Fifteen years ago, Jonathan Cooper, Edwin Hong and I founded an M&A consulting company, Ascendant Capital Advisors. At that time, we didn’t have obvious clients, we didn’t have a business plan, not even an office. Our first office was at the restaurant Purger on Petrinjska street, where we would meet up for a morning coffee and discuss our plans until lunch or afternoon. After a few weeks of working like this, we were received by a lawyer, Mr. Krajinović, in a room in his office and a month later we found our first true home – an office in Varšavska 14.
Our first client was an entrepreneur from Split, Juroslav Buljubašić, who hired us to sell SEM Marina, a transportation company. Besides the fact that this was our first real project, it was also our first unsuccessful process in which we didn’t manage to sell the company. However, we continued and a few months later our first successful transaction occurred – the acquisition of the factory Elka kabeli at Žitnjak by the management of the same company. This was our first Management Buy Out. The first large mandate we managed to get in competition with other consultancies was a partial sale and recapitalization of the wholesale drug company Oktal Pharma.
The same year, in 2003, we founded, together with our colleagues in Serbia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turky and Russia our first regional M&A company association, Mergers and Acquisitions of Central and Eastern Europe, or MACEE, which we successfully merged two years later with the international organization IMAP, International Mergers and Acquisitions Partners. The same year, in 2005, we signed a contract on the 65th floor of the Rockefeller Center in New York and this marked the beginning of our long-standing relationship with IMAP. Apart from the fact that we have been successfully cooperating with our IMAP partners ever since, as of 2011 I have been engaged in IMAP’s Supervisory Board and as of 2015 I have been performing the function of the Chairman of IMAP.
In Ascendant’s first few years, we worked on various projects, learned and grew, but in 2008, two of the original Ascendant partners chose to take a different path and take on new challenges. And so new partners joined – Kemal Sikirić, Slaven Kordić and Alex Paine. That’s when the second phase of Ascendant began. We started to expand regionally – in 2009 we opened offices in Sarajevo, in 2010 in Belgrade and in 2011 in Ljubljana. In 2010 we founded, together with our new partner Tarik Bilalbegović, the company Ascendant Project Finance. The same year we officially became the leading independent regional M&A advisor, ranked number one according to the number of transactions on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia. In 2017 we closed our largest deal, having sold Autotrans, bus operator from Rijeka, to Deutsche Bahn, i.e. their largest British company, Arriva.
Today we find ourselves again at a turning point:
First, we are celebrating the 15th anniversary of our successful business. Longevity isn’t a particularly important virtue but the fact that we survived the good and the bad years without any external investments, loans or other types of support should not be overlooked.
Second, we are changing our name. Ascendant Capital Advisors is one of the best-known brands for M&A consultancy in the region, although our clients sometimes referred to us as Accident, or Asenat, or similar. In almost 50 successful M&A transactions and equally as many financial engagements, our IMAP partners from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and other countries participated, gave support, shared their experience and insights in almost all our engagements as equal members of our team. In order to accentuate this close cooperation and announce further expansion across the region, we are now changing our name to IMAP Southeast Europe.
Third, we are diving into new waters. Namely, we are in the final phase of starting a regional private equity fund with €60 milion of investments, under the name Invera Equity Partners, which should start operating mid-2019. The fund will be directed by Kemal and Slaven, while IMAP SEE expanded with new partners Goran Popović and Josipa Hren. We also plan to welcome new partners in Slovenia, Serbia and other Southeastern European countries.
With this, our plans until the next celebration in 2023 are completed and now it only remains to thank all our colleagues who helped us in our business: lawyers, auditors, consultants, IMAP partners, current and former employees. And most of all we thank all our clients – entrepreneurs who used their imagination and hard work and took risks to create a foundation for our young economy.
Independence, Entrepreneurship, Integrity, Commitment and Excellence have been our leading principles from the start. We demand this from ourselves, but we also demand this from our colleagues. I sincerely hope that, in this regard, we will never disappoint you.