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 enterprise, selling everything from audio and video equipment to textiles, shoes, furniture and food.
Pero is a real self-made man. He began his business career while he was still a boy. He recalls:
"I started with business, or rather trading, in the 5th grade. 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 that our village and fields had to offer. I collected nuts, sold them to the children and earned 3 to 5 Marks. 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 would go to Trieste to buy textiles. Still only a teenager, I collected 300 Marks 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 Pero worked in Slobodan Princip Seljo, one of the huge arms factories that Tito had built in the mountainous terrain of Central Bosnia. He made money on the side by playing the accordion at parties and weddings.
After the Washington Agreement, which ended the Bosniak-Croat conflict in 1994, Pero started importing clothes and shoes from Trieste. Initially, he travelled back and forth 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 constructed the first building on the grounds of the the "Commercial Centre 1996" (PC-96) area, a huge parcel of land outside the little town of Vitez. The Gudeljs had to draw on financial assistance from relatives in Germany to finance construction. They opened their new "shopping centre" in April 1997.
Soon, the centre started attracting customers from the whole area and continued to grow: today it hosts a handful of shopping malls and dozens of other trading companies. Local businessmen have increasingly turned to production. "FIS" is by far the region’s largest company, employing 1,800 people, about 700 in Vitez itself. While Pero Gudelj is an ethnic Croat, about 40 percent of his workers are of a different ethnic background, mostly Bosniak.