One way to read the corporate history of this century is through the changes in the ranking of the largest companies in Bulgaria by Capital. The K100 rankings have shown which businesses and entrepreneurs have been resilient and what the market environment has been like over the past two decades. Both in 2002 and today, the giants are mainly state-owned under the umbrella of the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH). The difference is that for three years the leader has been copper producer Aurubis, which in 2002 was in 20th position. Since then, its revenues have increased 28 times.

Today, among the top 100 you can already see private electricity traders, manufacturers with newly built plants like Sensata, BTL, Liebherr, Maxcom and others, as well as big private road hauliers such as Discordia and PIMK, and agricultural and pharma traders. The most negative development is that over these decades, the state has distorted the construction sector, pouring billions for infrastructure projects into state-owned companies, which distribute the funding to a handful of privately-held favorites under the table.

Looking from a wider perspective, the combined effect of Bulgaria joining the EU in 2007 and accumulated inflation have led to a jump in the total revenue of the top 100 firms: from BGN 25 billion (EUR 12.8 billion) in 2002 to BGN 132 billion today.

20 years ago

A dissection of the composition of the top 100 group in 2002 shows that 25 companies no longer exist, while another 9 have almost zero business, i.e. over a third have not survived to the present day. In the group of bankrupt or closed companies are Kremikovtzi steel mill, energy and fuel traders such as Top Energy, Litasco, Naftex, defunct businesses such as the first telecoms or cigarette factories privatized by a company linked to MRF MP Delyan Peevski, road transport companies such as SOMAT, which had problems with its German owner.

In most cases, those who survived have grown many times over. In this group are pharmaceutical companies, food and fuel retail chains, privatized industrial plants such as corn processing company ADM Razgrad, fertilizer producer Agropolychim, copper and gold mining company Elatsite Med, lead and zinc smelter KCM.

Others have grown much more modestly. For example, telecoms are almost frozen in terms of revenue due to stiff competition and rapid technological development, as are the state-owned Bulgarian Railways and Bulgarian Post, which remain in the last century in financial terms.

Then and now: specific differences:

Two decades ago, the K100 contingent was mainly composed of state-owned and newly privatized businesses. Even the energy distribution companies were still in state ownership – privatization happened in 2004 – and by now two of the three buyers, Germany’s EON and the Czech CEZ, have sold their businesses to the Czech Energo-pro and Bulgaria’s Eurohold, respectively.

There is also a difference in the media presence – in 2002 in the middle of the top 100 (53rd place with a turnover of BGN 116 million) was German-owned Newspaper Group Bulgaria, then holding two of the most popular daily newspapers. Today, the largest media company is Nova Broadcasting Group with BGN 284 million in revenues in 2022, positioned in the second hundred.

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At the turn of the century, the new plants were practically absent from the K100 list – of the greenfield companies, only Sevlievo-based sanitary ware manufacturer Ideal Standard was among the giants. All other plants were former state-owned factories.

As for the food chains, the only name one could find in the ranking in 2002 was that of Metro Cash&Carry. Today Kaufland, Lidl and Billa are way bigger than the trailblazing chain, although they all entered the Bulgarian market later.

Ten years ago

The difference from a decade ago is much smaller. In 2012, the total revenue of the top 100 companies was BGN 64 billion, which is almost half of the current BGN 132 billion. However, the revenue increases are large: 37 of the companies have posted 100% revenue growth in ten years, 29 are in a growth phase and 23 are in decline. A total of 11 are no more. One such example is the gambling business Eurofootball, part of Vasil Bozhkov’s group, which went bankrupt after the state revoked the licenses of his betting companies. Also in the group of absentees are Carrefour and Piccadilly supermarket chains, grain trader Glencore (now Viterra), which closed its business in Bulgaria and started operating from Romania.

Energy companies, grain growers and traders, as well as factories in light and heavy industry saw the biggest rise in turnover. During this period, Kaufland Bulgaria came ahead of its peer Metro Cash&Carry.

There have also been shrinking businesses, like Overgas, which is not among the big natural gas importers anymore, and mainly operates a gas distribution network in the country. This is where Lukoil’s refinery in Burgas is also headed.

On the bright side, the technology sector has developed extremely well and very fast. In 2012, K100 for the first time saw software companies coming in, with modest turnovers ranging from BGN 10 to 50 million. In comparison, today’s sector leader VMWare, which then had revenues of BGN 33 million, is ten times bigger now with a turnover of over BGN 340 million. In the following years we’ll probably see these companies into the top spots of the ranking.

A sad conclusion from the comparison with 2012 is that hardly any new major foreign investor has entered the Bulgarian market during that period – no new large industrial plant, no energy or trade firm, and not even a financial business, which is outside the scope of this ranking. Yet those doing business in the country have, with few exceptions, managed to expand and grow.

Credit: KInsights