Patrik Tkáč: Meet the Slovak contender
Written by: Philippe Riboton, Petr Vykoukal
Photo by: Vojtěch Vlk
Slovakia-based financial group J&T invites a lot of
controversial and conflicting reactions. We spoke with the chairman
of J & T Banka about their business model, their vision of
private banking and their international expansion plans.
Could you introduce your company, and tell us
something about its origins?
We started with a company called J&T Securities,
established as a small brokerage house in Christmas
1993. Other J&T companies (J&T Banka,
J&T Asset Management, J&T Finance Group,
etc.) were founded later, and during a reorganization
in 1995 we created a holding structure upon which
all other J&T companies are developed. We
are a family-owned financial holding. Only the
media gave us this image of being a financial
group, because it is a term that describes companies
similar to ours. But we feel a big difference
between us and, for example, PPF or Penta. What
we have in common is that we fight for what we
call opportunistic business, in which we are
buying everything that we can possibly acquire
for a lower price than we believe it will bring
in the future. But groups like PPF and the others
differ in the way they are organized. For example,
PPF has a strong retail business, and we don't
- we are more focused on private banking, and
this is a defining aspect of our entire company.
You mentioned Penta, PPF, etc., saying that you are more or less
after the same type of business...
Only in regard to opportunistic business, but we are not competing
in the strategic areas. We compete if the state is privatizing,
or if someone is selling something that all of us consider an investment
opportunity. Then we have a common ground for competition, but
only within a small area of the Czech Republic, nowhere else. From
a strategic point of view, we are trying to buy or acquire private
banking boutiques or banks in Europe, but this is not the target
of Penta or PPF, I believe. Also, we are not buying insurance firms
When you see PPF going to China, what do you feel?
We feel envy (laughs). No, we feel that we want to go to China
too, but we're too small for such a big market. For us, the next
step is to start doing business in Balkan states.
You present some of your acquisitions as investments you made
for your clients, but you still manage these companies for them.
you explain how such transactions work? Which areas of J&T do you consider strategic?
90% of these acquisitions originated on the basis of our ideas,
or from opportunities that were on the public market. We always
have the option of buying assets, to improve them - we're very
good at it - and then sell them. We've found that we can sell
them at good prices, and then use the money for further transactions,
again making money. At the same time, they're still good investments
for our private clients. For example, we would have sold ČKD
long ago to a strategic investor, but because our clients invested
in it through us we managed their investments for them. Incidentally,
this is the main difference between our definition of private
banking and that of other banks.
Primarily private banking itself. Today our infrastructure adapts
to it to a great degree, we invest in it, and it's our main strategic
activity. Secondly, it's building the utility part of the group
(ed. note: J&T owns a 34% stake in Pražská energetika and
is a major ČEZ shareholder), and I'd also include our real estate
division on the same level. In Slovakia we're among the market
leaders in nearly all real estate development areas.
Quite a lot of people developed a sort of rumor about your group,
saying that it's not so clear where the money comes from and so
on. Why is there this cloud of non-transparency around you?
It's because they are not working with us. Nobody who is in direct
contact with us will say this; it doesn't matter if he makes a
deal with us or knows us personally. There is one very simple way
to check - if you work with some kind of black money or anything
like that you can't be under state regulation as we are (J&T
Banka is supervised by the Czech National Bank and J&T Asset
Management by the Securities and Exchange Commission). Another
thing is our auditors - ask KPMG if they will take a risk on some
doubtful figures. Everyone knows the problem of Enron... believe
me, now they are coming down on us ten times harder.
When looking at your "hobbies" - expensive cars,
a football club - you appear to have certain characteristics
in common with
Russian oligarchs. They also buy football clubs, drive a Lamborghini
I'll tell you...we were anchoring our boat in Monaco near that
of Mr. Abramovich (ed. note: oil magnate and Chelsea football club
owner), and it's a completely different level! We have a nice big
boat, but compared to Mr. Abramovich's it looked like a rescue
boat! But the nicest girls were on our boat...(laughs).
How would you describe the segment you are going after
in private banking? Is there, for example, an "entry ticket" in
the neighborhood of 5 or 10 million crowns?
What do you think is the size, or potential, of the Czech private
No, our best private clients are not those who deposit money with
us, but those who are bringing some other added value. For example,
they may own companies, and they allow us to help especially in
the area of investment banking...and at the end we help them sell
the company and invest the money once again with J&T. They
not only deposit their money, but also take part in our projects.
So you see that our definition of private banking is much wider
than standard banks.
Including the Slovak Republic, our list of important persons numbers
about one thousand.
Clients or targets?
Who are they?
Leading the list are restituents, followed by privatizers - these
are a very important part of our clients, people who made their
money in the last 10 years. Finally, there are the people associated
with culture, sport, or politics.
In your balance sheet, what is the proportion of businesses that
originated or are based in Slovakia compared to Czech ones?
I think it's half and half. The Czech Republic is stronger with
companies, Slovakia is very strong with real estate. There are
not so many potential acquisitions in Slovakia...we still see much
more opportunities in the Czech Republic, and not only in terms
of privatization. There are still many Czech owners, and not many
of them will keep these assets forever, they just want to wait
for them to peak and then sell. Of course it's come about this
way because we were one of the first players on the real estate
market in Slovakia, but it's very difficult to enter this market
in the Czech Republic.
As a product of the mid-1990s, there are some parallels between
you and Viktor Kožený. In terms of age, investment banking, quick
success, and so on...do you feel any similarities with what he
life in numbers
||born in Bratislava
broker's license from Slovakian Ministry of Finance
and was co-founder of J&T Securities, s.r.o.
||graduated from the
Faculty of National Economy at the Economic University
member of the board, J&T Finance Group, a.s.
||named chairman of
the board, J&T Banka, a.s.
That's a sensitive theme (laughs). To be honest, I am not sure
if he really created some problem, or if his problem was that he
didn't solve it. He was clever enough to do things in such a way
that he didn't break the law - I will be very surprised if someone
proves that he did. I think it's more about morality, especially
this thing with American investors doing business in Azerbaijan.
So you don't feel any comparison with him of any sort?
Not like that. He was very good in retail, and we are not - that's
one difference. The second thing is that he created very nice
structures for dealing with the money, he created wonderful holding.
We are very similar in this regard; we are also creating nice
structures for ownership, for financing, for future profit...but
I believe from a moral point of view we were much better than
Kožený, because there is nobody in retail who can complain about
us. We could also have conducted operations that would not break
the law, but which would give the people less money - but we
didn't. We gave them much more money than was necessary from
a legal point of view, and that, I believe, is the real difference.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
A free man.