WHERE ARE THEY
Fidelis Schlée: A discreet businessman
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: David Holas
Fidelis Schlée (55), the former
publisher of Večerník Praha, has supporters and detractors. He
is an uncompromising businessman, a wealthy hedonist. But he
is also the only Czech member of the Global Economic Forum in
Davos. Where did he go, and what is he doing today?
ONE OF THE WEALTHIEST Czechs surprises you with his disarming
directness: "Right now I'm very pleased that my small daughter
is finally potty-trained." A few years ago such a response
would be most unexpected from this man, whose business activities,
disputes with rival Josef Kudláček, the publisher of the advertising
paper Annonce, and love of luxury were colorfully described by
all newspapers at the beginning of the '90s. Schlée points to two
defining milestones in his life - when he made extra money as a
cloakroom attendant in the Mír movie theater during his studies,
which taught him the value of money, and when, in 1971, he became
the youngest judge in Czechoslovakia at age 22. That same year
he applied for communist party membership. He reached the position
of chairman of the court senate, had to leave the party in 1976
because he refused to pass a sentence under duress. This event
brought his judicial work to an end for a long time, so he earned
his living as a company lawyer. During that time he spent twenty-seven
months in prison for allegedly abetting a criminal. He later discovered
that it was just a pretext, because the party believed that he
was the chief CIA resident for Czechoslovakia. He was rehabilitated
after the communist regime's collapse.
A year and a half before the Velvet Revolution he founded the first
private law office in this country, and following November 1989
he founded the Association of Entrepreneurs. He reacted quickly
to the demand and wrote a six-volume book, Private Business, and
published it at his own expense. That was how he earned his first
sizable amount of money, roughly CZK 7 million. That was a lot
of cash in 1990, and Schlée admits that he had trouble handling
it. "I brought the money home in a suitcase, and in my euphoria
I bought a pitchfork to move it around with," he says, describing
the shock so much money caused him then. He became more widely
known at the beginning of the 90s, mainly as the publisher of the
dailies Večerník Praha and Lidová demokracie. His heavily publicized
disputes with Kudláček also date to that time. "Mr. Kudláček
published false information about me: for example, that I was a
state security agent," says Schlée, adding that he won all
of the suits he initiated against Kudláček in connection with libel
In 1999 he was the last Czech publishing daily newspapers. He decided
not to fight with a gang of foreign publishers, and sold both dailies
at once. A year ago he also ended his publishing activities for
Knihcentrum. He kept only his humor magazine Sorry, which he treats
as a hobby, making his living through contacts he has made while
serving as media governor for the Global Economic Forum. He refuses
to disclose details of his business activities, allowing only that
they involve international legal services, corporate merger and
acquisition consulting, and mediation services. And what is his
top priority today? "My baby," he concludes with emotion
and pride, showing off a photograph of a several-month-old girl
and his young wife.
Three questions for Fidelis Schlée
You travel in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, you wear suits
that cost a hundred thousand crowns, you own valuable works
of art, and you even had a stable full of steeple-chase mounts.
Can you tell us just how rich you are?
I consider myself an extraordinarily wealthy man, but I can't quantify my wealth.
I have a chauffeur for my Rolls Royce because a gentleman never drives such
a car himself. Simply stated, money allows me to be free and independent. I
don't know what milk, bread, or the dry cleaners cost, and I'm not interested
in knowing. But if your bank account has six zeros or nine zeros, it's not
Why doesn't the media report on you any more, and why did
you focus on international business? Did doing business in
the Czech Republic lose its charm for you?
I don't want anyone to write about me. The world of business is discreet. I
prefer doing business with foreign partners, because I refuse to support "Špidlaland".
I voted against EU accession, because unfortunately the EU of today isn't the
same one for which prime minister Klaus signed the application. In my opinion,
socialism and revolutionary spirit are overwhelming western Europe.
This society is headed for extinction, because the masses don't produce anything.
Production is ensured by individuals, who are oppressed to the detriment of
the masses. Furthermore, when I look at the GDP in western Europe, I see that
it is declining, while the Czech Republic's is on the rise. So I don't understand
why we should join.
How would you describe your business philosophy?
I'm no fan of economic theories; I don't believe in them. The basic principle
is simple: if I buy something for one crown and my costs are one tenth of
a crown, I have to sell it for at least CZK 1.1 in order to profit. This
is clear to me, but everyone has to learn it for himself.