Interview with Cornel Cuşner, Manager of Rustic Ltd

"Romania after 25 years"

We were honoured to build the only Orthodox church in the Vatican.

The soul of the artisans from the traditional region of Maramureş is perceived in the way Cornel Cusner and his team of true carpenters, architects and foremen treasure and master the art of  woodworking. Every church has its own history and although, as he alone testifies, so many forces hinder the completion of a worship place, Cornel Cusner gets closer to the hundredth finished church, of which 50 restored and 50 newly built. The satisfaction of these successful works performed by the RUSTIC group of companies may also be seen in his belief that in the next 10 to 15 years he will lay the strong foundation of a business that will last for at least another 100 years.

Every man has a story... What would be, briefly, your story, from the beginnings to the present day?

I was born in Suciu de Sus in the Cuşner family, whose members always stood out as reliable and hard working. Despite being in full communist era, I grew up in a private  professional environment as my family has always proven to be very enterprising and managed to find business opportunities that have been timely capitalized. We were three brothers and each of us was determined to continue our father’s solid mentality and also our uncle, doctor Rusu’s strong principles. 

The Rustic group was established immediately after the 1989 Revolution and covers various areas of activity, developed around the main one, namely woodworking. These are: fabrication of wooden houses, wooden churches, restoration of old buildings and monuments,
forest roads, quarries and their specific equipment, etc. 

As far as my profession is concerned, I would like to reach at least the level of my two previously mentioned mentors. Should my goal will be reached, I can definitely say my work was not in vain. From a moral perspective, I try to educate my family and my colleagues to live by fair principles because I am convinced this is the only prosperity way may be achieved.

Is it difficult to follow principles in life? Tell us some of the principles that you inherited from your family and that still lead your existence and business.

It is not easy to abide by principles, especially when you notice that, in a life full of chaos, some of us manage to lead ten times better lives than others, leaving the deceptive impression that they are more prosperous or their lives are stress-free. Principles are an expensive commodity and sometimes we are tempted to give up or back off. 

One of the values that were permanently cultivated by my family is the power of promise. I believe that a reliable individual can move mountains and the community in which he/she lives will respect and perceive him/her as trustworthy and equally, whenever he/she will be in need, his/her fellows will always provide support. 

Also, quality work was and will remain the basic principle in everything we do. To avoid spending double and to avoid the complications that may arise in time, the best thing is to generate excellent products. As I speak, we are implementing the mounting process of a family home in Austria. Should its outcome be unsatisfactory, we may lose contracts and access to the European market. A weak product brings along big problems that will be hard or impossible to adjust. 

The attachment to work is another component of our business. Despite not having a fixed schedule, we try to get the most of one working day. It is the early bird that catches the worm. And yes, we are early birds! The foundation of my life is undoubtedly my family. My wife and two daughters are my soul heritage. My older daughter is attending a Master’s degree programme in Monaco and the younger one is in Romania and is a student of the High School of Art. I am at ease because I have a beautiful and healthy family.

How did you get to work in the restoration area?

After I have knocked at the doors of the Ministry of Culture to describe them my skills, I have started the first restoration projects in the area of Maramureş. We have noticed that this is a very special activity that cannot be compared to anything else and that to me has become a real passion. I love restorations and I get extremely emotional whenever I deal with them. I have recently completed a work at the remnants of the entrance gate to the citadel of Timişoara – the flood gate used to fill or empty the lake of the old fortress – restoration that was continuously postponed for years. It was a pretty complicated project (because all archaeological aspects had to be taken into account) but efforts were definitely worth. We have found a special investor who shared my passion, Mr. Sandor, the owner of the Piaţa 700 business centre. Together, we managed to complete a work that is now unique in Europe. Rustic is the historic monuments’ restoration leader of the Romanian market and has a very well structured production facility allowing it to perform quick and remarkable works.

How is it to build churches? What are the requirements to perform such a sensitive and spiritually loaded activity?

Every individual has his/her own story and a church is no exception. So many forces hinder the completion of a worship place that only priests realize what I go through until the building is finally erected. I am lucky to have family support, the one coming from my wife and from my outstanding staff. They are the ones that help me find solutions and make me carry on with this struggle. I am honoured to have as part of my team outstanding carpenters, architects and foremen who know how to do their job and whose skills get better by the day. I am happy to see people that are getting closer to their retirement day and who are still loyal to us and remain part of our team while others leave and try their luck abroad to come back later and to regard us as their second family. 

You cannot move forward if not merge if you are not attached to the supreme architect of this Universe, oftentimes the only one that is able to give you back the lost power. Every time I felt down, out of nowhere, an order to build a church showed up. It is like a divine salvation that makes me feel like I was born to build churches. Time and again I thank God for having led my steps along such a path: one that is paved with churches. 

I am now getting closer to the completion of 100 churches of which 50 restored and 50 newly built. One of these is located in the Ukraine and is an exceptional work that will function as a summer camp for the priest Mihail Jar, the Prior of the Bănceni Monastery in Ukraine. He takes care of 600 children, guiding and helping them until adulthood – he hires them, he builds them workshops (tailoring or joinery), he builds them houses and performs their wedding ceremonies. For the ones that are severely disabled he also paid their surgeries in foreign countries. 

An extremely important milestone for me is linked to the fact that I had the honour to make the only Orthodox Romanian church in the Vatican – exposed in the Vatican Museum. Once a year, at the Vatican museum, the countries have the occasion to put on an exhibit with a theme of their own choice and so when the turn of Romania came, with the aid of the Ministry of Culture, we sent a delegation whose task was to represent us by displaying a section of a wooden Orthodox church. The first time we were denied and were told that for such a matter the Pope himself had to be consulted. We were then pleasantly surprised to find that the Pope was impressed by our project and immediately gave his consent. The work had manually sculpted frameworks, a height of almost 9 metres, was eventually mounted in the Sistine Chapel and included in the touristic circuit. Given its success among the visitors, despite being scheduled to be on display for just one month, the church was kept for three months. Nothing similar has happened to any exhibit before...

What can we do for today’s Romania? What should a country master plan include?

I am convinced that if each of us would be able to give a positive example in his/her own community, its development will be more balanced, also from an economic perspective. If we would be able to lay our country on more solid moral grounds, unanimously negotiated and supported, in the next 20 years Romania could become an example for Europe. 

Romania is now in the situation to make daily repairs or to add a brick to an almost torn down wall. Broken bricks need repairs, the ones in the foundation need full replacement and the money needed to rebuild Romania have to be correctly managed and directed so that they go where most needed and not end up in the hands of wrongdoers. 

I have to admit that sometimes I tend to lose my optimistic side... It is only natural for my drive to be weakened when I see talented people leaving the country – whose education was supported by the Romanian state –, when I notice how many dishonest individuals empty the public budget asking and obtaining certificates for fake disabilities or when I see Romanians retiring at increasingly earlier stages of their lives. Whether it is a fake handicap or an early retirement, all of them want to work less and earn more and live well. Thus, we have become our own enemies... 

As far as the country master plan for Romania, the most important aspect, the origin of everything and an issue we still need to work on is education. Only afterwards we can talk about healthcare and other areas.

What are your future plans and how would a possible account made after 10-15 years of activity look like?

I will try to establish a school of crafts to be able to provide the market with skilled human resources, inspired by the German or the Swiss model. Today’s youngsters do not wish to master a craft and, despite some of them have difficulty in passing their high school leaving exams, all they dream about is higher studies. Despite being aware of their children’s incapacity, instead of directing them towards learning how to master a craft, parents insist on sending them to the university. A handful of trade, a handful of gold! Any craft you may master, if you know how to do it, you earn how much you want to. Loving your work still remains the most problematic issue for Romanians. 

Lately I have started to implement a European Funding programme and we intend to open in Romania a facility that will produce massive wooden houses and another one for the production of sandwich type structure houses. We talk about high-tech equipment employing the technology of 2015, extremely rare throughout the world and unique in Romania.

I would like to have this investment completed and these two facilities opened so that Rustic will be able to build approximately 80 houses per year. It would be a significant progress as until now we have only been able to complete 20 such works per year. 

We will bring extra-value through quality, productivity and the use of high-tech equipment and the satisfaction given by these accomplishments will make us stronger. The path looks good and I am positive that during the next 10-15 years we will lay the foundation of a business that will last for at least another 100 years!