Borut Čeh, CEO, Labena d.o.o.

Two Stable Pillars Of Business Operations

Labena is a company that has spent almost three full decades as one of the market’s leading providers of complete solutions in laboratory and process analytics. It has expanded gradually and today boasts offices in six former Yugoslav countries, as well as plans to open new ones

Around 20 per cent of Labena employees are doctors of science, while the remainder have university degrees in the fields of molecular biology, chemistry, biochemistry, electrical engineering, physics etc., which creates the huge advantage of a multidisciplinary team. Interestingly, our company has 112 employees and women account for more than 50 per cent of the management team – notes Labena Manager Borut Čeh with pride.

How would you describe the development and expansion path of your company, which next year celebrates three decades of successful operations?

– Labena began as a small family firm with four employees. Founded back in 1993 by my mother, it opened an office in Croatia in 1994, in Bosnia- Herzegovina in 2001, in North Macedonia in 2003, in Serbia in 2012 and in Montenegro in 2019.

The company has two pillars of operations. One is represented by the distribution of analytical and process equipment in four areas – science, medicine, nutrition and the materials industry, while the other pillar is represented by our laboratories in Ljubljana, which are certified by the European Medicines Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and are where we develop and test medicines for some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies.

This work relates to the early-stage development of medicines. We sometimes assist in the development of formulas for medicines and controls, while sometimes we just check to ensure all procedures are carried out in accordance with GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) standards and whether they meet the requirements of the European Medicines Agency or the U.S. FDA, depending on the market for which a particular medicine is intended. We sometimes create and develop specific procedures for pharmaceutical companies, which later results in us carrying out quality controls of the medicines that they have and partly dealing with market placements for those medicines.

Apart from your known presence in medicine and pharmacy, what other areas do you cover?

– Those areas include R&D, analysis of raw input materials, semi-finished products and pharmaceutical products, while the other areas are distribution, sales and complete equipment support. We are distinct from other distributors in this sense, because we also have laboratories and thus combine our distribution experience with knowhow from laboratories.

The same kind of equipment that we distribute is used at our Labena laboratories as development equipment for the life sciences and pharmaceuticals, and we are unique in the region in that we offer our clients – including medical institutes and clinical institutions – development methods and service development advisory services. We attempt to identify a point through which our clients can generate earnings with our equipment and applications, solve a problem or release a highly rated scientific work. We have excellent cooperation with colleges and universities, pharmaceutical companies and clinics in Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade and the wider EU area.

Your company framework also includes a department for comprehensive technical support, servicing and consultation. How important is that to your customers, users and partners?

– This is another way in which we differ from other distributors. After making a sale, other distributors, for example, only offer installation support and basic operational training, but they can’t do anything if an application problem arises, or if the client shows interest in setting up new applications. Well, in this sense we are unique, because our clients can rely on us completely, and that also explains our exponential growth.

There were 34 of us employed at Labena back in 2016, and we generated a turnover of 3.4 million euros. In 2021, there were 112 of us and we generated a turnover of 22 million euros. It was in 2016 that laboratories became an integral part of our operations, because I always wanted to offer clients something more than the equipment we distribute, and that more has come in the form of services and products. Our laboratories generate a good part of our turnover, but they also contribute significantly to sales, because our partners understand that we’re the only ones in the entire region that they can rely on fully.

That’s the reason we’re planning our further expansion, with the opening of offices in Albania and Banja Luka and a laboratory in Zagreb, but even that won’t be the end of our expansion.

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