Over the past 15 years, Jiří Šmejc has been one of the most prominent entrepreneurs and managers in Central Europe. His name is closely associated with the sweeping development of Home Credit Group - currently the largest consumer finance lender in the world - and with the creation of EMMA Group, which has, within a few years, become one of the leading investors in the European gaming market.
Jiří Šmejc comes from the Czech town Karlovy Vary, where he attended a high school focused on mathematics and physics. He went on to study mathematical economics at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University. During his studies he founded a society called BUNK, which focused on software development for hotels and restaurants. Shortly thereafter, he also founded a company specialising in the implementation of information systems in the hotel business called PUPP Consulting, in which Hotel Pupp, the most famous hotel in Karlovy, also held a stake. For two years, Jiří Šmejc worked as the company’s CEO. Subsequently, he founded the company Middle Europe Finance (MEF), which he also led as CEO. This company was focused on swaps and the consolidation of the fragmented ownership of shares after the Czech Republic’s coupon privatization. During the three years when Jiří Šmejc led the company and its associated MEF Holding, these entities controlled a portfolio of a wide range of industrial enterprises in the Czech Republic and gained great respect in the financial circles.
In 1999, Jiří Šmejc entered the television channel NOVA and at the same time became CEO of its service organization Česká Produkční 2000. Simultaneously, he also worked as an executive director of a broadcasting company CET 21. During this time, Jiří Šmejc contributed significantly to the executive management of the entire TV NOVA Group and played a key role in TV NOVA´s transformation into the most successful and most profitable TV channel in Central Europe. When Petr Kellner’s PPF Group also acquired a stake in TV NOVA in 2002, both businessmen agreed on buying out the other shareholders. At the end of this transaction, Jiří Šmejc controlled a 34% stake in TV Nova Group.
PPF & Home Credit
In 2005, Jiří Šmejc and Petr Kellner concluded an agreement on the sale of TV NOVA to an American company CME for approximately one billion USD and then unified all of their assets. Jiří Šmejc thus became a co-owner of PPF Group, in which he held a 5% stake. Later that year, he moved to Moscow, where he took charge of the Russian branch of Home Credit Group and subsequently of all of PPF Group activities in the Russian Federation. In the following years, Jiří Šmejc transformed Home Credit and Finance Bank, originally focused solely on consumer loans at points of sale, into one of the largest retail banks in Russia. During his tenure, PPF Group also became the largest private foreign investor Russia, having acquired shares in Nomos Bank, the mining company Polymetal, the insurance company Ingosstrakh, and one of the largest retail chains of consumer electronics in Europe - Eldorado. Jiří Šmejc not only directed the acquisition transaction of most of these companies but was also actively involved in their strategic management. In 2012, Jiří Šmejc and Petr Kellner agreed on the division of their joint property. By mutual agreement, however, Jiří Šmejc remained in charge of Home Credit while, at the same time, increasing his ownership stake there.
During this time, Jiří Šmejc founded his own investment group, EMMA, in which he has been the majority shareholder from the beginning. In the first year of its existence, EMMA Group managed to put together an international consortium of investors that won a tender for the privatization of a 33% stake in the Greek state monopoly gaming corporation OPAP. Jiří Šmejc then led the strategic decision-making during the major restructuring that OPAP has since gone through. Throughout this process, the cooperation with Karel Komárek´s KKCG Group, which had already owned the Czech national lottery company Sazka, played an important role. This resulted in the agreement of both businessmen on creating a joint gaming holding, in which EMMA Group holds a 25% stake. Thanks to the active acquisition strategy of both groups, the holding has since managed to expand its portfolio of gaming companies from Greece (OPAP) and the Czech Republic (Sazka) to Austria (Casinos Austria and Austrian Lotteries), Italy (LOTTOITALIA), and Croatia (SuperSport). This fact makes EMMA Group one of the leading investors in the European gaming market.
In addition to activities associated with EMMA Group, Jiří Šmejc also founded and owns the Velaa private island hotel resort in the Maldives. Velaa is considered one of the most beautiful tropical resorts in the world. In addition, Jiří Šmejc is also very actively involved in the Sirius foundation, which strives to help children who have been less fortunate. Jiří Šmejc is not only financing this foundation, which is primarily about systemic change rather than one-time assistance, but also personally runs it as the Chairman of the Board.
Overall, the business history of Jiří Šmejc is quite unique. He started from scratch - without entry capital, without assets acquired in the Czech coupon privatization and, indeed, without experience. Yet, step by step, he has managed to elevate himself to a widely-recognized and reliable business partner.