Acquisition of majority shares in the United Group is one of the biggest foreign investments in the region, said Stelios Elia, BC Partners Managing Director, speaking at a panel discussion on potentials of south-east Europe, within the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) annual forum in Sarajevo.
“The United Group works with 20 million people in the whole region and the group has coherent consumer demands and preferences. The culture and languages are similar, and that's how the United Group managed to achieve the economy of scale. That's how it became the first choice partner,” said Elia.
It is of crucial importance to spend time talking to investors, he added.
#SteliosElia, BC Partners#EBRDam‘today United Group is the regional champion in the former Yugoslav markets… with an attractive business model in terms of integrated media… & best in class management team. The only international peer company we see is Sky & now ComCast group’— United Group (@UnitedGroupBV)May 9, 2019
Victoriya Boklag, United Group CEO, recalled that this company was established in Serbia 12 years and that today it is probably the largest media company in the region.
“Last year we took over three new TV stations in Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro. We have incomes of some €650 million. We employ 4,500 people on all these territories,” she said.
#EBRDamVictoriya Boklag, CEO at United Group: United Group attracted its first private equity investor to the region in 2002- with Mid-Europa Partners; KKR, and now BC Partners have been our private equity partners. 1/2— United Group (@UnitedGroupBV)May 9, 2019
EBRD has been with us throughout. We have been blessed with high quality investors and we now employ 4,500 people in the region…2/2— United Group (@UnitedGroupBV)May 9, 2019
By taking part in the panel discussion, BC Partners appeared in the region for the first time after becoming the majority shareholder in the United Group in March this year.
The acquisition was one of the largest foreign investment in the region. United Group, the leading provider of media and communication services in the region operates under the brands of SBB, Sport Klub, N1, Nova and Telemach.
The region's economy is expected to grow by 6-7 percent in the upcoming period, according to Managing Director at the political risk consultancy firm Teneo Intelligence, Wolfango Piccoli.
But, he said, it all depends on investments.
“If clients ask us what's next for the Western Balkans, that is the integration into the European Union, cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We expect and we hope for the six to seven growth in the region,” said Piccoli.
EBRD focuses on both the development of the institutions and the system functioning, Zsuzsanna Hargitai, the EBRD’s Director for the Western Balkans told the participants.
“Development of institutions is in the focus and I think we can speak about the rule of law and the way it works. That's why we are using digital technology to improve it and have as developped market as possible,” she said.