Pero Gudelj is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Central Bosnia. His company "Fis" developed from a café and video-club into a big trading company, selling everything from audio and video equipment, textiles and shoes to furniture and food.
Pero Gudelj is a real self-made man. He began his business career while he was still a boy at school. He recalls:
"I started with business, or rather trading, in the 5th grade of school. The school in Vitez was 8 km away. Understandably one got hungry along the way. All of the other children had money for sandwiches or other good things to eat but I had no money. My parents were very poor. However, I came up with an idea: I brought walnuts, pears, hazelnuts from home – everything which our village and fields had to offer. I collected nuts, sold them to the children and earned 3 to 5 Mark. This lasted me for the next few days: half a Mark daily for pastry or sandwiches."
His business ambitions expanded as he grew up:
"When I was in secondary school many people went to Trieste to buy textiles. Still only a teenager, I collected 300 Mark and went to Trieste where I bought clothing. I sold half of this and kept the other half for myself. And then I came across boxes in Trieste on which I saw the words "Made in China", "Made in Taiwan", and "Made in Hong Kong". I said to myself, "One day I will manage to gain access to the source of the cheapest goods, the place from which everyone in the world is buying at that moment."
For eight years he worked in Slobodan Princip Seljo, one of the huge arms factories that Tito had built up in the mountainous terrain of Central Bosnia. He earned income on the side by playing the accordion at parties and weddings.
After the Washington Agreement, which ended the Bosniak-Croat conflict in 1994, he started importing clothes and shoes from Trieste. Initially, Pero travelled back and forth himself, in a mini-bus together with his wife Snezana. They used the family's house as their shop.
"Our honeymoon turned into our first business trip. The bedroom of the house was our office", recalls Snezana Gudelj. Demand was high and their policy of keeping the margins low resulted in a quick rise in turnover. Soon they started ordering larger quantities, initially from Trieste, later on from Istanbul, and then directly from China.
When the house became too small, Pero Gudelj made a business decision that was to prove crucial. He was the first to build a new building in the area of the "Commercial Centre 1996" (PC-96). At the time this was only an ambitious idea: a huge green spot outside the little town of Vitez. The Gudeljs had to draw on financial assistance from relatives in Germany. They opened their new "shopping centre" in April 1997.
Soon the centre started attracting customers from the whole area and continued to grow. Today the centre hosts a handful of shopping malls and dozens of other trading companies. Increasingly the local businessmen also turn to production. "FIS" is by far the largest company, employing 1,800 people, about two thirds in Vitez. While Pero Gudelj is an ethnic Croat, about 40 percent of his workforce have a different ethnic background, mostly Bosniak.