Anca Vlad, the owner of Fildas pharmaceutical distributor and of Catena pharmacy network, founded the company number 800 in the first years of capitalism in Romania. Today the group she manages has businesses of over 200 million euros, counting over 1.000 employees.
“Capitalism has certainly given me the capacity to fulfill my potential, the economic freedom that I had. It has given me the ability to create. It would have been very sad to remain a mere office executive and to do repetitive tasks”, says Anca Vlad.
She wanted to be a chemist, however she was admitted to the Academy of Economic Sciences (ASE) due to a teacher who told her that she has a head for economics, much to the dissatisfaction of her parents who were both engineers.
She started working while in high school, when she began working in a chemistry laboratory, replacing the technicians while they were on vacation, and then, “as any student in Economics who longed for some money”, she started working as a guide at the seaside.
“The years of faculty were a very intense period of my life. I was also working as a guide, I was also doing translations for the Chamber of Commerce. All explain the connections later on. I was an English and French translator. I had specialized in medical prospects and medicines. Every time a new pharmaceutical company entered Romania, they would contact me for translations and for the medicine prospects”, remembers Vlad.
After working in the furniture industry, she moved on to the pharmaceutical industry
This is how she had her first contact with the pharmaceutical industry, a field in which she would develop later on her business. After graduating from university, she received a position in Bucharest at the current Silvarom producer.
“The position was of export economist, and after two years I was promoted to the position of head of the export. In five years, I arrived to manage the export plan of the whole country, but I kept a permanent contact with the Chamber of Commerce and the pharmaceuticals. In my spare time, I kept on interpreting at conferences and symposiums. So that in 1987, when one of the companies I was working for wanted to open an office in Romania, I got the job of national representative”, says Anca Vlad.
This was the Beecham company, which became today GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), one of the main players on the pharmaceutical market.
She left the state system because of the low salary and of the total chaos from that period, and after working at Beecham, she started in 1990 a personal marketing company, that was registered under number 800, in a period in which the clerks didn’t even know how to write “marketing” and “everybody would go to Turkey to buy clothes and to overcharge them”.
“I said to myself that if there is a chance and we can work on our own, I should test my strengths and take my chances”, says Anca Vlad.
She remembers that the first customers came quite hardly, after many months of attempts.
“For five months I kept writing. At that time, there was no such thing as e-mails, and the fax cost a lot. I would go to the telex post and send messages everywhere presenting my services. Firstly, there appeared a veterinary medicine firm and then, I was also contacted a bit harder by SmithKline Beecham since they were displeased. Then, there followed a beauty company. Then I made something crazy”, adds Anca Vlad.
“The crazy thing” supposed the purchasing of movies from BBC, movies that she offered to the Romanian Television for a minute of publicity at each episode. There was a film with entrepreneurs that was played many years, and the advertisements that it brought were the ones for the Aquafresh tooth paste. “This is how we began doing our first profits”, says Anca Vlad.
From medicines selling to pharmacy purchasing
In 1993, she laid the foundations of Fildas Trading, and “while the number of customers was multiplying, the number of providers began growing too”. The first pharmacies with which she worked were those of the region of Fagaras and the region of Brasov, then those of Tulca. “I personally dealt with the import and the acts and sales until we were seven. Then we reached the number of 30, then 50, then 100 employees”, says Anca Vlad.
When speaking of the 1993 period, she says it was very interesting, “with very much energy, that was all consumed in those years”.
In 1993, in the period in which she stayed home after giving birth to her first child, a competitor who wanted to enter the market persuaded all her employees to move to the pharmaceutical company that he was building. She now sees the moment as “extremely tough”, but she also says that she needed to fill all the positions because she had commercial obligations.
“I remember having scheduled one day 70 interviews. There probably came 60 persons. The people with whom I discussed that day, including the current CEO, including the economic-financial analyst, including COO, they were all hired that day and are on my team ever since”, says she.
The next moment she remembers is 1999, “when the distribution could have run bankrupt”, because the leu was depreciating from day to day. But the situation was overcome through the negotiation of a much bigger margin with the Ministry of Health.
In the same year appeared Catena, today the second pharmacy network after Sensiblu, part of the A&D Pharma group.
“We were not a retailer. But there already existed a pharmaceutical chain in Romania, Sensiblu, which was developing and which belonged to a distributor, Mediplus. We considered that if this is the tendency of the market, for a distributor to develop the retail, and this cannot happen to us, then we won’t be able to oppose resistance to the subsequent challenges. We did not have the know-how and we were thinking of purchasing a company”, says also Vlad.
She paid for the acquisition of Argesfarm in the last moment
That year, the state started to privatize the regional pharmaceutical offices, and Fildas entered the license for the acquisition of Argesfarm, which had 60 pharmacies, out of which 30 in the rural regions, meaning “a very good starting point”. She bid and won, but the problem of funds has been raised as to support the acquisition.
“Back then, whether you had money or not, you bid and you had a timeframe of three months to raise the money. This is how I ran to the banks. Of course, at the banks you could not do anything. There were also investment funds on the market and I was thinking that we could associate with them, but something funny happened. I attended a personal development lecture in London, and one of the techniques that I learnt there was to gather my strengths and to ask for something extraordinary from someone. I tried this exercise with a partner, the owner of a company specialized in pharmaceuticals and consumer chemical products”, says Anca Vlad.
She did not obtain the credit from that person, but she received a bank guarantee, with which she could receive the money. “I got the credit and I signed the payment disposition the same day, the last day on which I could have done it at 6 pm. This is how Argesfarm was purchased.”
Concerning the period 2000-2008, she says it was one of great growth, with many openings and regional developments.
Penalties for being a Romanian company
The commercial credit (payment term) is much more important for any company than the bank credit, because first of all it is much easily obtainable, while the bank credit blocks the actives, cost a lot, and any bank puts you on condition. This was one of the first lessons that she learned from her entrepreneurship activity. “The greater the payment term, the more you can work with the money and you can produce a supplementary venue”, says she.
The companies from Fildas group are registered in Romania, but this thing creates trouble.
“I wanted very much to have our headquarters in Romania, to be a Romanian company. It is easy to move to Cyprus, to the Netherlands and to pay fewer taxes, however at some point, you would like to demonstrate that it can work even as a Romanian company. However I paid the price. I had a 30% loss in score to the rating compared to any foreign company only because we were Romanian”, said Anca Vlad. The entrepreneur added the fact that the loss of score was due to instability.
“At the end of last year it was very difficult. Because of the crisis, the American banks even present on the Romanian market began to give negative advertisements concerning Romania. It was a difficult period, but we believe that through the way in which the company behaved during the time in which we did our best to pay our invoices, sometimes even in advance. We paid in February with an advance of 3-4 months for them to see that we are trustworthy people”, also says Anca Vlad.
The owner of Fildas also adds that the difficult situation in 2009 was overcome through renouncing at the investments and through a restructuring process carried out last year, when they anticipated what was about to happen following the signals which they had in Germany. Moreover, next year Fildas will negotiate the extension of the financing with five more years.
“We have a plan on five years and starting with this year, a plan for a year and then we will make the adjustments in the trimester.”
Fildas Training, one of the main pharmaceuticals distributors, has budgeted for this year a turnover of approximately 770 million lei (183 million euro). Last year, the company had a turnover of 188 million euros and losses of 12,4 million euros, according to the data from the Ministry of Finance.
The distributor brought in 2007 a financing of 70 million euros, and next year they will negotiate the extension of the credit with five more years.
Catena pharmacy network
This year they bet on businesses of over 100 million euros, with a raise of 16% compared to the level of 2008. This way they should become the third network on the local market, breaking this baffle after Sensiblu and Dona;
Catena operates 200 units, out of which 175 in the urban areas and 25 in the rural areas. Last year Catena opened 12 pharmacies following some investments of 4 million euros.
What she says about:
Her beginnings as an entrepreneur
For five months I had been writing. At that time, there were no e-mails and the fax cost very much. I would go to the telex post and send messages everywhere to present my services. Initially, there appeared a veterinary medicine firm and then I was contacted even harder by SmithKline Beecham because they were displeased. Then followed a beauty company. Then I made a crazy thing.
Development of the business:
I personally dealt with the import and the acts and sales until we were seven. Then we reached the number of 30, then 50, then 100 employees.
What she did after remaining without any employees: “I remember having scheduled one day 70 interviews. There probably came 60 persons. The people with whom I discussed that day, including the current CEO, including the economic-financial analyst, including COO, they were all hired that day and are on my team ever since”, says she.
How Catena was born:
I said that if this is the tendency of the market, for a distributor to develop also the retail, and for us, there is no such thing, then we won’t be able to face the subsequent challenges. We did not have the know-how and we were thinking of purchasing a company.
The difficulties of a Romanian company:
I wanted very much to have our headquarters in Romania, to be a Romanian company.
It is easy to move to Cyprus, to the Netherlands and to pay fewer taxes, however at some point, you would like to demonstrate that it can work even as a Romanian company. However I paid the price.
We had a 30% loss in score to the rating compared to any foreign company only because we were Romanian.
Taken from zf.ro