Funeral for business empire’s owner

  • 2011-11-02
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - “This loss means the end of an epoch. When you look around, it is rather impossible to find somebody who could replace him,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said on Oct. 26 at the funeral of Bronislovas Lubys, in the Samogitian town of Plunge where Lubys was born in 1938. Lubys was president of the Lithuanian Industrialist’s Confederation since 1993. He died due to heart disease on Oct. 23 at the age of 73 peddling his bicycle in a forest in the Lithuanian spa resort of Druskininkai.

On Oct. 23, a young female found his body on that road, surrounded by the forests of Druskininkai. The police arrived and a policeman, not able to identify the body, dialed a well-known number in Druskininkai from the mobile phone of the dead man – the policeman found that number in the mobile phone. “Hello, Your Excellency,” answered Ricardas Malinauskas, Mayor of Druskininkai, who recognized the number of the caller. This is how Lithuania found out about the death of the owner of a huge business empire, which to a large extent shaped Lithuanian business and even the political environment of the last two decades.

Lubys had a 62 percent share in the Achema Group, which owns Achema company, producing fertilizers (it uses one-third of all the gas imported by Lithuania), KLASCO stevedoring company in the port of Klaipeda, SPA Center in the mineral water-rich resort of Druskininkai, Baltijos TV, the daily Lietuvos Zinios, and some 30 other businesses. The Achema Group employs 5,500 people in its companies. Baltijos TV and the daily Lietuvos Zinios are not profitable (they report financial losses), but Lubys financed them anyway. For many years, Lubys was the richest Lithuanian businessman. In 2011, his wealth of 1.35 billion litas (391 million euros) was No. 2 in the three Baltic States, according to a list of the richest Baltic businessmen in the magazine IQ Economist, - Lubys was behind Nerijus Numavicius, who has a 60 percent share in Vilniaus Prekyba Group (it owns Maxima supermarkets in the Baltic States and Bulgaria).

However, according to the data of the magazine Veidas, Lubys was only No. 4 on the list of the richest businessmen in Lithuania in 2011: after Numavicius, Darius Mockus, who has a 100 percent share in MG Baltic Group which produces (Stumbras) and trades (Mineraliniai Vandenys) alcoholic beverages, owns the pan-Baltic chain Apranga (clothing retail) as well as LNK TV and the news portal, and Zilvinas Marcinkevicius with his 14 percent share in the Vilniaus Prekyba Group.

Nevertheless, it was Lubys who represented Lithuanian business in all public debates, while the other business people mentioned on these lists preferred to stay away from the limelight. “He changed the non-transparent communication of the business community with the government into transparent talks. He established the tripartite council [the council for discussions among the government, businessmen and trade unions]. He was neither a socialist nor liberal – he was a man of strategic common sense,” Ceslovas Jursenas, Social Democrat MP and deputy chairman of the Lithuanian parliament, said at the funeral, adding that Lubys was stubborn, tolerant, polite in all cases with everybody, cared about his company’s workers, and patriotic. On March 11, 1990, MP Lubys was one of the signatories of the act of re-establishment of Lithuania’s independence.

During 2010, Achema Group earned 87.5 million litas in profit - in the pre-crisis year of 2008, its profit was 317 million litas. During the crisis, in terms of earnings, the economic center of the Achema Group moved from the Achema nitrogen fertilizer-producing company in the town of Jonava, to KLASCO in Klaipeda.

The Achema fertilizer-producing company remained Lubys’ beloved diamond in his crown. Lubys was an engineer of chemistry technologies by education. Since 1963, he worked in the fertilizer-producing company in Jonava for many years as an engineer and later he became the director of the company. Lubys made 51 scientific innovations in the chemical industry, and all of them were implemented into Achema’s technology. He spent at least two New Years celebrations working in the Achema office – he remained a workaholic until his death.

In 1994, Lubys and his friends privatized this fertilizer company, and this was the beginning of his business empire. He bought that company quite cheaply – for just 31 million litas - a part of this sum was paid to the state later from the assets of the company. A similar story – a bargain-price purchase partially covered from the company’s assets - repeated during the privatization of KLASCO in 1997. Earlier, during three months in 1992-1993, Lubys was the Lithuanian PM, and this could have helped him during these privatization processes.

President Dalia Grybauskaite did not participate in Lubys’ funeral-related ceremonies. She keeps a big distance from rich businessmen, even after their death. Grybauskaite is known as a fighter against business’ influence on politics. Lubys, whose business suffered from the Russian gas price, which is higher for Lithuania than in Estonia and Latvia due to the Kremlin’s political reasons, failed to convince Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and later President Grybauskaite to follow in the footsteps of Latvian presidents and go to Moscow to celebrate May 9, when Russia celebrates its victory in WWII.

The official position of Vilnius remained the same: the end of WWII was the start of the brutal Soviet occupation of Lithuania, and there is nothing to celebrate in Moscow on May 9. Lubys actively lobbied for Lithuania’s pragmatic relations with all countries: the conference of businessmen of Lithuania and Poland in the coming December was his idea.
Lubys was the son of the owner of a butcher’s shop in Plunge. In 1945 his father was deported to Siberia for 10 years by the Soviets. His mother, with two small children, remained in Lithuania. For four years, Lubys attended school barefooted because his family could not afford to buy shoes. Being still a child, Lubys did manual labor. Later, he wrote some articles for the local newspaper Socialistinis Kelias (The Socialist Road) about a local football club. He got some 30-40 rubles per article and it was a huge sum for him then.

Lubys married for the second time when he was the Lithuanian PM and had children from both marriages. His daughter from the first marriage chose to live with her father after her parents’ divorce. Lubys’ shares in the Achema Group will be inherited by two daughters from both marriages and his widow. Arunas Laurinaitis became president of the Achema Group - he was the group’s vice president before Lubys’ death. Laurinaitis said that all the projects of Lubys’ business empire will be implemented including the construction of an LNG terminal. This terminal will compete with the Lithuanian state-owned LNG terminal after the construction of both terminals will be complete. A week before his death, Lubys gave his last interview, talking to Lietuvos Ryto TV. Lubys said that the Lithuanian state spends too much money on consultants, preparing the state-owned LNG terminal’s construction: the Achema Group spent only 2 million litas on similar consultations, while the Lithuanian government spent 34 million litas. Earlier, Lubys proposed to the Lithuanian government to build one LNG terminal together with his company. However, in July, Grybauskaite and Kubilius rejected his offer.

Lubys was also known for his charity, although he tried to avoid publicity doing his charity donations. Only after his death did the Lithuanian public find out that he had spent 10 million litas per year on charity: for building or renovating Catholic churches (no wonder that Jonas Boruta, the bishop of Telsiai, participated in his funeral), supporting schools and art. Stubborn Samogitian Lubys was a Lithuanian nationalist in a soft sense of this word. His idol was businessman Petras Vileisis (1851-1926), who donated huge sums for Lithuanian culture and who, from 1904-1907, was the publisher and official editor of the first legal (printed Lithuanian was banned by Czarist Russia for half a century due to the anti-Russian stance of Lithuanian society) Lithuanian-language daily newspaper Vilniaus Zinios (The News of Vilnius).

Lubys never gave donations to professional basketball teams, though such donations are used as self-advertising by many Lithuania-based companies. He said that Lithuanian basketball players are multi-millionaires anyway. Lubys sponsored amateur basketball festivals of Lithuanians living in Belgium and Luxembourg.

Lubys also sponsored two feature movies directed by Vytautas V. Landsbergis (son of the famous politician Vytautas Landsbergis) about the anti-Soviet armed guerilla movement in Lithuania after WWII. Lubys also sponsored documentary films about Lithuania’s fight for re-establishment of independence in 1918.