How the Domuschiev brothers raised in Communist-era Bulgaria went from promoting sneakers to controlling a $4.2 billion empire starting from animal well being and delivery to actual property and soccer.
Last 12 months, tens of millions of individuals working from residence drove a pet-buying growth that pumped up the gross sales and earnings of corporations peddling kibble and chew toys. The pandemic has additionally renewed a concentrate on the potential for animal-borne ailments, in addition to antibiotic resistance from contaminated meals, boosting the worldwide $20 billion livestock well being sector.
“Now that we’re extra conversant in zoonotic ailments, there is a long-term pattern for increased manufacturing of (animal) vaccines,” says Citigroup analyst Navann Ty.
One of many winners has been Sofia, Bulgaria-based Huvepharma, the world’s sixth-largest livestock well being agency, with operations stretching from a vaccine manufacturing unit in Lincoln, Nebraska to a prescription drugs plant in northwestern Italy. A serious producer of veterinary medicines and vaccines in addition to components for livestock feed, Huvepharma posted $658 million in revenues in 2020, up 21% since 2018. That’s helped its house owners—brothers Kiril and Georgi Domuschiev—turn out to be Bulgaria’s first ever billionaires. Kiril was additionally made an honorary citizen of Nebraska in 2019 for Huvepharma’s investments within the Cornhusker State.
From a nondescript workplace constructing within the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, the Domuschiev brothers have constructed their multibillion-dollar empire by privatizing state-owned companies and increasing them. Beginning with the autumn of communism within the Nineties and kicking into gear within the 2000s as Bulgaria entered the European Union, the 2 brothers have turned a string of investments in these privatized companies, together with Huvepharma, into an estimated $4.2 billion fortune that additionally has pursuits in actual property and soccer.
For Kiril Domuschiev, 52, taking up underperforming state belongings is at all times a surer guess than investing in shares: “We’re not individuals who hold money within the financial institution or purchase shares on the inventory market. For me, [that’s] betting,” he says in a Zoom interview from his workplace in Sofia, wearing a crisp white gown shirt. “We desire to spend money on our tasks, the place we will management issues.”
Forbes estimates that Kiril and his youthful brother Georgi, 49, every have a $2.1 billion fortune, made up of equal stakes of their collectively owned conglomerate, Advance Properties, plus money from previous gross sales and dividends.
Advance’s next-largest asset after Huvepharma—which makes up 77% of the brothers’ fortunes—is a 70% stake in bulk cargo delivery agency Navibulgar. That enterprise has additionally benefited from pandemic-driven disruptions; costs for commodities comparable to metal and coal have climbed as delivery bottlenecks pile up across the globe, sending revenues hovering for corporations that transfer commodities in bulk. Navibulgar’s gross sales are anticipated to develop 78% this 12 months to $281 million. “Charges have gone as much as 12-year highs. The trade is in a really, superb place proper now,” says Randy Giveans, a delivery analyst at Jefferies.
Little identified to a lot of the world, the Domuschiev brothers are family names of their residence nation of 6.9 million individuals: they personal essentially the most profitable soccer workforce, Ludogorets Razgrad. Advance Properties additionally holds a 44-year concession to function the Black Sea port of Burgas and a couple of.7 million sq. toes of actual property throughout Bulgaria. Additionally they managed the biggest media community, Nova TV, earlier than promoting it in January for $340 million
Flush with money from the Nova sale and in search of to reap the benefits of an ongoing IPO frenzy, the brothers had deliberate to take Huvepharma public on the Amsterdam inventory trade in June, hoping to boost at the very least $340 million at a valuation of at the very least $4 billion. However on the final minute, they pulled out and selected to maintain the agency non-public. “The low cost to safe a profitable IPO [was] too excessive to justify going public,” says Kiril.
The brothers say they haven’t any want for the general public markets, at the very least for now. “Frankly, our philosophy was at all times to reinvest our earnings,” says Kiril.
Born in Communist-era Sofia on the flip of the Seventies, the Domuschiev siblings attended foreign-language colleges—Kiril realized Spanish; Georgi studied French—whereas their mother and father labored higher middle-class jobs. Their father served as director of Sofia’s electrical energy division and their mom as a finance director at an power agency.
In 1990, Kiril Domuschiev was a 21-year-old faculty scholar on the Technical College of Sofia—contemporary out of necessary navy service—when Bulgaria’s communist regime collapsed and the nation started a chaotic transition to a market financial system. He recruited his brother and collectively they began promoting regionally manufactured garments and sneakers. (It will take him 12 years to graduate and get his levels, a bachelor’s in industrial administration and a grasp’s in advertising, whereas working the corporate. “I made a decision to complete as a result of it was necessary for my mother and father,” he says with a chuckle.)
By 1996, the agency had grown to 2,000 staff throughout factories in Italy and Bulgaria. It wasn’t a simple time to be working a enterprise. Bulgaria had simply plunged right into a simultaneous banking and forex disaster that led to hyperinflation, peaking at practically 600% in 1997. “We misplaced an enormous a part of our capital in 1996,” remembers Kiril. “There have been no banks to finance us. We had been younger and it was troublesome. On the time there have been loads of forex exchanges that had money, and we borrowed cash with a month-to-month rate of interest of 10%-15%.”
That very same 12 months, the Bulgarian authorities started auctioning off state-owned belongings, and the Domuschiev brothers sensed a golden alternative. In order that they determined to money out on the shoe enterprise and pooled their earnings with undisclosed traders, forming an funding fund known as Napredak that acquired round 15 newly privatized corporations, together with forklift producer Balkan. (Whereas they didn’t personal greater than 35% of any of the Napredak-owned companies, the brothers nonetheless stored the enterprise within the household: they put their mom, Margarita, accountable for Balkan; she’s nonetheless on the firm right now at age 76.)
“With the opposite founders of [Napredak], we discovered a possibility to use our non-public enterprise expertise to state-owned factories, which had been very badly managed,” says Domuschiev, including that he nonetheless believes state-owned corporations in Bulgaria are poorly run.
The identification of the opposite Napredak founders is unclear, however the brothers started investing with out them in 2000 after they based Advance Properties.
That was additionally the 12 months they purchased 54% of partially state-owned animal well being agency Biovet for $10.6 million—at a time when the corporate had about $20 million in annual revenues. They set to work shopping for new factories, renaming the corporate Huvepharma in 2005 and later buying the remainder of the agency for about $9 million. Huvepharma now has 11 vegetation in 4 nations, together with 5 within the U.S. in Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and North Carolina.
Because the brothers invested in Huvepharma, in addition they diversified by betting on the delivery trade, one other previously state-dominated sector in Bulgaria. In 2008, they purchased 21% of the state-owned delivery agency Navibulgar, based in 1892, for $104 million as a part of a wider German-led consortium that bought a 70% stake for practically $350 million.
The preliminary timing of the Navibulgar delivery funding—within the wake of the worldwide monetary disaster—wasn’t ultimate. “One month after we purchased [Navibulgar], the delivery trade collapsed,” says Kiril. The brothers later purchased out their companions for an undisclosed quantity and invested tens of millions in new ships that would navigate across the globe, together with the Nice Lakes and the Panama and Suez canals. In 2012 and 2013, the brothers doubled down on delivery by buying a long-term lease on two port terminals on the Bulgarian port of Burgas on the Black Coastline, investing $170 million in modernization work and later extending the lease in 2019 by way of 2065. Immediately they count on Navibulgar to contribute 30-35% of Advance Properties’ whole revenues in 2021. “After many dangerous years, it is actually booming,” he says.
The brothers’ funding of their soccer workforce dates again to 2010, after they paid $60,000 for Ludogorets Razgrad, a soccer workforce languishing within the league’s lowest division and working out of a metropolis with a big Huvepharma manufacturing unit. The brothers doubled their funding and constructed a brand new stadium the next 12 months. The formerly-amateur workforce went on to earn two consecutive promotions to succeed in the nation’s high division by 2011, earlier than occurring a record-breaking run of 10 consecutive nationwide titles that stretches to the current day.
Ludogorets additionally earned Kiril Domuschiev one in every of his extra peculiar possessions: a bald eagle named Fortuna, after the Roman goddess of fortune. In 2014, Ludogorets confronted off towards Italian membership Lazio within the knockout levels of the UEFA Europa League. Either side have an eagle as their image, and Lazio usually flies its personal eagle, Olympia, earlier than video games at its stadium in Rome. Lazio’s proprietor Claudio Lotito was so positive of success that he made a guess with Kiril that he would give him an eagle as a present if Ludogorets received—they usually did. “After we eradicated Lazio, I acquired a gift from Lotito,” he says. “So now our eagle is from Lazio.”
As the house owners of Bulgaria’s most profitable sports activities workforce and—briefly—its largest TV community, the Domuschiev brothers have discovered it troublesome to remain out of the highlight in a rustic nonetheless battling corruption. Kiril Domuschiev leads the nation’s chamber of commerce, the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists, and in addition runs a basis along with his spouse targeted on schooling and healthcare. In March 2020, he reportedly violated Bulgaria’s pandemic guidelines when he examined optimistic for Covid-19 and checked into a non-public hospital that wasn’t designated as a therapy heart for the virus. (In a Fb put up, he stated he remoted himself and adopted all quarantine measures).
As for the media community, Nova Group, it was by far their most controversial funding. They purchased the agency for practically $210 million in 2019, placing up about 35% in money and funding the remainder by way of financial institution financing. The sale was authorized by Bulgaria’s antitrust regulator regardless of its earlier rejection of a bid by the late Czech billionaire Petr Kellner’s (d. March 2021) PPF Group, on the grounds it might have given Nova the funds to extend its market share and restrict competitors. That fed into accusations that the brothers had shut ties with Bulgaria’s long-serving prime minister, Boyko Borisov, who on the time was beset by mass protests that led to his resignation this 12 months. In response to a July 2021 report on media freedom in Bulgaria by the European Union’s Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, the Domuschiev brothers fired greater than 60 journalists and employees at Nova’s information channel whereas it was underneath their possession—purportedly attributable to price range cuts—earlier than allegedly changing them with extra government-friendly reporters from Kanal 3, a information channel they acquired in October 2020 for an undisclosed quantity from pro-government oligarch and former member of parliament Delyan Peevski. (In June, Peevski was focused with sanctions by the U.S. State Division for “participating in corruption.”)
“Some producers and presenters had been resigning on their very own, dissatisfied by the modified context. Some investigative and extra critically-oriented journalists had been laid off,” says Orlin Spassov, a media professor at Sofia College and one of many authors of the report. Provides his co-author and colleague, legislation professor Nelly Ognyanova: “The Domuschiev brothers’ enterprise prospered throughout [Borisov’s] reign. Nova denied each type of censorship…however some crucial voices had been fired, and Nova acquired [pro-government] media.”
A spokesperson for Kiril Domuschiev denied the allegations in a press release to Forbes: “These are slanders by native businessmen standing behind competing media in Bulgaria and unfold by the identical media.”
In January 2021, the brothers offered Nova to Netherlands-based United Group for $340 million. Kiril admits the sale was partly as a result of political pressure generated by their possession: “I began to obtain complaints from all sides as a result of everyone thought that Nova was serving to anyone. We appreciated the enterprise very a lot—we had turn out to be primary in information—however this created actually politically delicate points and we determined to promote.”
In a typical deal, the Domuschiev brothers make investments wherever between 30% to 50% of the capital straight and finance the remainder by way of financial institution loans, counting on relationships with worldwide lenders together with Citibank, BNP Paribas and the Export-Import Financial institution of China in addition to native establishments such because the state-led Bulgarian Growth Financial institution. Once they promote an asset, they don’t have to arrange a holding firm in a faraway tax haven to reap the rewards: Bulgaria taxes capital positive factors at a comparatively low 10% and dividends at solely 5%, in comparison with the 23.8% high capital positive factors charge within the U.S. and the typical 19.3% charge throughout the European Union. Forbes estimates that the brothers have pocketed at the very least $110 million (after taxes) in dividends and proceeds from asset gross sales since 2018.
It’s clear that the borders of Bulgaria have turn out to be too small for the ambitions of the Domuschiev brothers. Navibulgar ships sail the oceans from Indonesia to Israel. Huvepharma makes feed and therapeutics in St. Louis, Missouri and Saint-Étienne, France. And Kiril estimates that Advance Properties is on monitor to drag in revenues equalling 2% of Bulgaria’s gross home product—which stood at $68 billion final 12 months—in 2021, a brand new report.
“We’re very assured in what we’re doing,” he says. “All the pieces we have touched since 2000 is rising very quick.”
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