Being ready to take risks early on

2016. 10. 26.

Finanz und Wirtschaft, 26 October 2016

Benjamin Lakatos founded MET Group nine years ago. Ever since the international commodity trading company, with its seat in Zug, Switzerland, has enjoyed double-digit growth.

40-year-old Benjamin Lakatos says he has three children: a five-year old son, a nine-year old daughter and MET Group, the company he founded nine years ago. Today, Mr Lakatos is the CEO of the international commodity trading company with its seat in Zug. MET Group sells gas and electricity in six, mainly Central and Eastern European countries to end-consumers, supplies wholesalers in 17 EU countries as well as Eastern Europe with natural gas, liquefied natural gas (LNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and electricity, trades from Zug and London in oil, natural gas, LNG and electricity, and is the majority owner of a natural gas power plant in Hungary. With these activities, in 2015, MET Group's turnover reached €4.4 billion.

We are meeting Mr Lakatos in the meeting room of a hotel at the airport of Kloten. This is where he receives his clients who fly there for a meeting. After the meetings, he flies to Budapest, where one of the 17 subsidiaries of MET Group is accommodated. "If I have an entire week without having to fly, I am happy", says the frequent flyer. He spends three days of the week on the road going to clients and subsidiaries that are scattered around Europe. He spends two days in his office, in the city of Zug. The weekend belongs to the family.

MET Group was established in 2007, in the context of an expanding competitive European natural gas market. Natural gas producers were no longer monopoly gas transporters and gas storage companies at the same time. The pipelines and storage locations were opened to competition. This created new opportunities for natural gas trade. "I was young, I had experience in finance and was ready to take risks", recalls Lakatos. Thus, with the help of his former employer, the Hungarian oil and gas concern MOL, he started a gas trading company. Even today, MOL holds a 40% share in MET Group, while just under 25% of the shares belong to Lakatos himself, and the rest are owned by private equity investors.

Since its foundation, MET Group has shown double-digit growth each year. This has been achieved through both acquisitions and organic growth. After the opening of the energy market by the EU, many new companies emerged, says Lakatos. Now we are in a phase of consolidation. "We were always one step ahead in understanding what would happen ", describes Lakatos as his recipe for success. "If you wanted to survive, you had to grow." So, there is no wonder that MET Group seized the opportunity, when the Swiss electricity supplier Repower offered their Romanian business for sale.

But growth, by itself, has never been a strategic goal for MET Group, says Lakatos. "Being a for-profit company, our goal is to earn money." He achieves this by growing his company without significantly raising the operating costs. "This enables us to offer competitive prices." How much money he earns with this policy, Lakatos will not tell. The company is not listed on the stock exchange, and MET Group does not publish its profit figures.

Lakatos is quite satisfied with this situation. "As a privately held company, we save ourselves a great deal of paperwork", he says. Therefore, at the moment, a stock exchange listing is out of question. Currently, sufficient access to capital is available even without listing. Nevertheless, he does not exclude an IPO (Initial Public Offering) at a later stage.

For six years now, MET Group has been present in Zug. "Coming to Switzerland has been one of our best decisions", says Lakatos. In Central Eastern Europe the authorities did not understand his company’s business. In Switzerland, the land of commodity trading, however, it is not a problem. Tax reasons were important but not decisive in moving to Zug. The international reputation of Switzerland played a significant role, as well as infrastructure, good access to financial services, and the values the Swiss uphold in business life. Today, 54 out of MET Group’s 430 employees work in Zug. Besides the head office, a trading desk for natural gas and electricity, as well as the center of Western European wholesale are located here.

Lakatos was born and raised in Hungary. He graduated from the University of Economics in Budapest with a Master's degree in Economics. Later, he studied at the State University of New York with an MBA scholarship. During his studies, Lakatos dealt with mathematics and physics regularly – a hobby that he still maintains. Besides, he dedicates his scarce spare-time to his family and forces himself to do a bit of sports. This past summer, Lakatos took two months off. "I asked myself all the questions a 40-year-old should ask", he says. The result: "The family remains important and MET Group is my child."

Source: Finanz und Wirtschaft