In January, Jakov Buljan retired after nearly 20 years with the United Nations Development Organization (Unido) in which he occupied the post of senior industrial development officer, Leather and Leather Products Unit and, lately, of deputy to the director, Agro-industries and Sectoral Support Branch.

A trained biochemist from the University of Zagreb, Croatia, he has spent his entire professional career to date in the leather (tanning) industry with the exception of a two-years stint as a representative of a large consortium supplying industrial plants in Libya.

In 1966, immediately upon joining ‘Cibalia’, Vinkovci, one of the largest European skin tanneries and a leading producer of goat suede and hair sheep nappa from EI skins, he found himself deeply immersed in the usual swirl of a tanner’s daily battles ranging from the suitability of raw stock available, inadequate accuracy of the goat skin splitter, fastness of the final coat, tight delivery dates, to complaints of the Italian or German customer about shade variations within the same leather consignment.

In particular, his innovations in drying and milling and his management style resulting in higher output and quality as well his language skills were recognized and rewarded by senior position(s) within the company. Until today he is very proud of that period during which he gained invaluable practical experience and understanding of shop-floor level constraints.

In 1974 he was deputed by the parent company as the general manager of the newly founded joint venture company in Madras, India. He was directly responsible for design and commissioning and operations of the tannery producing ready-to-finish/crust leathers. At the same time, as leader of a larger team, he was instrumental in introducing chrome tanning and production of ready-to-finish leathers in several local tanneries.

Upon his return from India, he held several managerial positions, including the responsibility for overall raw material procurement and sales and appropriate company profile in fairs. His international contacts were further expanded through membership in Modeurop and presence at IULTCS congresses and that led to the first Unido consultancy assignment and ultimately, in 1983, to taking over the position of leather specialist at Unido headquarters in Vienna, which had became vacant upon retirement of M Nestvold.

During his tenure with Unido, he played the key role in formulation and implementation of projects of technical cooperation in the tanning sector in more than 40 countries worldwide. This also included establishment and/or upgrading of leather development and training institutions.

Responding to ground conditions he significantly expanded Unido’s involvement in pollution control. In recent years he dealt almost exclusively with environmental aspects of tannery operations: cleaner processing with emphasis on chrome management, treatment of tannery effluents, utilization and/or safe disposal of tannery wastes, including occupational health and safety at work (OSH).

Buljan could rightly claim not only part of the credit for the fact that there is no tannery or tannery cluster in Tamil Nadu, India, without effluent treatment facilities but also for the positive outcome of joint venture negotiations in Shanghai, where a fully rehabilitated large scale waste treatment plant was a precondition set by the foreign partner.

Gradually, primarily under the large scale regional programme in South-East Asia, the need arose to test some not commonly used and/or advanced methods such as membrane technologies, reed beds, anaerobic digestion of sludges, composting, accelerated solar evaporation of saline streams etc.

One of his obsessions was meticulous preparation of handy background papers for workshops and seminars carried out under Unido projects so that he appears as technical editor, author and/or co-author of a number of technical papers and studies, brochures and videos.

Buljan has been known for nurturing close contacts with and benefiting from the expertise of the best trade specialists and R&D establishments who, in turn, valued his broad views, practical and balanced approach, full commitment to the tanning industry and his openness to different traditions and cultures.

While he has many plans, it is very unlikely that he could discontinue his association with the leather industry.