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One life is not enough
Written by: Jasna Sýkorová
There are people for whom career accomplishments
are not enough. Some work on parallel projects, others go off in
a completely different direction. The common denominator is creativity,
endurance, and a will to do it "their" way.
||Photo: René Jakl
IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE someone can manage several advertising and
production companies while playing an important role in a musical.
And both full time. Pavel Slabý (47), director of JCDecaux (formerly
Avenir), an outdoor advertising company, gave it a try. He persevered
through the many rehearsals and a month of performances. Yet this
is nothing compared to the situation in the early nineties, when
he established Avenir and, during the same period, sang opera professionally
around the world. "It was a complicated time. Opera requires
a lot of preparation and practice. During one performance, you can
lose up to two kilos. At the same time I was arranging the firm
and running back and forth between officials at city hall,"
says Slabý. Today, he no longer sings, but he still takes small
roles in movies.
"I like my business, but when you do it everyday it starts
to become routine," Slabý explains. "If I didn't get the
chance to leave the office for a few days every couple of months,
then I wouldn't enjoy it." The expatriate, who looks like a
slimmer version of Gérard Depardieu, came back to the Czech Republic
from France after the revolution. He has played such roles as the
Polish officer who takes care of Chopin in the French film La Note
Bleue (The Blue Note), alongside stars like Sophie Marceau. In the
Czech Republic, he appeared in Victims and Murderers, directed by
Andrea Sedláčková, in the small role of a singing wedding guest,
and one month ago he appeared in the French television series about
World War II, Jean Moulin. His partisan costume concealed a mobile
phone so that his office could get a hold of him.
While Slabý seeks out diversity for relief from executive work,
another man engaged in multiple activities, Martin Kratochvíl (56),
musician and founder of Bonton music publishers, seems to turn to
his own company for a change of pace. He ceased working in an executive
position back in 1993, but he is still a member of the statutory
bodies of the company, and its subsidiaries, and so controls the
business. "When I founded the firm, I was under the impression
that only I could do it, that others would damage it. I lived under
the erroneous belief that I was indispensable. Then I decided to
go to Everest for six weeks and, to my utter surprise, the firm
functioned better without me," says Kratochvíl, recalling the
time he took up trekking.
Since that time, he has embarked on expeditions several times, from
which he often brings back his own documentary films. Czech television
has already broadcast eight of them from the total of eleven, including
Tibet: To Kailas, the Sacred Mountain and Kanchenjunga. He spends
a lot of time in Nepal, where he lives his "second life",
for it is where he premieres his films, writes for local newspapers
and, before the current unrest, was thinking of establishing his
own restaurant. However, his hobbies extend beyond climbing. While
primarily a composer for films and animated films, Kratochvíl plays
piano in his jazz band, Kratochvíl and Ackerman, owns the Budíkov
recording studio, operates the Golem club and restaurant and flies
a four-seat Cessna. "I am a lover of the Renaissance model.
Life is too short to be merely a lawyer. There are many things that
I would like to touch on," explains Kratochvíl, who is getting
ready to sell Bonton.
||Photo: René Jakl
Blame the communists
A professional with a life apart from his career is not all that
common, internationally speaking. "Abroad, there is a lot of
pressure on the division of work," observes Kratochvíl. "How
it works is that either a person learns something properly and does
it, or not. Only the best can make a living at it. Their focus gets
narrower and deeper." But it's no accident that Czech businessmen
and managers know how to arrange a second life. "The Czechs
are able to live parallel lives because there was a communist regime
here," adds Kratochvíl. "The circumstances pushed them
into concentrating on something other than career and business."
His music studio, Budíkov, was already operating in the seventies
and providing services for the most popular underground group, Plastic
People of the Universe. He made his living by composing several
hundred film soundtracks under communist rule, at the same time
he was engaged in competitive skiing.
Other people have been able to build a career out of sports, together
with their chosen profession. For example Zdeněk Hrubý, the new
Deputy Minister of Finance, and formerly the government's Deputy
Vice-chairman for Economic Policy, makes demanding climbs up 8,000-meter
mountains and has been national champion numerous times in the 24
hour cross-country skiing competition. So too Daniel Gladiš, director
of ABN Amro Portfolio Management, has devoted himself to competitive
mountain climbing in the past. "There were no limitations in
this sport. Everybody could push on through according to his abilities.
So I was able to become the national junior champion of rock climbing
twice," says Gladiš, who quit active sports after the revolution
and took up music.
Doing it abroad
The communist regime also had an impact on those who chose emigration
over oppression. "My uncle Landovský was a dissident, so the
family emigrated," says Pavel Slabý of JCDecaux. "When
you arrive in a foreign country as an immigrant, you look for any
way to survive. It's a matter of instinct. Anywhere a crack appears,
people just move in to fill it." For him, this opening was
an opera and acting career in France. "I started singing in
cabarets when I was a child," he recalls. After the revolution,
when he returned from France, he looked for these openings again.
"I noticed that there were no billboards, so I immediately
founded the agency," Slabý says. But he didn't stop with just
the one firm. He owns, or co-owns, about ten firms, including art
agency Mediacolor, production company Orient Expres Film Group and
internet and indoor advertising agency Reblok. Otto Jelínek, director
and partner at consulting firm Deloitte & Touche ČR, had a similar
experience. He was able to emigrate to Canada with his parents,
work in the family firm, win the world championships in couples
figure skating, become Minister of Sport, and then Finance, in Canada,
and finally return to the Czech Republic in a top executive position
at Deloitte & Touche. These things would not be possible today,
for the simple reason that he used to work in a large family firm
which was able to support him, and such firms are now rare.
More experience, more abilities?
To have a second life is both exciting and adventurous. However,
people pay for it through scattered lives, business losses, conflicts
of interest or never being able to get below the surface of things.
"On the one hand, you do many things, on the other, you do
nothing thoroughly," complains Martin Kratochvíl. "I choose
tasks based on the fact that doing them superficially is a rather
positive thing. For example, with music - creativity and improvisation
are vitally important. I had to learn to choose what was worthwhile,"
he adds. Kratochvíl has also put an unsuccessful business venture
with Trend investment fund behind him. Although he doesn't like
to remember that time, he now tries to avoid conflicts of interest.
"I try to keep my different lives separate. When I am organizing
an expedition, I would never turn to Bonton for money. I also produce
my films myself."
A second life cannot be lived without people helping you rise above
the level of amateur. Before Kratochvíl learned what he did from
the experts, many laughed at him for not making films, but home
movies. "People are the foundation," confirms Slabý, who
employs about 90 people and whose companies have a consolidated
turnover of about CZK 300 million. "One can only do so much
work in a day," he notes. So if he is shooting a film and there
is a problem in his Prague restaurant, Alizée, he gets a director
at one of his agencies to go and manage it for a few days. "I
look for people who are similar to me, who are diversified and have
ideas. The more they have experienced in life, the more skills they'll
have acquired," observes Slabý.
champions in the office
Photo: P. Veselý
ROBERT ZMĚLÍK (33) understands what it means to start
over. Five years ago, he chose to quit a very successful
career as a decathlete, through which he became an
Olympic champion in Barcelona. "I had a feeling
that sports wasn't giving me everything I wanted,"
he explains. "Perhaps I was wrong, but it seemed
that who was taking what prohibited substance was
more important than the shape of the athlete."
He was also experiencing some health problems, so
when he got an offer to represent Neways, a firm focused
on food supplements, he switched from sports to business.
The American Neways headquarters contacted him before
the Olympics in 1996 to promote their products. But
in the end, he became the director of the Czech office,
which functions like a franchise (the firm also manages
local branches in Slovakia, Poland and Bulgaria).
With its business based on multi-level marketing,
last year American Neways recorded sales of about
CZK 80 million.
For Změlík, who still has cards handy to give out
autographs, the change supposedly was not too difficult.
"One workaholic just transformed into another,"
he comments. Originally a specialist in automation
technology, he was already computer-savvy, and as
he points out, financial flows are similar to the
analyses of points collected in decathlons. He just
had to learn that he couldn't do everything himself,
as he could in sports, and that he must learn to rely
on and manage other people.
Změlík left the limelight and public adoration, and
says that it wasn't too painful - perhaps because
he had already combined sport and business for some
time. Nevertheless, big changes in life can sometimes
bring shock and loss of identity. The bigger the fame,
or the higher the position, the larger the problems
that can occur - so insists "the specialist of
several subsequent lives", Otto Jelínek, a Czech-Canadian,
who currently is a partner at consulting firm Deloitte
& Touche ČR.
He changed his career as a well-paid professional
figure skater (at the 1962 world championship in Prague,
he won the couples gold for Canada) for politics,
and after he worked as the Minister of Sport, and
then of Finance, in Canada, he returned to the corporate
sphere and the Czech Republic. "You skate every
evening, tens of thousands of people are applauding
you, and you have plenty of money. Then suddenly you
leave, and if you aren't ready for such a change you
go crazy," Jelínek says. It was similar when
he left politics. "I saw how my friends, former
ministers, became alcoholics and all the problems
they had with their families. One day they were the
most important people in Canada, and the next day
they were nothing. They couldn't deal with it."
And how did he deal with it himself? "I survived
it due to the fact that my mind had already been focused
on the future for a long time," Jelínek recalls.
"I had to learn to look for new challenges and
dreams and consider the past merely good memories.
To look ahead, even though you're over sixty."
horses, food and billboards
Photo: MARK BBDO
MAREK ŠEBESŤÁK (48), founder and co-owner of the Mark BBDO
advertising agency, has said for many years that he will one
day quit all his executive positions and seek new challenges
dealing with horses. His Horse Academy, an investment of tens
of millions of crowns, is now built, and he is currently trying
to figure out how to manage several different projects at
the same time.
The Horse Academy is one of the largest riding centers in
the Czech Republic. Aside from the hall and stables, which
are equipped with a horse solarium, there will be two restaurants,
a stylish garden and, later on, several rooms. If it was only
a hobby, one horse would supposedly be enough for him, but
this is a business. "It should be a healthy product that
generates money," says Šebesťák, adding that he expects
a return on investment in about twenty years.
He already has experience starting something from the ground
up. The advertising agency he founded in 1990 became a part
of the international group, BBDO Worldwide. Today, the company
boasts such clients as Pepsi-Cola and Wrigley, and receives
awards for creativity. "I'm trying to use elsewhere what
I learned in marketing," Šebesťák explains. He doesn't
significantly divide his two parallel lives - advertising
and horses. "There is no other way, unless you are schizophrenic.
I have meetings here. And I can tell you it's a lot more pleasant
to work in a Celtic garden than in an office." However,
the project isn't all about pleasant days sitting in a garden.
Marek Šebesťák spends every waking hour at the Academy. He
had to withdraw from some of his obligations at the agency.
Even so, sometimes things get by him. For example, he lost
some money when he wasn't able to keep an eye on his site
manager, who bought a new car from the budget. Still, he takes
it all in stride. "I could be here from morning to night,
and I still wouldn't be able to catch everything. You must
never think you know everything, and you have to trust your
Photo: P. Veselý
People are most important
People who get involved in a business outside their main
field agree: trustworthy management and staff are the major
stumbling block. Michael Pestl, owner of the advertising agency
t.c.b.cz, has had experience with this. He has worked at Radio
1 for many years as an announcer and two years ago he opened
a café, U strýčka, in Nymburk. He put as much money into the
project as would be sufficient for a new DTP studio and the
restaurant still does not generate money. "I wanted to
have my own pub. I didn't expect profits but I was hopeful,"
he says dejectedly. "It's clear that if I could be there
in person it would work."
Pavel Slabý, director of outdoor advertising company JCDecaux,
who among other things operates the Alizée restaurant in Prague
Old Town, explains: "It takes a long time to find reliable
people. You have to put a lot of effort into it, but afterwards
you get some peace of mind." Although he trusts people,
he is still careful. "In the beginning, I prepared a
standard balance sheet. My financial director monitors the
economic management of the restaurant. We conduct random inspections.
We introduced a software system with which all transactions
go through the computer so it is no longer possible to take
money from the register. It required more investment, but
now I have more control," he affirms.
When a restaurant doesn't function well, it can simply be
shut down without remorse. But a horse center? In the same
way he did many years ago, Marek Šebesťák is currently trying
to ensure success. He defined a clear target group, he's looking
for suitable partners and he personally tries to find the
right employees. He distributes the risk among several mutually
supportive areas. "I would like to resurrect the tradition
of the military riding style to the high level it was at before
the first world war. Until now, nobody has been able to do
this," he notes.
In an effort to enlist strong partners, Šebesťák is cooperating
with Logica, assembling a competitive team that would be able
to enter prestigious competitions abroad and to operate a
specialized riding school. And what if it doesn't succeed?
"This is not the right question. If it succeeds, it succeeds,
and it will be the biggest sensation in the country,"
he says with conviction.
the briefcase backstage
If all the managers involved in music professionally got
together, they would make an excellent "big band".
To name a few: Marek Hlavica, founder of the Impact PR agency,
sings for the Žáha blues band; Jan Martínek, director of TV3,
plays guitar in Blues Messengers; Martin Kratochvíl of Bonton
composes music for movies and Pavel Slabý of JCDecaux sings
opera. All of them were already musicians before they engaged
in business. In the case of Daniel Gladiš (33), co-founder
of Atlantik, a brokerage firm in Brno, and at the present
time executive director of ABN Amro Portfolio Management,
it was different. He grew up in an unmusical family and three
years ago he put together the rock band Bangladesh without
any previous experience. Since that time the band has released
five CDs and been on their own tours, once even opening for
Joe Cocker in Brno.
"I was always very interested in music," says Gladiš,
who writes the lyrics and sings. "At home I established
a little studio with different types of guitars and for two
years I took singing lessons. When I had written ten songs,
I wanted to record them," he explains. He produces the
CDs himself, always making 1,000 copies. When he sells them
or gives them all out, he makes more. "If I sang in Czech,
it wouldn't be a problem to produce them through a recording
company," insists Gladiš, who finances his own hobby.
According to him, it's as financially demanding as golf.
Gladiš says that his work and music do not interfere with
each other. "Colleagues sometimes come to see me and
my supervisors don't mind," he says. The "real"
community of musicians regards him differently, as a singing
financier and a rarity. The situation is not easy for new
musicians, especially from the management sphere, confirms
Pavel Slabý, who sang the lead role in Janek Ledecký's Hamlet
musical for one month. In order to be able to manage both
careers at the same time, he moved his entire office backstage.
"Nobody was happy about it. Neither my staff nor the
people involved in the musical. People in show business don't
like somebody around who is not a hundred percent one of them,"