One of the fastest developing com-panies in the Lithuanian woodworking and furniture industry, the Libra Group, was formed in 1991 by five young students.

Fresh from Vilnius University’s Economy Faculty, the five – all aged between 20-22 – decided to try their luck in business. Today, four of them are still very active – Tomas Juska, managing director of Libra Group; Irmantas Rajuncius, managing director of Dominga Mill; Vilmantas Petrauskas, managing director of Domingos Prekyba; and Edvardas Tamulis, managing director of Medzio Apdaila.

The first manufacturing company to be established was the Dominga sawmill which specialised in producing oak products for the flooring and furniture industry.

By 1993 regular sales channels to western Europe had been formed and the following year the company installed its first kilns.

In 1995 the entrepreneurs established Dailinta, a manufacturing plant producing birch glued panels for the furniture industry and this was swiftly followed by Medzio Apdaila, a trading company supplying wooden products for interior finishing.

Foreign partner

One year later AMG was formed, a manufacturing company producing birch dowels for the furniture, DIY and tool handle industries. It was the first Libra Group project to co-operate closely with a foreign partner, American company Saunders Brothers Inc. Next came Singlis which supplied tools for the wood and metal working industries and regular sales channels to the US were established.

In 1997 Domingos Prekyba was created to supply forestry machinery, kilns, fork lifts, exhaust systems and other products to local industry. In the same year Dirvonu Lentpjuve, a hardwood sawmill specialising in producing birch elements for the furniture industry, opened.

Libra Holdings was established in 1998 and the first foreigner joined the company as a shareholder – the UK’s Paul Fraser who had business experience in the Middle East, the US and Canada. At around the same time Boen Bruk AS joined Dominga Mill as a strategic partner and, in 1999, Ragnar Olsen from Norway became a shareholder.

Capable management

A new era in Libra Group’s development came with the establishment of Dominga Hardwood. ‘This proved that our management was capable of handling very complicated manufacturing processes,’ said Mr Juska.

Reinforcing its international presence, the Libra Group of companies took part in its first international exhibition, Interzum, in 1999 and, in 2000, made its first acquisition of an existing company – furniture factory Venta.

A US$1.1m investment more than doubled capacity at Dailinta and regular sales channels were established to Japan.

This year has seen Singlis and Domingos Prekyba move into new premises in Vilnius and a US$1.6m investment has been made in Venta, more than doubling capacity and opening new opportunities in global markets.

‘Our formula for future development is based on the fact that in Lithuania we have competitive resources in both materials and labour,’ Mr Juska said.

‘Libra applies modern management of these resources and aggressive marketing in the international market place. On top of that we apply Libra values to create a better life in Lithuania.

‘This activity works perfectly and we know it will work on a much bigger scale, which is why we are seeking new contacts for projects such as solid wood furniture and parts, solid wood doors, children’s beds, solid wood chairs and solid wood flooring.

‘All these products have one thing in common – they are of high quality and very labour intensive. We have a well-established infrastructure and hardwood processing skills which make us strong partners for such projects.’

Kilning capacity

Libra’s Dominga Mill cuts more than 3,000m³ of oak logs a month while its birch sawmill cuts more than 1,000m³ a month. The group has more than 2,500m³ kilning capacity at one time – all designed to dry hardwoods such as oak, birch and beech – and it has steaming chambers for beech.

‘The trend in the wood industry is very clear – manufacturing with a labour intensive process is moving into cheaper labour regions,’ said Mr Juska.

And he says Libra would like a slice of that action. ‘We are always looking for new contacts in three areas – new sales channels for our existing product range of furniture, glued panels, dowels and so on; new products – we are always ready to discuss ideas if they fit into our philosophy; and new projects.’

Talking about the company’s growth plans Mr Juska said: ‘Our vision is to be the best locally and among the best globally.

‘Our values are that we want to create a better life in Lithuania and we know that without our customers we would not exist. We will achieve our aim through leadership and personal example, continuous learning and speed. These principles have helped us become the fastest growing group in Lithuania’s woodworking industry and enabled us to build an aggressive and professional management team.’

Libra’s timber requirements are many and varied. The group uses about 40,000m³ of oak per year, 60% of which is bought locally and the remainder is imported from Russia. Around 90% is bought in logs and converted into elements for furniture and flooring, top layers for three-layer parquet, glued panels and furniture (chairs and tables).

Libra’s specification

Birch logs account for around 60,000m³ a year, all sourced in Lithuania. Around 20% is bought as logs, the rest is sawn according to Libra’s specification in other sawmills. The birch is converted into glued panels, dowels and chairs and tables.

Some 5,000m³ a year of beech is used, all imported from Poland and the Ukraine. It is converted into the top layer for three-layer parquet and glued panels, and the company plans to start producing chairs in the future.

Hard maple – around 1,000m³ a year – is imported in sawn strips from Canada and used for the top layer for three-layer parquet.

Currently around 15,000m3 of spruce is used each year, but this is expected to rise to 50,000m³ in sawn boards in the next two years. Twenty per cent is bought in Lithuania, the rest is imported from Russia and Belarus, and it is used to produce and middle and bottom layers for three-layer flooring.

Pine accounts for around 7,000m³ a year in logs, 50% of which is imported from Russia and Belarus. It is used to make chairs and tables.

The Libra Group manufactures a range of products. Venta specialises in solid wood chairs – currently around 300,000 a year. There are plans to increase production to one million a year by 2005. The main export markets are Sweden, Norway, the UK, the US and Japan.

Glued panels for the furniture industry are manufactured at Dailinta. It specialises in hardwood panels, mainly from birch, and annual capacity today is more than 7,000m³ aimed mainly at Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, the US and Japan.

Oak elements

Dowels and pins made at AMG are supplied to the US, Japanese and Danish furniture, DIY and tool handles industries.

At Dominga mill about 12,000m³ of oak elements for the flooring and furniture industries are made for Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Belgium, Holland, the UK and Denmark. The mill also produces around one million m² of oak, beech and hard maple top layers for three-layer flooring and the middle and bottom layers for three-layer flooring, amounting to about one million m² a year but set to rise to 2.3 million m² next year. Export markets for these products are Norway and Germany.

The company has an annual growth rate of 30% and its projected revenue for 2001 is US$30m, with a targeted revenue of US$250m in 10 years.

Looking to the future, the Libra Group is considering adding projects such as furniture components, children’s beds and solid wood flooring to its extensive portfolio.

Ten years after its inception, Libra employs more than 900 people and the average age of its top management is just 33.