Lithuanian minister of economy nominee’s young age: an asset or a liability?

Virginijus Sinkevičius
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

Sinkevičius’ former and current colleagues describe him as an ambitious and energetic politician, but others warn that a lack of experience could be a hindrance in his new job as economy minister. The man will have to convince sceptics that his limited managerial experience will not stop him from making tough decisions.

Sinkevičius now is only the chairman of the Seimas Committee on Economics, but also the captain of the parliament’s basketball team. The politician used to play as a shooting guard in non-professional leagues, but now his family and work obligations leave him with little time for the sport.

Is his young age an asset or a liability?

Sinkevičius worked as a volunteer editor at The Lithuania Tribune, a news website covering Lithuania in English, between 2012 and 2015. Ruslanas Iržikevičius, the founder of the platform, describes him as an energetic and responsible person.

“I hear others remarking about his age, saying that this may hamper him. But this may appear to be true on paper. All doubts are gone when you meet him. This is a person to whom his age is an asset. We need the energy that is bursting out of him,” Iržikevičius told BNS.

“He worked as a volunteer and never received any payment for his work at The Lithuania Tribune. I could always rely on him. He kept his word and did everything he promised,” he added.

However, Bronislovas Matelis, a member of the Seimas Committee on Economics who has left the political group of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU), sees potential risks, too, saying that time will tell whether the new minister has sufficient autonomy, determination and managerial skills.

“Like with the health minister, who is relatively young, but those around him want to do the opposite of what the minister wants. The question is how Sinkevičius, a young man who hasn’t yet been in that political mincer, will manage to have the whole situation in the ministry under control. He is a cautious, non-confrontational man. The question is whether this kindness and non-proneness to conflict may also mean that he is indecisive. I don’t know. We’ll see,” he said.

Matelis recounted an episode when the young politician’s “over-zealousness” angered his colleagues in the Seimas.

“We invited (Transport) Minister Rokas Masiulis to a committee meeting. At the (economics) committee, it is the opposition that asks questions first and the chairman chairs. We had some hard questions ready for the minister, but Sinkevičius, as the chairman, decided to ask around 10 questions himself. He watered down all the hard questions we had and no discussion took place,” the lawmaker said.

“This shows that he still needs to be polished up to become a good leader,” he added.

Political skills will be needed, too

Lietuvos Oro Uostai (Lithuanian Airports) CEO Gediminas Almantas, who was Sinkevičius’ boss for almost a year, says that he sees great potential, but he would not predict how successful the new minister will be in reconciling his political agenda with managing a large structure.

“As a young and ambitious man, he has a lot of potential. Heading the Economic Ministry involves both the political part and managerial competence. I have no opinion about his. I don’t know how he’ll manage this. What I as the head of a state-owned company would like to see is that people who take leading positions are not only willing to work politically, but also have an understanding of how the economy and companies work and what managing means. This is what I expect from the new economy minister, too,” he told BNS.

According to Almantas, Sinkevičius, as a project coordinator at Lietuvos Oro Uostai, proved his ability to find common ground with different people — from politicians to technical staff.

“In terms of communication, he has good skills and is receptive to other people’s opinions. I don’t know if the time spent in the Seimas has changed him, but when he worked with us, he was a young, strong talent and he could be very persistent when it came to achieving goals,” he said.

Little time for basketball

Sinkevičius says that his family and his almost two year-old son Vincentas are his number-one hobby now, leaving him with little time for basketball.

“I now spend very little time with my family because of my work and my busy schedule, so my family and my son are my main hobby,” he told BNS.

Sinkevičius met his future Ukrainian wife Kateryna during his MA studies at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands and married her in August 2014.

The politician speaks English, Russian and Polish.

He has a Bachelor of Arts in Economic and International Relations from Aberystwyth University, in the United Kingdom, and a Master of Arts in European Studies from the University of Maastricht. He he did a traineeship at the Lithuanian mission in Washington, D.C. in 2013.

Sinkevičius worked as an assistant project manager at the Washington-based Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in 2013 to 2014, and as an international group project manager at Lietuvos Paštas (Lithuanian Post) in 2014. He worked as a project coordinator in Lietuvos Oro Uostai’s concession project in 2015 and 2016 before taking the position of a team leader in the Group for Improving Investment Environment at the government’s foreign investment promotion agency Invest Lithuania in 2016.

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