Thomas Lubeck: The Journey is the Destination

January 10, 2021

By Ivan Miskovic

For Thomas Lubeck—who for the last six years held the position of IFC Regional Manager for Europe and Central Asia (ECA)—this region has always felt like home. He was born and raised in Chicago, a city with large and vibrant Central and Southeast European migrant communities. For that reason, visiting Kyiv, Belgrade, Zagreb, Bratislava, or Warsaw was always a pleasant, familiar experience for him.

ECA is also the region where he made his biggest career progress: he moved to Moscow in 2004 as an Investment Officer and worked his way up the ranks to Regional Manager, first in Tbilisi, then in Belgrade. In July 2020, he left the region to join the Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) Transaction Advisory Team as a manager based in Singapore, covering 30 countries across South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific

In an interview with Ivan Miskovic, he shared insights gained from his years at IFC, his ties to ECA, and what he is looking forward to in his new role.

Q: What prompted the job change?

A: IFC is an incredible institution with an unparalleled network of offices around the world. It gives us the opportunity to move around and experience hugely varied positions and functions. I started my career in Washington, DC in 1997 as an Investment Analyst, working on financial market investments in Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, and Georgia. After a few years, I moved to the South Asia department, working on projects in India and Sri Lanka. However, I always felt a desire to relocate to the field. I first went to Russia in 2004, then later to Ukraine, Georgia, and in 2014 to Belgrade, and never looked back to HQ as a base. I find it very healthy to keep challenging myself by trying new things. After almost six years of being in Serbia and being based in Central and Southeast Europe, it was time to take on a different challenge. I never imagined that I would be working on PPP Transaction Advisory work from Singapore. IFC makes it possible.

Thomas Lubeck at an IFC Belgrade team building painting workshop. 2017, Lake of Palic.
Thomas Lubeck at an IFC Belgrade team building painting workshop. 2017, Lake of Palic. Photo: IFC

Q: What do you consider your biggest success in Serbia and the region?

A: That’s a really difficult question. There were so many things happening on the investment and advisory side in ECA over the past years. If I were forced to choose something from the more recent past, the Belgrade Waste to Energy project was one of the most challenging and satisfying projects. It took five years of work upfront advising the City of Belgrade on the PPP, and two years of sustained effort on the investment side. After so much effort, the payoff was wonderful, with a delighted client in the City of Belgrade and shareholder government. Upstream really works!

Q: Why work on PPPs?

A: I first came into contact with PPPs over 10 years ago when we tried to implement a road concession on the main highway in Georgia, followed by a large hydropower project. I was really inspired by the unlimited creativity and practicality of the IFC teams in trying to implement the projects. The work is highly complex and requires a deep understanding of the political dynamics in a given country. Since that first contact, I have continued to support implementing PPP projects in the Western Balkans. When the opportunity arose to join the team, I was delighted.

Q: Tell us about an experience that you will always remember from the years in ECA.

A: When I was growing up in Chicago, I was always surrounded by immigrant communities from Central and Southeastern Europe, so ECA always felt like a familiar and welcoming place for me. Every time I visited a new country or city in ECA, it would evoke fond memories of childhood friends and neighbors who came from these places. I was baptized in St. Stanslaus Bishop and Martyr Church in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood of Chicago. Even today, the majority of the Masses are held in Polish, with the remainder split between Spanish and English!

On a personal level, I will forever be connected to the ECA region because my daughter was born in Kyiv, Ukraine in 2007. We had fully learned all the Russian and Ukrainian vocabulary so that we could follow medical instructions for the birth, but also be able to register the birth in the civil registry system, which was perhaps the greater challenge! Also, my son was born in 2010 in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Q: Is there anything you will miss?

A: First and foremost, the engaging people. We had a phenomenal team in Central and Southeast Europe, from country officers to investment officers, the advisory staff, to communications people. Same when I was the Regional Manager in the South Caucasus. And yes, the food, the wine, and the approach of doing business.

Q: What would you recommend to more junior staff when considering job changes?

A: You should consider making a major change every three or four years, be it moving to a new office, or exploring a different business line. This is especially the case when you are young so that you can get the broadest and most diverse experience. IFC is one of the few organizations where that is possible. People should be taking full advantage of all the possibilities that a global organization like ours can offer.

Published in January 2021