Talking about investments, Thanos Trimis, Managing Director of British American Tobacco SEE, says that his company is continuously investing in increasing the capacity and enhancing the capabilities of the factory in Vranje, elevating it to the status of the manufacturing centre of BAT production in CEFTA countries, which has further strengthened its position in the SEE region. With this in mind, our opening question related to possible differences between the business climate in Serbia 14 years ago, when BAT was the pioneer of foreign investments, and today.
“Since entering the Serbian market 14 years ago, we have directly invested more than €200 million in production and business expansion, employing more than 350 people and continuously contributing to the Serbian economy and the community in which we operate. The constant development of production capacity-capability, along with business growth and the continuing improvement of the business climate in Serbia, led to us continuously hiring more people and strengthening our position as an employer on the market. I have been living and working in Serbia myself for five years, and have witnessed the progress and the effort Serbia is making each year to improve its competitiveness in the global landscape. Serbia’s position on the last Doing Business list and its continuous improvement confirm the level of progress and effort,” says Mr Trimis.
At BAT we are very proud of our highly qualified and energised employees
Our people make the difference
In one interview you said that, as the head of the company, you are proud of your people, your experts. It is clear that people are always the greatest success. However, what else would you single out as measures of BAT’s success in Serbia?
– Companies have two major assets: brands and people. All international companies have good brands, but what makes the difference is the people. At BAT we are very proud of our highly qualified and energised employees, who contribute the most to our business success. Having such a professional, hardworking, committed and passionate team is certainly a competitive advantage. At the same time, BAT has a winning portfolio of very strong brands and top quality products, covering the needs of adult consumers across all price segments.
Besides continuous investments in new lines and technologies in our factory in Vranje, which has increased our production capacity by more than 40 per cent, we are proud of the fact that BAT is recognised as a socially responsible company that cares about the society and local communities. Engaged employees and harmony with the society of which we are a part make a strong foundation on which all others successes of the company are based. This represents our motivation to continue investing in our employees, our brands and our factory, focusing on further growth, both in Serbia and the SEE region.
During the almost decade and a half of your operations in Serbia is there anything that you would define as representing a failure?
– All business parameters indicate that our business in Serbia and the region is constantly growing, as well as that all our investments in brands, the factory and people have proved to be well planned and successful. Besides being among the leading companies in the production of cigarettes and other tobacco products, with more than 200 brands on over 200 markets, BAT is also the global leader in innovations, both in combustible tobacco products and in new generation products like e-cigarettes. Considering our factory in Vranje, as well as the market reality in Serbia, we have chosen to bring innovations to cigarettes. The latest innovations that we introduced to Serbian consumers were the flow filter, as well as the filter with double capsule. Serbia has always been at the centre of our business in this part of Europe and we are constantly observing the needs of consumers, in order to offer them the best product to satisfy their needs.
When it comes to the tobacco industry, the topic of excise duty is always relevant. What is your position on this topic, as the general manager of BAT for this region?
– Being among the top three taxpayers in the country, BAT is one of the biggest contributors to the state budget. In Serbia, nearly 15 per cent of the state budget is financed by tobacco product taxation. As such, it is critical for the state, the tobacco companies and the retailers to have a predictable tax environment that facilitates value creation without shocking the legal market. This is a very delicate balance that must be maintained. We are satisfied with the state’s overall manner so far, in terms of open dialogue, transparent procedures and a predictable tax environment. This is very important for securing revenues for all parties involved.
Fighting the grey economy is like a marathon. It takes determination, strength and resilience
BAT is one of the country’s biggest taxpayers. With this in mind, are you satisfied with the treatment of companies in Serbia?
– With more than 1.6 billion euros, British American Tobacco has made a significant contribution to the budget of the Republic of Serbia through tax payments. In the past three years alone, this contribution amounted to more than 500 million euros. As I already have mentioned, we are pleased with the open and constructive dialogue, as well as the support from the state to our company and our industry, which enabled us to address key issues of common interest, such as reducing the volume of the illicit trade in tobacco. Counting on this constructive dialogue, we will continue to invest in Serbia, looking for further cooperation with the state, as our strong and reliable partner for business development and growth.
Tobacco smuggling is a very “profitable” business, and not only in Serbia, so governments of many countries exert great efforts aimed at combatting the “grey” economy. Given that BAT virtually operates in three of the region’s countries, what is your impression about the fight being led at the regional level in this area?
– The announcements from the government on the issue of the intense battle with cigarette smugglers are highly encouraging. The fact that there has been an increase in the state budget inflow from the sale of cigarettes indicates that the smuggling of cigarettes on the black market has decreased. And these are some very encouraging results. BAT is actively supporting the state’s efforts to fight the illicit tobacco trade and the grey economy in general. Our company is very active in many forums and working groups that are organised at the state level with the aim of finding the most effective ways to reduce black market activities. The role of organisations such as FIC, NALED and AmCham is very important and we are participating with our capacities in this joint “battle”.
BAT as a company is strongly committed to corporate social responsibility. You have invested more than a million euros in such projects, particularly those relating to the development of local communities. Which of those projects would you single out as being the most successful?
– It is very important for our company to develop and improve along with the community in which it operates. Through numerous donations and investments in socially responsible and communityrelevant projects, we strive to be a responsible and active member of the society, and to contribute to improving the lives of the people with whom we live and work. BAT will continue to invest in socially responsible projects in order to improve the community and the lives of people who live in it.