One of Estonia’s richest people and shareholder of DELFI, one of the biggest media groups in the Baltics, Hans Luik shares stories about getting into the media industry, doing business in Ukraine and challenges to free media raised by dictatorial governments as well as technological advances.
In 2007, you invested into DELFI and it was quite an expensive purchase – it still is the most expensive media transaction in the Baltic history. Do you consider it a successful investment?
I do indeed. Our company, Ekspress Grupp, was a publisher of magazines and newspapers with no future. We were profitable but not digital. I decided that we’d better take a big loan to dive into the digital future. Nobody knew that we were simultaneously diving into an international financial crisis.
As for today, we have recovered the loan. Meanwhile, I had to bring my personal guarantees and pledge my belongings in order to secure bank loans for the DELFI purchase. But we are number-one digital news company in the Baltics.
It was a forced situation with DELFI in 2007. DELFI belonged to an American fund called Texas Pacific. They had a 5-year investment horizon, and their five years came to an end. So in 2007 they were selling – either to us or our competitors.
There were a lot of interested parties: Norwegians, who started 15 Minutes afterwards, and Finnish publishers. At the time, when we paid over 50 million euros to Texas Pacific, they chose to invest into a real estate company called Washington Mutual. The financial crises began and Washington Mutual went bankrupt with a huge investment from Texas Pacific. It seems that big money made nobody happy in times of crisis…
Last year, the result of Ekspress Grupp was close to 9 million EBITDA profit. So the risk has been worthwile.
It has not been an all-lucky trip. The thing I regret is DELFI Ukraine. We had great expectations and we kept on investing for years. Editors and IT people from Lithuania and Estonia were helping to support DELFI in Kiev. But there is an oligarchic structure of Ukrainian media market with lots of middlemen. For an outsider, it was too hard to gain foothold in the advertising market. We made the hard decision to close down in Kiev.
Talking about innovation, we believe that there will be less direct mail in our postboxes, because it is not very accurately targeted advertising. We want to take information about retail discounts digital, at our new website Zave.lt. We already have 60 Lithuanian retailers drawn to our idea.
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