With ambition and acuity, Anca Vlad planted her company’s seeds and watched her empire grow.
A tall, unassuming blonde lady enters the room, and you even wouldn’t realize you are in the company of the wealthiest woman in Romania, but indeed you are. Anca Vlad is one of the nation’s most successful entrepreneurs and the brain behind Fildas Group. Created in 1991, today is one of the leading pharmaceutical distributors and health and beauty companies in the country.
Fildas is Romania’s greatest success story since the beginning of the free market era. Built from the scratch, it has gone on to become a national market leader under the direction of Mrs. Vlad’s visionary leadership.
Mrs. Vlad began her career as scientific interpreter for international symposia and exhibitions. Pharmaceuticals became her preferred domain and eventually she was recruited and appointed country manager for Romania by the British company Beecham Plc, one of the largest pharmaceutical firms worldwide, today known as GlaxoSmithkline Beecham. Under the company’s sponsorship she began a series of scientific studies including anatomy and pharmacology, meanwhile sharpening her selling skills in the drug distribution industry.
Mrs. Vlad is not only a self-made woman, she is a true pioneer. After studying at the Rossetti College of Bucharest’s science faculty, she went on to take classes in economics at the Academy of Economic Studies, graduating from its International Trade department in 1980. She secured a job immediately after university at a furniture company where she was responsible for exporting $5 million worth of its goods. Four years later, at 27, she was planning $240 million worth of Romanian furniture exports with the national state furniture coordinating body, working in tandem with international companies such as Sweden Ikea, the UK’s Steinhoff and Germany’s MVK. At the same time she was collaborating as economist at the Romanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
So it made perfect sense that, in 1991, as the Berlin Wall no longer casts its shadow over the country, Ceausescu was gone, and the country shifted towards capitalism, Mrs. Vlad wasted no time in taking full advantage of every opportunity that came her way. She was one of the first entrepreneurs in Romania to enter the pharmaceutical distribution sector. With the know-how she had acquired and the contacts she had developed with producers, suppliers and importers, Mrs. Vlad put what she had learned into practice and began developing her own empire.
In line with Mrs. Vlad’s belief that health and beauty related activities would grow parallel to national development, she diversified her 1,600-employees firm. One branch, Fildas Trading, for example, is a whole sale distributor, while Catena is its chain of pharmacies, of which there are more than 180 nationwide. It has its own line of natural products, Naturalis, and even produces some comestibles, such as organic mashed baby food, sold in Catena stores.
The firm has launched two health and beauty publications, a TV station and a cultural foundation called Fildas Art.
‘All women are interested in health and beauty’, says Mrs. Vlad, ‘so I thought of building on that concept. Catena is ‘the pharmacy that helps’, and Naturalis is ‘the intelligence of nature’. Our publication is called Tonica (Health and Beauty Every Day). That was essentially my vision: to create a health and beauty company.’
Today, Fildas Trading generates 75 percent of its annual consolidated turnover and ranks third in the Romanian market, behind Ad Pharma and Relad. Catena is the second largest chain in Romania by number of outlets, and a franchising project initiated in 2006 calls for an increase in the number of stores from five to 300 over the next three years.
Mrs. Vlad was named top female entrepreneur in 2004 and 2005, and in addition to being known as one of the most powerful women in the country, she has also developed a reputation for being the most transparent.
Among the top distributors, Fildas is unique in that is devoid of scandals, controversies, rigged bids for state-subsidized drugs and corruption allegations. The company is thus in a great position to take advantage of the fairer practices that will be enforced now that, as of January 1, Romania is part of the European Union. ‘I have especially tried to create a respectable, honest company, and I think that is why Fildas is a solid enterprise. Now that Romania is part of the European Union, practices can hopefully only improve.
‘As part of the EU, I see positive things happening in the sector because Europe has so much experience in the health industry. We can only move forward and benefit from Europe’s knowledge. We also expect consumption to grow at least 15 percent a year.’ Consumption is currently low, between $1.3 and $1.5 billion for a population of 20 million, due to low levels of disposable income and scarcity of finance in healthcare.
Over the next few years, the Romanian pharmaceutical sector is expected to grow at a rate of 15 percent and EU integration should increase competition, allowing the national pharmaceutical market to reach Euro 2.5 billion by 2010. As expected, the inherently dynamic sector saw a great deal of mergers and acquisition in 2006. For example Sindan, an oncology-specialized Romanian pharmaceutical manufacturer was acquired by Iceland-based Actavis, while the Czech company Zentiva acquired, though another enterprise, the Romanian drug firm Sicomed. Fildas, however, has just one shareholder: Anca Vlad.
But it took more than just expertise and contacts, it took a winning combination of intelligence, initiative, business acumen, intuition and creativity, which have allowed the company to evolve from earning $2 million in 1992 to $200 million in 2006.
Yet while the trend in Romanian firm being bought out may be going strong, Fildas has plans of its own. To finance and facilitate the company’s investment proposals and development strategy, it recently secured an Euro 80 million syndicated loan from Citibank Romania, and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development has proposed a Euro12 million equity investment plan for the company as well as a syndicated A/B loan of up to Euro 60 million specifically for Fildas Trading.
Mrs. Vlad says, ‘One of the world’s leading financial institutions together with Citibank have given the green light for a unique loan syndication for Romania. Why is it unique? Because Fildas is 100 percent privately owned by a Romanian entrepreneur and that entrepreneur is a woman.’
But Mrs. Vlad is much more than a successful business woman who is only interested in the bottom line. She is extremely passionate about social aspects, culture, and the arts, and contributes to Romania’s social and intellectual components.
‘I strongly value creativity and freedom of expression,’ she says, and with that in mind, she launched a cultural foundation called Fildas Art, which sponsors more than 20 exhibitions each year featuring original Romanian artists. It also organizes group exhibitions of Romanian women artists abroad.
Contemporary art in Eastern Europe is currently experiencing an incredible explosion, the result of the years of oppression suffered by the region. Mrs. Vlad is supporting the movement and the flow of imagination and inspiration through her Senso Art Gallery.
She has also gone on to buy an entertainment channel, named Senso TV, which targets the 20 to 45-year-old market. It specializes in lifestyle programming with talk shows dedicated to cultural events, health and beauty, travel, food, design, architecture and general well-being.
Furthermore, Mrs. Vlad is a staunch feminist and takes great pride in having accomplished what she has in a country where conditions have not always been receptive to women in business. She is a rare exception and for that reason many of her projects are aimed at women.
So what drives a woman like Anca Vlad? ‘I passed on money a long time ago,’ she says. ‘I wake up each morning to the pleasure of facing new challenges. That’s what is most rewarding.’