Samir Mane (pictured above) president of the Balfin Group, the largest and most innovative investment group in Albania and among the largest in the Western Balkans, was originally born in Korça. The old and traditional city in southeast Albania was primarily a center of trade, before the communist regime came to power, in 1944. Like many young and aspiring Albanians, Samir found it very difficult living under the regime. He migrated to Vienna, Austria, as a young student in 1991, looking for a better life.
After gaining international experience in Eastern and Central Europe, Samir started investing in Albania, in 1993. He correctly selected electronic devices and domestic appliances as the market that Albanians wanted the most. Offering the same standards as his European counterparts enabled him to open the Neptun shops and, eventually, he created the largest network of electronic and domestic appliance stores in Albania. This step brought the Balfin Group into existence.
Samir was also the brain behind the group’s further development: he brought several innovative ideas and concepts to the country and introduced the first shopping mall and the first organized retail chain. One could even go as far as to say that he brought a new way of life to Albania.
In the years that followed, Balfin dove deeper into the realm of retail, establishing the first Albanian chain of supermarkets and bringing popular clothing brands to the country for the first time. Samir was included in the Financial Times top four “people to watch in business” in Albania, in 2008, because of his business vision, innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit.
As the group grew and consolidated its markets of expertise, it also diversified further. In 2013, it acquired full ownership of AlbChrome, Europe’s only vertically-integrated producer of high carbon ferrochrome. After that it ventured into the energy sector, as well as logistics, agriculture and nickel mining. In 2018, it acquired the Tirana Bank, the first private bank in Albania, and it is beginning to invest in the tourism sector.
Samir, what do you consider is your biggest personal achievement and how difficult was the journey to get to where you are today?
Making money is not important to me anymore, actually. Now, we enjoy what we have created. That is the most important thing. We help other people to make money and I do enjoy that. When we bring new business into the country, it creates employment and touches people’s lives. However, what I’m most proud of is helping to create a different lifestyle for Albanians. By bringing the first shopping mall, consumer electronics and other things, a new way of life was made available in the nation; similar to what is available in developed countries.
How would you characterise your investment strategy?
Most of it is focused on high growth. In Albania, our main focus is on investing in the industries that we know – the metal, retail and real estate industries, which also happen to be the main industries in the country. We also have other opportunities and specialized staff, with a great deal of experience from abroad. We have German, Italian, Greek and Canadian people working with us, who are helping us to discover and create new opportunities – in the West as well. We don’t invent management styles, ourselves. We follow the trends in management methodologies closely. We read a lot, watch how large conglomerates are running in Germany or the US and customise what we’ve observed for Albania. In the early 1990s, I was designing everything myself, but now we meet people around the world, such as advisors, who help us to run this conglomerate. What we are mostly doing is adopting the best management methodologies.
Last year Balfin celebrated its 25th anniversary. How did you manage to come so far?
My journey has been a long and winding road, not a systematic set of steps. You have to find yourself and you have to be yourself; your power is internal, not external. I discovered something I truly loved. I jumped in when the opportunity came, and I also did things that people told me I shouldn’t.
This article was first published at Discover CEE.