Letter from the editor
Ever since SeeNews started publishing its SEE TOP 100 ranking of the biggest companies in the region eight years ago, the winner has been an oil and gas company. Not so any longer.
Romanian car maker Dacia, a unit of France's Renault, overtook OMV Petrom as the top company in the region, and this breakthrough is symptomatic of the changes taking place in the industrial landscape of Southeast Europe. The traditional heavyweights – the oil and gas and electricity companies – are slowly but steadily losing ground, though they still dominate the ranking and in all likelihood will continue to do so for quite some time. Their bottomlines are negatively impacted by low oil prices on global markets – a welcome factor for most other sectors – regulatory volatility, and, increasingly often, unfavourable weather conditions.
The manufacturers of cars and car parts in the meantime have been speeding up the SEE TOP 100 track, their growth fuelled by the quick recovery of their large export markets. They have been making the best of the region's competitive advantages - cheap labour costs, low taxes, strategic location, and improving infrastructure, often drawing on past expertise in the local industry. The prospects before them seem upbeat as economic growth in the region accelerates, consumer spending increases and personal incomes rise.
Another industry poised for growth as it is tied to consumer spending more closely than any other is wholesale and retail. IT and agriculture, largely absent from the list of the top companies in the region, have been attracting increasing foreign investor interest lately, which is bound sooner or later to place them among the ranks of the big businesses.
Foreign ownership remains a crucial factor for the performance of the companies in Southeast Europe, helping them avoid many of the pitfalls on the local scene such as limited lending or political meddling, while giving them access to big markets. However, to unlock the region's potential for growth the governments should address the long overdue structural reforms, tackle corruption and grey economy and try to make the overall business environment more predictable. The local businesses for their part should finally acknowledge the importance of innovation for competitiveness.
This, in a nutshell, is the essence of this year's edition of SEE TOP 100. To get the details, apart from the flagship ranking of the largest non-financial companies by total revenue and the rankings of the biggest banks and insurers, read the interviews with the chart-toppers and key market players, as well as the analyses of some of the most vibrant sectors contributed by industry experts.
We are also bringing to you the perspective on Southeast Europe of the big international lenders in an interview with Tomasz Telma, IFC regional director for Europe and Central Asia, on the challenges facing the region. We take this topic further with Tom Rogers, senior advisor to the EY Eurozone Economic Forecast, and our partners from Euromonitor. To get a broader perspective, we offer you a survey by media analytics company Perceptica monitoring sentiment across the region towards developments in Greece and a possible Grexit. An analysis by Raiffeisen Investment on the M&A market outlines the main trends and identifies the hottest sectors for investors.
We have again included a special chapter on innovations in this year's edition of SEE TOP 100, featuring, among others, interviews with Siemens Bulgaria CEO Boryana Manolova on the Industry 4.0 concept, and Michael Paier, IBM general manager Southeast Europe on the risks to IT security for the business.