The audience was delighted by the way Bešlagić ran an interview with Hrvić about the business of AS GROUP. In a completely new way and in a relaxed atmosphere Hrvić, in his first public appearance talked about interesting, and so far unknown details about the development of this, today successful private Bosnian company, which exports its products to 25 countries worldwide.


It all started in 1988 when Sulejman Hrvić, the owner of AS GROUP, opened the first grocery store (granap) in his private house.  By the end of the war, they opened another grocery store and expanded the business to wholesale with, as he says “three employees, my uncle Suljo, his wife Azra and me”, which today employs around 3,000 workers. They continued working this way until 2003, when they bought a small plant from a friend in Tešanj, in which they packed sugar, rice and coffee. In a short period of time they increased the production volume creating conditions that, only three years later, lead to entering a new business – the production of biscuits.


I packed cookies as well

“At that time, cookies were an imported good, and we wanted to offer something homemade to the market. We built the building, installed new Italian equipment and created new jobs. I packed cookies as well. We’ve been doing well, but our main competitor was a Turkish company called Kent, with their production facilities in Visoko. In June 2007, we got the information that Kent is being sold. After brief negotiations with the Turkish owners we were able to buy the factory. It was the first case where a local company takes over a foreign one”, said Hrvić, adding that, with the new acquisition, AS Jelah got an additional boost in the segment of cookie production.

With the wish to further develop and create jobs, the Hrvić family expanded their business to the textile industry. In 2008, they took over Napredak from Tešanj, which at the time was facing bankruptcy. Once more they have shown their business skills, and today this textile company is employing 360 workers who now produce coats and overcoats for one of the most prestigious brands in the world.

However, the food industry was still a priority for AS Jelah, and by the end of 2009 the idea of acquiring Vispak from Visoko, who at the time was operating with a loss, was born. “We bought the first share in February 2010. At that point Vispak had 621 shareholders and nine funds. For nine months we were buying shares of Vispak share by share, until we, in December 2010, took over the majority ownership”, said Hrvić.

He pointed out that in only one year, Vispak was reborn thanks to innovations and investments in the market. The main driver for Vispak is certainly “Zlatna Džezva” (Golden Coffee Pot) which is being successfully sold in 22 countries worldwide. Last year, more than 2,500 tons of the coffee was sold, which is, after the home market, mostly consumed in USA and Croatia. Hrvić added that, only in Sweden, “Zlatna Džezva” is present in more than 1,000 retail stores, including the so called ethno shops, as well as in other Swedish national retail chains.

In just four years how long AS GROUP is managing Vispak, the company has doubled its revenues recording a turnover in 2014 of around 36 million BAM.

During the 20 year long business experience, AS GROUP has never owed a penny to the country. The salaries were also never late, and all the taxes and employee contributions are paid in the same day as the salaries.

Even Bešlagić, in his own special way, told the audience a part of his conversation with the owner of the company, Sulejman Hrvić, asking him on one occasion whether the state helped them in their development, on which Sulejman replied: “When we were a small company the country supported big ones, and now when we are a big company, the country helps the small ones”, which lead to delight and applause by the audience. In a relaxed atmosphere, Bešlagić and Hrvić told the story of how the acquisition of a part of the textile industry “Borac Travnik” happened, when “Fortitudo d.o.o.” was established.

“How did it happen? Foreigners who have cooperated with Napredak requested higher demands for production, but the capacities of the company were limited. One of the solutions was to start additional production in a new production facility. At the time, Borac from Travnik had major problems. They had the machines, manpower and capacities, but they did not have demand”, said Bešlagić.

After lengthy negotiations with the Government of FBiH on the resolution of the accumulated problems of the company, production started in November 2012. “At the time, only 100 suits were made per day, and today, the number counts 650 suits per day. Thanks to an investment we realized a few months ago, Borac will be able to produce 850 suits per day”, explained Hrvić.

“After Travnik, they returned once more to Tešanj, and invested in a water factory. That, they say, was a long-standing wish which they eventually managed to realize in 2013, after a series of negotiations with the once owner of the factory, Salko”, said Enis, to which Rusmir answered: “In nine months we have bought shares from 621 Vispak shareholders, and it took us a few years to make a deal with Salko for taking over Oaza”, making the audience laugh. “Oaza” immediately began to work with full capacity winning several international awards for quality.


Saving Klas JSC Sarajevo

Just a year later, AS GROUP entered their largest investment so far – the acquisition of “Klas”. To Enis’ question on how it happened that people from Tešanj bought Klas, and not someone from Sarajevo where the company is coming from, Rusmir replied: “For the first time we acquired an entire group, since Klas is the owner of “Sprind JSC Sarajevo” and “Mlin i Pekara Ljubače”. The negotiations with the Selimović family lasted nine months, during which time AS GROUP was the only candidate for the purchase of the food giant. No one else has expressed interest in buying Klas. At the time, Klas was at their knees, and it was only a question of time when they would close the plants. Not only the jobs of Klas employees were questionable, but also the jobs of workers from other group members including Sprind and MIP Ljubače. There were no wheat supplies at all, but with the new owner, 26 wagons of wheat immediately entered Klas during March 2014”. It is this wheat that saved BiH during the 2014 May floods. Before the business performance, a show reel of AS GROUP was shown to the audience with the most interesting brands and detais from TV spots, production, breaking the Guinness World Record in Mostar 10 and a half years ago, as well as the Coffee Pot trip to Brazil. During the performance, a presentation with the famous poetry of Mehmedalija Mak Dizdar “Zapis o Zemlji” was constantly played with messages that make AS GROUP be inspired by Bosnia and Herzegovina and the vision of the company.

“Our time is yet to come. We are certain in that. In this sense, major regional projects are to be realized on which we will soon talk about more. However, the story of Bosnia and Herzegovina has not yet been told. We believe that we are not alone in this story. We are confident that by being inspired by Bosnia we all together have “material” for the first 100 years. In this regard, we would like to see more Bosnian and Herzegovinian companies talk in their own way about the success story of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are proof that success is possible. This is our chance and we will not (“ako Bog da”) miss it!”.