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Linas Libikas, JTI General Manager for the Western Balkans

Exploring Excellence

We are delighted to announce the upcoming launch of our cutting-edge and truly unique heated tobacco experience. Although I’m unable to reveal too much at this moment, I can state with confidence that we are soon introducing the next generation of heated tobacco products to the Serbian market ~ Linas Libikas

We spoke with Japan Tobacco International’s Linas Libikas about the remarkable year that JTI Serbia had in 2023, with a focus on two key aspects that define its excellence: recognition of its status as a Top Employer for the ninth consecutive year; and the cutting-edge Japanese technological advances shaping its future.

It was precisely a year ago that we discussed your new five-year investment cycle with a value of 51 million USD. Is everything being implemented and rolled out according to plan?

— Yes, we are very satisfied with how things are going. Since the end of 2022, we’ve successfully invested nine million USD in the development of production at our Senta factory and constructed two additional state-of-the-art warehouses covering an area of more than 2,000m2. We are this year planning to develop and install a new machine for packing cigarettes.

The two most important items in the remaining investment, worth 42 million USD, are cutting-edge technology lines for making and packing cigarettes, as well as the expansion of the warehouse for non-tobacco materials. When we complete the entire investment cycle in 2027, we will have an exceptional factory – not only in Serbia, but across the JTI system worldwide – and this modernisation will have a great impact on increasing the efficiency and speed of work.

New investments contribute to increasing the export potential of JTI and Serbia as a whole, but also contribute to boosting the state budget. Does Serbia have enough diligent and talented experts who are eager to progress and improve?

— For sure! It is a known fact that the workforce in Serbia is highly appreciated thanks to its hard work, professionalism, ability to learn fast and be resourceful and agile.

These are skills and values that every company appreciates the most in its employees, who represent the main and most meaningful resource a business can have.

Let me give you an example: this is the ninth year in a row that JTI Serbia has been recognised as a Top Employer, and we are the second-highest rated employer in areas that are crucial for this certification, one of them being the development of employees and attracting high-quality, talented people on an increasingly competitive job market. So, if we didn’t have a high-quality workforce, we could never have succeeded in receiving this prestigious award for so many consecutive years. Our employees are definitely the main ingredient in our success and prioritising them is essential to ensuring an excellent financial performance and sustaining the company’s growth on a competitive market.

Last year proved very successful for JTI when it comes to the production of tobacco, with excellent quality and higher bulk buying prices? What do you expect from 2024?

— Last year was very successful in terms of tobacco production. It was a year during which we hit some major records. We managed to have the best quality tobacco ever and to have the highest average purchase prices ever paid to our tobacco growers. To explain, this was the most successful year in terms of the quality of Virginia tobacco in the 28 years since production of this type of tobacco was established.

On the other hand, we strive to be a true partner to our tobacco producers. And that’s why, with an awareness of rising living and production costs, we made the decision to significantly increase the purchase prices of tobacco regardless of its type and quality. For both tobacco types, Virginia and Burley, we increased the purchasing prices by about 30 per cent in comparison to the price initially planned at the moment of contracting the production, and we expect this year to be even better when it comes to growing and harvesting tobacco.

JTI is among the largest investors in Serbia, while it is also one of the country’s largest taxpayers and most desirable employers. What are all the things that we should learn from your company? Do we even grasp the concept of Japanese business culture?

— Perhaps we are of the opinion that it is actually us who should maintain a learning mindset. This is our prerogative – keep growing, keep learning, and keep doing so every day. Taking even small steps every day, in order to achieve major longterm results, is at the core of the Japanese Kaizen business philosophy. This philosophy implies improving business every day and is characteristic of practically all Japanese companies that have achieved great results in terms of quality and efficiency. In 2008, the JTI factory in Senta was the first in Serbia to start applying the Kaizen philosophy and can boast of having since achieved a 50% increase in productivity, but also a reduction of as much as 70% in the amount of waste generated.

This is the ninth year in a row that JTI Serbia has been recognised as a Top Employer, and we are the second-highest rated employer in areas that are crucial for this certification, one of them being the development of employees and attracting high-quality, talented people on an increasingly competitive job market… Our employees are definitely the main ingredient of our success

We believe that exchanging knowledge is important, which is why we’ve opened the doors of our Senta factory and are inviting representatives of various companies in Serbia to discuss Kaizen principles and ways of implementing them in practice.

Serbia is leading the way in the region when it comes to the inflow of Japanese investments, which have added value that far exceeds the importance of the initial investment amount. The importance of these investments is primarily reflected in new technologies that contribute to the development of the economy, but also to overall technological development.

— Japanese companies are increasingly present in Serbia, with investments that have exceeded 2.5 billion USD. Looking at all the business potential of our market, companies coming from Japan bring an additional value – in the form of significant knowhow and new technologies, thereby providing a significant contribution to the development of the economy, but also to technological development.

In fact, to give you an exclusive sneak peek, there is something new coming our way when it comes to innovative Japanese technology. We are delighted to announce the upcoming launch of our cutting-edge and truly unique heated tobacco experience. Although I’m unable to reveal too much at this moment, I can state with confidence that we are soon introducing the next generation of heated tobacco products to the Serbian market. Stay tuned!

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