suit gives a special strength and beauty. I like to believe that men take me seriously because of what I say, do, and what I am, not because of a suit or some other item of clothing. But the fact is also that in a business environment in addition to verbal and nonverbal communication, we need to pay attention to the image. The first impression is gained in the first few seconds, we notice everything else later. Fidelio suits have a story like any entrepreneur. You can see it when you look at them as well as feel it when you put one on. A tailor-made suit boosts our personality. As in any business you do, you can only succeed if you are authentic and not afraid to give yourself completely and show emotion for what you do. That is when you see results.

Gordana Nikolić – PAR – Fidelio tailor handmade suit
Gordana Nikolić – PAR – Fidelio tailor handmade suit

You work all the time. Do you believe, like Adolf, that work liberates or do you sometimes find time to relax with a new album by Marilyn Manson? In one word, what do you do when you’re not working? Don’t just tell me you’re improving your business. You’re not Elon Musk.

I probably started entrepreneurship like most with the idea that I will have more freedom and then you realize that you have no more free time because entrepreneurship is a way of life for me. You work for the weekend, you work when you sleep and when you eat, you work when you are on vacation. There is also the good side and that is that in entrepreneurship you are constantly working on yourself and pushing your boundaries even when you are not aware of it and do not know how. Always some new idea, some new situation, some new action.

But I also have my moments when I disconnect from everyone. In the crowd of people that your job brings, I have my “small circle of great people” who are there even when I don’t have time for them and for whom I am there, wherever I am. I love the sea and boats. I like to go out to sea in summer and enjoy good company and dear people by the sea and the sun. I like to hang out with positive people, travel, combine the comfortable with the useful. I am happy that my job has given me the opportunity to meet so many new places and people who have helped me to be what I am today. I still believe that there is no better place to live than where I am and yes, it is beautiful everywhere, but home is the most beautiful.

At one point, she reminded me of captain of Titanic. He also loved the sea and ships. Where were you in 1991?

On the threshold of my twenties. In the second year of study… and when we had to go out, have fun and spend the best years of our youth, we looked at the door every morning in the college canteen and knew that if one of the male colleagues did not show up, they took him to the battlefield that night …. And while as children we heard about wars and wondered what shelters were for, we suddenly became involved in all this and we didn’t understand for a long time how or why. At least that’s my experience of everything that happened in the early ’90s.

And then I lost two friends and realized that nothing would be the same again. My youth disappeared, my scouts and unencumbered socializing, and nothing was the same anymore. My brother went through the Storm Operation when he was less than 19, friends and relatives left as boys, they came back as adults. Someone has given himself the right to destroy several generations and today, thirty years later, we still haven’t moved away from some patterns and stories and that’s the saddest thing. 90-91 the war took away our youth so we still feel the consequences today. 20-21 Covid measures take away the youth of some others, and we will only see the real consequences 3o years from now.

PS: If I didn’t ask you something, and I should have, say it now or hold your peace.

Give me another question so we don’t end up with a sad memory 🙂

I asked her to give me Rihanna’s phone number. There’s no happier question than that, but she didn’t have it. I ordered dessert to put sugar on her wound instead of salt 🙂

Restaurant Nautica
Photo: @DearLeaderJoe, Flash.hr

Author: Josip Novosel aka Dear Leader Joe aka Vin Diesel for poor people – a self-deprecating spell thrower from Croatia, a corresponding member of the magazine “Education is not for poor people”, a friend of the wealthy, first a human, and only then a tycoon and Gastro Snob.