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INTERVIEW WITH JOZEF MAJSKÝ

Many call him the richest man in Slovakia

As president and sole owner of Sipox Holding a.s., Jozef Majský oversees an empire of 36 daughter companies - mostly specialized in machinery - that employ 11,000 people, have a total annual turnover of $800 million, and are worth roughly $300 million.
When the Czech and Slovak Republics split four years ago, Majský started his major acquisitions by buying the former Czechoslovak car and truck manufacturer, Tatra, which he re-named VAB. Its factory in Vrnocem produces military vehicles, trucks, and automotive parts.
Among its varied interests, Sipox Holding controls TAZ in Trnava, a car and automotive parts manufacturer; Styl Moda Sipox, which makes women's clothing; and Rekra Sipox, a group of hotels in the High Tatras and across Slovakia.

As president and sole owner of Sipox Holding a.s., Jozef Majský oversees an empire of 36 daughter companies - mostly specialized in machinery - that employ 11,000 people, have a total annual turnover of $800 million, and are worth roughly $300 million.

When the Czech and Slovak Republics split four years ago, Majský started his major acquisitions by buying the former Czechoslovak car and truck manufacturer, Tatra, which he re-named VAB. Its factory in Vrnocem produces military vehicles, trucks, and automotive parts.

Among its varied interests, Sipox Holding controls TAZ in Trnava, a car and automotive parts manufacturer; Styl Moda Sipox, which makes women's clothing; and Rekra Sipox, a group of hotels in the High Tatras and across Slovakia.

Most recently, Majský has diversified his business interests to include the media. The Slovak Spectator's Tom Reynolds sat down with Majský to discuss his plans and motivations.


TSS: Why were you first attracted to investing in the media?

JM: I started to work with the media for one reason: they needed financing, and no better company than Sipox Holdings could afford to invest in them.

Personally, I'm not touching the media. For me, they are a business. In some cases, I show them how to gain more income, but I always take care not to push them. Whatever they want to say, they can. I think political opinions can be interesting, if they have many readers, listeners, or viewers.

In the future, the media will play a greater role in this society. That's why I would rather not talk about my holdings in the media, because the situation is very sensitive. Some people say the media can play a big role in the whole fabric [of society], but personally I don't need to push them. Sipox Holding is a commercial enterprise.


TSS: What is your vision for VMV - the corporate umbrella for your newspaper holdings, which include Sme - and what do the intials "VMV" stand for?

JM: The initials "VMV" stand for the names of the people who established this company, although one of them is no longer there. It's one of the daughter companies of Sipox Holding.

My vision for VMV is to establish an economically stable media organization that nobody will interefere with. I wanted to increase their independence. That's why we bought our own press machines, and we want to buy more and to produce more weekly and monthly newspapers.

I always take care to make this production independent, that the information the newspapers publish is truthful, and obtain the highest level of political commentary. They should be democratic and independent newspapers.


TSS: What's your definition of that?

JM: In Slovak, "democracy" translates as "the government of the people." If we want to be a partner in European structures, we have to show readers and the entire public that the whole country can be democratially governed.

I want to bring politics as close to the people as possible, and to show that I am somebody who pushes democracy from downstairs to upstairs, and makes democracy central to our country's aims. Now people are afraid of losing their jobs. They are peacefully listening to the government, and we are getting in the same position as we were under socialism, which the people are used to from 40 years' experience.

That's why I think that it's important for the media to represent democracy as a legitimate system. It might not be perfect, but they haven't found a better one yet.


TSS: Financially speaking, what is the total value of your media holdings?

JM: It's hard to say what all the media's value is totally worth. Each enterrprise has its own value.

Personally, I think that mass media are a very hard product to finance. It's understandable that the mass media need capital, perhaps from foreign sources, because the money must provide good technology and presses. Readers' literacy is increasing, and the number of readers is increasing. These factors are having a big impact on the market.


TSS: What's the percentage of your ownership in Sme and Radio Twist?

JM: I would rather not discuss percentages. In Sme I have the smallest part; in the others I have much more.


TSS: What about your other investments?

JM: There is an important auditor in France [Deloitte & Touche], which ranks Sipox 41st, in terms of companies' total worth, among all companies in eastern Europe. We are the strongest private company in Slovakia. Export-Import Sipox is the most profitable of our companies; after this is VAB Sipox.


TSS: What do you think of the Slovak press?

JM: Most [Slovak] newspapers, such as Pravda and Národná Obroda, are slowly going down, while the only one doing good business is Sme. For the people, it's more readable and accessible. Most people in Slovakia aren't satisfied with the political situation, and they want to read what the real truth is in the media.

I think the Slovak people are slowly beginning to realize that we have to come closer to European structures. To say it in terms of a timeframe is very hard. I would be very happy to say it will be as soon as possible.

I think even next year it is very important for Slovakia to show that it is part of Europe, and to send a strong message about the direction in which we are going. The political situation here is changing, and I think the direction that it takes will lead 100 percent towards European structures. I'm waiting for the people to understand what place of importance Slovakia must take in Europe, and how important help is from the European Union.

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