Jaromír Kubů: A kingdom of responsibility
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: Petr Poliak
The caretaker of Karlštejn Castle
doesn't spend much time taking romantic rides or attending Lucullean
feasts, as he must balance the needs of his crew and those of visitors,
attending to various unusual situations.
What are the duties of the caretaker of the most famous
Czech medieval castle?
I must ensure the proper operation and use of this landmark. Besides
office work, I manage the employees, of whom there can be a hundred
during the peak season. Additionally, we keep records on and take
care of cultural furnishings and the building itself, and we arrange
for repairs and renovations that are generally done with the facility
in full operation. It's demanding but gratifying work, and I love
How many employees do you have, and what are their positions?
The number varies according to the season, ranging from twenty to
one hundred. They include assistant caretaker, cleaners, maintenance
workers, civil servants, guides, vendors of commercial goods, a
dispatcher at the third gate, a secretary, and cashiers. Last year
we hired 69 seasonal guides.
How do you recruit new workers? What qualifications do
They ask us for jobs, mostly in letters or over the phone. They
are usually students who want to work as guides as an opportunity
to use foreign languages, or to make use of their knowledge of history.
However, not everyone can do this work. We are a very busy historical
landmark, and each year we have up to 300,000 visitors, which requires
high quality communication. For this reason a job applicant must
undergo tests on general history and languages. We also determine
the communication skills of those applying for jobs as guides, whether
the applicant is shy, and how good an organizer he or she is. After
being selected, the guide must study the text to be presented to
What do you do if a new guide doesn't turn out to be competent
for some reason or other?
That does happen occasionally. For example, one guide didn't know
the text and refused to study it properly. She told visitors that
Charles IV died of DNA, when instead he suffered from gout (ed note:
the Czech word for gout is dna). To top it all off, she sovereignly
claimed that the skull of a crocodile was the skull of a dragon
that Charles IV killed. So you can see why we had to part ways.
Do you handle employee misbehavior one-on-one, or do you
do it at meetings, in front of others?
Cases that can serve as examples or, conversely, as learning opportunities
for others, are dealt with in groups, but I always ask the affected
person what he or she thinks. I resolve problems with the quality
of tour presentations or other, more personal matters one-on-one.
Under what circumstances would you let an employee go?
I'm not enthusiastic about firing people, and even though I sometimes
have to do it, I always see it as the final resort for solving the
problem. Fortunately, I have no reason to let permanent employees
go. It's different with seasonal employees with romantic ideas about
their work and then discover that they have to work hard here. I
believe that a person who makes a mistake must be punished for it,
and that includes myself. We aren't managing an ordinary building,
we are running a major Czech public landmark, so we feel a sense
of great responsibility.
||Age fifteen - starts
as a guide at Kost Castle, alternating as a student between
Sychrov Castle and Rožmberk nad Vltavou Castle.
caretaker of the Český Šternberk historical landmark.
||Becomes the caretaker
of Březnice Castle.
correspondence studies at the School of Economics.
||Becomes the caretaker of Karlštejn
How important is teamwork to you?
It's crucial. The entire team must be tight-knit. We even want some
employees to be able to substitute for others, so that they can
easily guide tourists, work at the third gate, or sell tickets in
the box office. The cashier has to be able to communicate in four
languages within five minutes with tourists who may be nervous or
breathless from the climb.
During the season your workers spend most of their time
in an unusual - lovely but cloistered - environment, where they
must adapt to each other. Does this cause any problems?
How new seasonal employees fit in with the permanent staff is very
important. We had one student here who couldn't handle it. Everyone
thought he was strange, too talkative, and conceited, and furthermore,
he didn't keep up with the pace of the work. The others demonstrated
to him clearly that he wasn't fitting in, so he finally left. I
didn't interfere in this conflict, because I didn't think that was
How do you schedule work on the castle?
Usually at Tuesday meetings, when we set the agenda for the week.
Of course I can call extraordinary meetings as necessary. This happens
when we receive an unplanned request, for example when we get a
call from the chairman of the Estonian parliament, or when 70 NATO
generals want to pay us a visit. We have to agree on who will serve
as guides, because VIPs usually have special requests, and will
want experienced guides.
How do you think a good boss should behave?
A good boss has to be able to combine the management of his people
with the fulfillment of the tasks that his job requires of him.
He should try to explain things well, because if he wants his employees
to work well they have to know the reasons why. I personally am
never against discussions. Equally important is the boss' willingness
to meet his subordinates half-way, to ensure their motivation. I
try to follow these principles, even though I know I'm not an ideal
boss. But it seems to me that the people here are satisfied, and
they have respect for their work.
How do you motivate your employees?
Money definitely isn't the way, as they don't make much here. Seasonal
guides earn CZK 30-40 per hour, and permanent staff members make
CZK 6,000-8,000 before taxes. So instead I see the environment here
as a motivational force, as well as a love of history, and, last
but not least, the feeling of belonging to a team. Possibly some
of my employees work here so they can say that they work at a castle,
because it sounds so nice.