Serbia's largest pharmaceutical plant needs a cure, a financial one. It should have an immediate effect if possible. Although the Serbian parliament has given the green light for a financial injection in the form of a guarantee for a EUR 15 million loan, Galenika will soon go to tender, and the initial value of 100 percent of its capital is estimated at approximately EUR 120 million.
The most serious prospective buyer is Canada's Valeant, the owner of ICN Pharmaceuticals, whose director is Milan Panic, former prime minister of SR Yugoslavia. A(ni)m(os)ity between Panic and Galenika lasts for so long that it has even taken root. Namely, the previous attempt at privatizing the Zemun-based company in 2010 ended ingloriously. There were only two bidders, one from India and another from Cyprus, each offering half the price of EUR 200 million then asked by Serbia. The first privatization of the Zemun-based pharmaceutical plant in 1991 was also a debacle, which induced ICN, which was in the possession of Milan Panic at the time, to press charges against Yugoslavia in the Washington court in 1999 for an unjust seizure of property.
This dispute was resolved through international arbitration in Paris five years later, and the state of Serbia was supposed to pay the US company USD 50 million, which is how much Panic's management previously invested in Galenika, as well as to give recipes for four compounds back to that company. This debt of our state is remembered as "Panic's debt."
However, due to a bad past experience with Panic, Finance and Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic said that the Canadian multinational Valeant, which is interested in buying Galenika, "has nothing to do with Milan Panic because he sold his stake in ICN in 2002."
Who is the man who, although in his nineties, can still manage to stir up the economy of Serbia?
"Mica, my Tesla"
Milan Panic was born on 20 December 1929 in Belgrade. His parents are of Montenegrin descent. Mother Zorka (maiden name Krunic) was a housewife, while father Spasoje died when Milan was three. That is why he became the head of household while still a very young boy. He says he managed the best he could, carrying bags, breeding goats and growing vegetables to provide food for his mother and sisters. His mother called him "Mica, my Tesla."
He joined partisans when he was 14. According to Glas Javnosti, he entered liberated Belgrade in 1945 as Tito's courier.
After completing primary and grammar schools, he went on to study chemistry at the Belgrade Faculty of Technology. The studies did not go well, so he decided to continue his education abroad, first at Heidelberg University in Germany and then at the University of South Carolina.
The first thing that made him famous was cyclism, the sport he competed in as a member of the national team. When it comes to business, as a good bicyclist and a person who's quite at home with that mean of transportation, he got his first chance at the Metalservis company. People say he was less repairing tires and more styding English at that company. Since he was a member of various cycling clubs in Belgrade and the national team, he saw the glory and splendor of the West and decided to seize them. According to the media, he was both a cyclist and a smuggler at the time (transporting jackets, trousers and umbrellas across the border).
He got an opportunity to leave the country in 1955, during the race through the Netherlands. People say he did not return to his home country after that competition. He also invited his sweetheart Ljubica to come along, but she either had no courage or did not want to join him. But Jelica, a stunning dancer, was bold enough and wanted to do that. She left her husband and two children to set out into the world with her lover Panke (as his friends called him).
The first stop was Germany, where they acquired the status of political asylum seekers. Panic worked at night and studied by day attending Heidelberg University. It was hard, but he was far away from communism. Soon Richard Nixon, then president of the USA, decided to "accept" immigrant students, and the Panics then moved to New York City.
Milan came to America in 1956 with now-legendary USD 20 in his pocket. "The worst thing is that it was true," he used to say later. The Panics then went further to the west and reached Pasadena, where "mom's Tesla" started building his empire. According to Danas, the daily newspaper that has recently published Panic's biography, it took only two years for this former cyclist to establish a pharmaceutical company whose annual sales grew close to USD 1 billion throughout four decades of operations. This company also climbed to 35th place on the global list of top pharmaceutical companies and ranked first on the New York Stock Exchange in 1998 as the company whose shares' value grew most in one year.
(Milena Kitic and Milan Panic)
One cannot live on dreams alone...
However, even if you believe in fairytales and that it is possible to become rich overnight, Panic's leap was not that sudden, considering what preceded it.
He admits he was doing the hardest night jobs upon arriving in the USA. He continued to study and soon became an assistant professor at the Department of Chemistry at the University of South Carolina. He managed to save USD 20,000, which he invested in a private business that ended in a failure. Instead of giving up, he got back on his feet. The next business he started in a garage of the building he lived in, investing USD 200 in it. "Tesla" managed to persuade local doctors and his dentist, as well as several professors he worked with, to invest ideas and money and, thus, created ICN, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies with more than 600 drugs in its portfolio.
Virazol as lifetime's work
Panic was several times among the top ten on annual lists compiled by Forbs magazine. No Serb, before or after that, did that. It is written down somewhere that Tesla and Pupin were the greatest Serbs who immigrated to the USA in early 20th century and that Panic was the same as them but only at the end of that century. He was the manager and the head of the team who produced the Virazol drug for Hepatitis C, which many people consider to be his lifetime's work, as well as a great achievement of pharmacy in general, because it has saved millions of lives.