Anca Vlad, the owner of the medicine distributor Fildas, and the pharmacy network Catena, created the company with the number 800 in the first years of capitalism in Romania, and today the group she controls has a turnover of more that 200 mil. EUR, with more that 1000 employees.
“The capitalism certainly gave me the possibility to realize my potential, the financial freedom that I had. It gave me the ability to create. It would have been very sad to remain just an office manager engaged in a repetitive job.” says Anca Vlad.
She wanted to become a chemist, but she entered the Academy of Economic Studies (ASE) due to a teacher that told her she is gifted for economics, to the discontent of her parents, both engineers.
She started working since high school, when she worked in a chemistry laboratory, filling in for the lab workers that went on vacation, and then, “like all ASE students trying to earn a buck”, she worked as a guide on the beach.
“College was a very intense period in my life. I was working as a guide, I was also translating for the Chamber of Commerce. All these explain her later connections. I was a French and English translator. I was specialized on patient information leaflets and drugs. Any time a pharmaceutical company came to Romania, they contacted me for the translations and the patient information leaflets”, recalls Vlad.
After the furniture industry she worked in the drug industry
Here she had the first contact with the drug industry, a field in which she would later develop her business. After college I was assigned in Bucharest at the current manufacturer Silvarom.
“The job was export economist, and after two years I was the manager for the export. After five years I was managing the export plan for the whole country, but I always kept in touch with the Chamber of Commerce and the drugs. I continued translating in my free time for congresses, symposiums. As such, in 1987 when one of the companies I worked for wanted to open an office in Romania, I got the job as their national representative”, says Anca Vlad.
The company in question was Beecham which became today GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), one of the main participants from the pharmaceutical market.
She left the state job due to the low pay and the total chaos from that period, and after working for Beecham in 1990 she started her own marketing company, which was registered with number 800, in a period when the civil workers did not know how to spell “marketing” and “everybody was going in Turkey to buy clothes and sell them for a profit”.
“I said that if there is a chance and we can work on our own, I might as well try”, she says.
She remembers that the first customers were hard to get, after several months of trying.
“For five months I kept writing. In those days there was no email and the fax was very expensive. I was going to the telex booth and sending messages everywhere offering my services. Initially there was a company for veterinarian medicine and then I was contacted by SmithKline Beecham, a bit slower because they were upset, and then a cosmetics company. Then I did something crazy”, she says.
The “crazy” thing was the purchasing of movies from BBC, which she then offered to the Romanian Television, for one minute of publicity for each episode. It was a series with entrepreneurs that went on for many years, and the ads she got were the ones for the toothpaste Aquafresh. “This is how I started making the first profits”, she states.
From selling drugs, to buying pharmacies
In 1993 she started Fildas Trading, and “while the number of customers kept growing, the number of suppliers also kept growing”. The first pharmacies she worked with were the ones from the Fagaras area and Brasov area, then the ones from Tulcea. “I was personally handling the imports and the documentation and the sales until there were seven of us. Then we went to 30, then 50, then 100 employees”, she says.
When talking about 1993, she says it was very interesting, “a lot of energy was spent in those years”.
In 1993, when she stayed home after giving birth to her first baby, a competitor that wanted to enter the market convinced all her employees to join the drug company that he was starting. She labels that moment as being “pretty rough”, but she says she had to cover all bases for which she had commercial duties.
“I remember I scheduled 70 interviews in one day. I think 60 people showed up. The people I interviewed that day, including the current CEO, including the financial-economics analyst, including the COO, they were all hired on that day and have been with me ever since”, she says.
The next moment she remembers is the one from 1999, “when the distribution could have gone bankrupt,” because the ROL was losing its value with every day. She overcame the situation by negotiating a bigger margin with the Health Ministry.
Also in 1999, Catena was founded, today the second pharmacy network after Sensibly, part of the &D Pharma group.
“We were not a retailer. But there was already a pharmacy chain in Romania, Sensiblu, which was expanding and belonged to a distributor, Mediplus. I said that if this is the trend of the market, for a distributor to also develop the retail, and for us this was not happening, then we would not be able to face the later challenges. I did not have the know-how and was considering procuring a company”, says Vlad.
I paid to acquire Argesfarm at the last minute
That year the state started to privatize the offices of the regional pharmacies, and Fildas joined the auction for the procurement of Argesfarm, which owned 60 pharmacies, from which 30 in rural areas, meaning “a very good starting point”. She made an offer and won, but then had to come up with the funds to support this procurement.
“Back then, it did not matter if you had or hadn’t the money, you made a bid and then had three months to collect the money, so I went to the banks. Of course the banks would not help. There were some investment funds on the market and I thought maybe we can associate with them, but something very funny happened. I went to a personal development course in Londod, and one of the techniques was to gather your courage and ask for something extraordinary from someone. I did the exercise with a partner, the owner of a company specialized in drugs and wide use chemicals”, she states.
She did not get the loan from that person, but she got a bank guarantee letter, which she could use to get the money. “I got the loan and I signed the payment order in the same day, the last day available at 18:00. This is how Argesfarm was bought.”
About the interval 2000 – 2008 she says it was a period of growth, with many openings and regional developments.
Penalized for being a Romanian company
The commercial loan (payment deadline) is much more important for any company than the bank loan, this is because it is easier to obtain, while the bank loan freezes the assets, has high costs, and all banks have conditions. This was one of the first lessons she learned as an entrepreneur. “The longer the payment deadline, the more you can use the money, and get and extra profit”, she states.
The companies from the Fildas group are registered in Romania, but this is cause for trouble.
“I really wanted to have the registered office in Romania, to be a Romanian company. It is very easy to move to Cyprus, to Holland and pay fewer taxes, but at a certain point you want to prove that you can make it as a Romanian company. I paid the price for this. I had a 30% rating points loss compared to any foreign company just because we are Romanian”, says Anca Vlad. The entrepreneur adds that the loss of points was caused by the instability.
“It was very difficult at the end of last year. Due to the crisis, the American banks even while present on the Romanian market started issuing warnings with regard to Romania, and even negative reviews. It was a rough period, but we think that by how the company acted during this time in which we did all we could to pay our invoices in time, and sometimes ahead of time. We paid in February, with 3-4 months in advance, to show that we are serious”, says ANca Vlad.
The owner of Fildas says that the difficult situation from 2009 was surpassed by giving up on investments and a restructuring conducted last year, when she foresaw what was about to happen given the signs she had from Germany. In addition, next year Fildas will negotiate the extension of the financing with five more years.
“We have a five year plan and starting from this, a one year plan, and then we adjust for the quarter.”
Fildas Trading one of the main drug distributors, budgeted for this year a turnover of about 770 mil. RON (183 mil. EUR). Last year the company had a turnover of 188 mil. EUR and losses of 12.4 mil. EUR, according to the data from the Ministry of finance.
The distributor obtained in 2007 a funding of 70 mil. EUR, and next year will negotiate the extension of the financing for five more years.
Catena pharmacy network
This year they count for revenues exceeding 100 mil. EUR, increasing by 16% compared to 2008, and this would make them the third network on the local market exceeding this threshold after Sensiblu and Dona.
Catena operates 200 units, from which 175 in the cities and 25 in rural areas. Last year Catena opened 12 pharmacies with an investment of 4 million EUR.
What she says about
The start as an entrepreneur:
For five months I kept writing. In those days there was no email and the fax was very expensive. I was going to the telex booth and sending messages everywhere offering my services. Initially there was a company for veterinarian medicine and then I was contacted by SmithKline Beecham, a bit slower because they were upset, and then a cosmetics company. Then I did something crazy.
Developing the business:
I was personally handling the imports and the documentation and the sales until there were seven of us. Then we went to 30, then 50, then 100 employees.
What she did after she lost all her employees: I remember I scheduled 70 interviews in one day. I think 60 people showed up. The people I interviewed that day, including the current CEO, including the financial-economics analyst, including the COO, they were all hired on that day and have been with me ever since.
How Catena emerged:
I said that if this is the trend of the market, for a distributor to also develop the retail, and for us this was not happening, then we would not be able to face the later challenges. I did not have the know-how and was considering procuring a company.
The difficulties of a Romanian company:
I really wanted to have the registered office in Romania, to be a Romanian company.
It is very easy to move to Cyprus, to Holland and pay fewer taxes. But at a certain point you want to prove that you can make it as a Romanian company. I paid the price for this.
I had a 30% rating points loss compared to any foreign company just because we are Romanian.
Quoted from zf.ro