Oreskovic: pharma exec and political novice becomes Croatian PM

Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic has lost a no-confidence vote (AFP Photo/) (AFP/File)

Zagreb (AFP) - A pharmaceutical executive and political novice, Tihomir Oreskovic has become Croatia's premier after spending just a few years in the country and speaking only rusty Croatian, prompting some to question his credentials for the post.

Little known to his countrymen before his unexpected nomination, the 49-year-old was considered a compromise, unifying figure for a new conservative coalition after a November election failed to produce an outright winner.

"In terms of finance, I'm a fiscal conservative. In business terms, I'm not a supporter of risky moves and experiments... Politically, I belong to the centre ground," he told local media when he was put forward.

He and 22 members of his cabinet were sworn in inside Croatia's parliament late on Friday.

Born in the capital Zagreb in 1966, Oreskovic moved with his parents to Canada only two years later, where he graduated with a degree in chemistry and finished his MBA studies in finance and information systems.

A citizen of both Canada and Croatia, he began his professional career in 1992 with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, then joined Teva in 2005, holding the company's top managerial positions in both countries.

In 2009 he joined Croatia's largest pharma company PLIVA, which became a Teva unit, where he was president of the management board. Last April, Oreskovic was named Teva's chief financial officer for global generic medicines.

Colleagues and friends describe the new premier as a hard-working manager with good diplomatic skills and his nomination has been hailed by the business community in Croatia, which is badly in need of foreign investment.

Some analysts say Oreskovic's lack of complex political ties could be an advantage, but others warned that leading a company and the state were different challenges, questioning his ability to act independently.

"A premier is not only in charge of economic issues... This (nomination) leaves an impression that someone was made prime minister as a facade while someone else would pull the strings," said sociologist Dusko Sekulic.

A married father-of-four, Oreskovic is perceived as a discreet family man, who in his spare time enjoys mountain biking and fishing in the Croatian countryside.

Although Oreskovic moved back to his homeland in 2009, the time spent abroad has left his Croatian rusty and accented, sparking jokes on social media and criticism from some commentators.

He argued that although he intended to improve his Croatian, it was more important to focus on the economy, saying: "I hope Croatians will not hold my language mistakes against me."