Lifestyles of the rich…

The wealthy class in this country is growing – and growing up. From objets d’art to luxury trips, the rich are becoming more sophisticated in terms of how they spend their money, and are working to change a common Czech stereotype.

Marek Šebesťák – my kingdom for a horse

Marek Šebesťák
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

MAREK ŠEBESŤÁK, the founder and co-owner of the Mark BBDO advertising agency, doesn’t keep his money under his mattress or buy yachts, cars, or paintings. He claims not to have much “real” money. “I have it in projects and dreams that will either come true or not,” he says, adding in the same breath that he certainly isn’t going hungry. “You can tell by looking at me,” says this famous gourmet with a smile. He couldn’t be struggling. The advertising agency he founded fourteen years ago is doing well. In 1991 it became a part of the international group BBDO Worldwide, has prestigious, well-heeled clients, and has received several awards for creativity. His success in advertising has allowed Šebesťák to embark on another activity that required tens of millions of crowns in investments. His Horse Academy, one of the largest riding centers in the Czech Republic, isn’t purely about equestrian passion, it’s also about business. Hall, stable, restaurant, and big plans. “The Horse Academy offers a high-quality way to spend free time: adrenaline, emotion, and joy,” he says. “Additionally, it’s beginning to turn a modest profit.” At the recent Olympic games in Athens, a horse from the Šebesťák stables made it to the final round of the three-day equestrian event. Surprisingly, the owner isn’t sinking all his money in horses, but enjoys spending it on fine food and wine most of all. Scrambling for wealth isn’t his goal, and his dreams might be considered prosaic. “Money allows me to be independent, and to have more time for people who like me,” he says. “I just want to be happy.”

Monika Mudranincová




Marko Pařík: Raking in the dough

Marko Pařík
Photo: Davis Holas

“Oh, very sensitive issue,” nods Marko Pařík, when asked to give his opinion about wealth. He is, however, one of the few entrepreneurs willing, at least to a certain extent, to discuss the matter.
Having grown up abroad after his family left the country in 1948, he and his brother Michal didn’t start doing business in the Czech Republic until after the 1989 revolution. Now Pařík is general director, and chairman of the board of the largest Czech bakery group, Delta, which consists of bakeries, dough factories, the Paneria franchise and Le Patio restaurants.
How rich is he? He wouldn’t say exactly, but admits that Delta group’s average annual turnover is around CZK 4 billion, and it is quite likely its market value is at least this amount. He’s clearly one of the richest Czechs, yet he does not flaunt his wealth. He’s not crazy about Ferrarris, horses, or yachts. He likes spending his money more privately, investing in art – mainly old books, paintings, statues and lithographs. “I don’t care about power or expensive hobbies,” Pařík admits. “I do not want to be seen or show off with my money.”
Pařík is a big fan of travelling, especially to exotic destinations like China and India, but also to the south of France, where he likes to spend his leisure time in a “small” castle he owns near the Riviera. “It has 14 rooms and it doesn’t require much money to maintain it. I think it is better not to tamper with old things too much,” he explains.
When thinking about what effect money has on someone’s life, Pařík shrugs. “Of course money doesn’t make someone happy, but it can help tremendously,” he adds, smiling. This entrepreneur is a real workaholic, who is also quite grateful. “My greatest fortune is that I am a citizen of Europe, who can live both in the Czech Republic and in France, and to be at home anywhere,” he says.

Monika Mudranincová

Luděk Sekyra: Nothing to be ashamed of

Luděk Sekyra
Photo: Archiv

In Luděk Sekyra’s opinion, the majority of people in Czech society are afraid to show off their wealth. In many cases, it’s because they have something to hide, he says, but “people who earned their money the standard way, in my opinion, have nothing to be ashamed of.”
In 1995, after working as a lawyer, he started Sekyra Group initially as a developer. Following several major acquisitions, the real estate group is now a leading domestic player. The firm has sizable investments in the country, including the new T-Mobile headquarters in Prague-Roztyly. But is he a workaholic? “No, not in any case,” he says.
Sekyra does take time to enjoy his success, but he tends to spend modestly and wisely. “Quality wines and quality art are a good investment,” he says. “Personally, I have an interesting collection of Italian and French wines.” With real estate, though, he stays closer to home. “All the properties that I own are in the Czech Republic,” he notes. He still takes time to travel having just returned from Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, which he holds to be one of his best holidays. “I think it has one of the most beautiful coastlines,” this single businessman says. In his free time, Sekyra stays away from elitist activities. He can most often be found playing his two favorite sports: tennis and golf.
Money has never caused him any tension in life, he says, even though he admits that Czech society holds a negative view to wealth. The developer attributes the good will he’s received to the work Sekyra Group has done, which, in his words, has helped “to significantly change the face of Prague.”

Jason Hovet

OF THE 7.7 MILLION PEOPLE in the world’s million-dollar club, 11,000 are now Czech, according to a recent World Wealth Report produced by Merrill Lynch and Cap Gemini. In a country with 10 million, that is a sizeable ratio. What is even more remarkable is the rate of growth year-on-year – 12% – of the number of individuals with net worth of more than USD 1 million. From a nice house and car to exotic holidays or a rare bottle of wine, successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople are now more often spending for pure enjoyment, instead of just for flash. In this respect, Czech spending habits are coming closer to their western counterparts.
” The money is older,” says Nils Jebens, referring to western Europe and, more specifically, to his native Norway. As owner of Kampa Group, Jebens sees many of the country’s wealthy elite come through the doors of his group’s upscale restaurants. What he sees is that “they don’t spend too lavishly; they don’t go overboard.” However, this shouldn’t be taken that rich Czechs are misers. “They are spending a lot of money,” Jebens says, but adds that, “they first concentrate on getting the nice house and car.”
So what comes next? Are rich Czechs living it up or stuffing the mattress? Spend or invest? Essentially an industry report for investment banks, the World Wealth Report shows that private investors are becoming more demanding, asking for more service at a better price. At Czech banks, the extra service banks offered VIP clients wasn’t all that distinguishable from normal banking services – now private bankers go out of their way to spend one-on-one time with more “valuable” clients, as well as offering financial products not available to others. Also, private bankers are more often advising clients on financial matters away from banking.
As far as the investing habits of these VIP clients, bigger clients, say someone who has CZK 100 million in the bank, are usually more conservative. It is entrepreneurs and those with “smaller money” who are more aggressive. “However, in both cases, exceptions certainly exist,” says Jan Troníček, director of private banking at HVB bank. At HVB, entrepreneurs make up half of the client list in private banking and top managers 5-10%. The rest are restituents and celebrities. At Živnostenská banka, the opposite can be seen, with restituents making up half the client list. “Entrepreneurs and professional managers currently represent a smaller part of our wealthier clients,” says Michal Vančík, head of private banking. “However, their importance is growing.”
According to many successful entrepreneurs, money is nothing if you don’t do something intelligent with it. As a result, most will re-invest into a current or future business. “I like building companies, doing business,” says Delta bakeries owner Marko Pařík. Using this philosophy, Pařík and his brother Michal have built a small food empire consisting of bakeries, dough factories, the Paneria franchise and Le Patio restaurants. Another cliché postulates that time is money, and Radim Passer, who along with his brother built PasserInvest, says he doesn’t have much time for expensive hobbies. “Expensive hobbies often take a lot of valuable time,” he states. Zentiva’s Jiří Michal, one of the best-paid Czech managers, also shies away from upscale hobbies. “I do a lot of things,” he says, “but I don’t dive or play golf…yet.”

Radim Passer
Photo: Vladimír Weiss

Pařík, too, may be the consummate workaholic – even waking early to work a little while vacationing at his residence abroad. However, for him, it’s not all work and no play. Besides his “small” property abroad, he travels often to exotic locations in the Far East (see sidebar left). But he’s not alone. An increasing number are also more interested in visiting places most tourists cannot. Intercontact Praha travel agency, for example, plans and arranges trips custom-suited to the needs of its clients – which include mainly top managers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and doctors, as well as pensioners who have been restituted. Among recent organized trips was a group of six who paid CZK 200,000 each to tour Antartica by helicopter. “[Our clients] are people who are willing to spend a little more” for the trip they want, owner Marie Jehličková says. She also sees another promising sign of a maturing spender: “Clients are becoming more demanding,” she says, “which we are very happy about.”
The most demanding clients might just consider flying themselves. And Dagmar Grossmann, owner of Grossmann Jet Service, is betting they will. With 20 years experience chartering private jets, she recently set up her own Prague office. (This is the second such company to offer private charter flights, with the Ostrava-based Silesia Air concentrating mainly on business travel.) “There are about 200 people looking at this service for private purposes,” she says. According to her, it is usually the businesspeople who are looking for the little extra luxuries – champagne, fine cuisine. Private individuals, usually flying the family on holiday, “just want to have a comfortable flight.” The most common destination is Europe, although the jets have a range of 3,000 to 35,000 kilometers and can seat up to 16. With two private jets in Prague now, Grossman believes she could have as many as 10 within five years.
Travel is just one area where the rich spend, and are willing to spend more. It also exemplifies the maturing of the rich elite here. Otto Jelinek, for one, is starting to see less of a difference in the spending habits of the rich in the Czech Republic and Canada, where Jelinek grew up and experienced success in business and politics – even holding several ministerial positions in the government. “[In Canada] people tend to spend money openly,” he says, “but they don’t necessarily show off with it.” Jelinek returned to his native Czech Republic more than 10 years ago and has been chairman at Deloitte & Touche since then. In this time, he has seen spending habits coming closer to western habits. “There are fewer differences now,” he says, pointing out that one reason may be the harder work ethic of a younger generation.
Indeed, in the eyes of the Czech public, businesspeople and billionaires (considered separate categories in research) share the least popularity, although top politicians do take the prize for least popular people. This is according to research done by the Institute of Sociology last year. In the study, Milan Tuček and Jan Misovič also found – in a survey of 1,800 people – that wealth creates the highest social tension in Czech society, even more so than race or political affiliation.
This could help explain why almost everyone approached for this article was reluctant to discuss the subject, or simply refused. It is true, most listed in Lidové noviny’s annual richest Czechs list avoid media attention – for example, number one on the list, Petr Kellner of PPF, who generally avoids the media. Modesty, or fear of jealousy, is one big reason; security is another. But is it necessary for wealthy Czechs to worry about security? According to Michal Kuník, general director of Securitas CR, very few private individuals are using security services – with only about 1-2% of homes and flats protected. But that is slowly starting to change. “Many people are beginning to realize the risks associated with wealth,” says Kuník, adding that their clients mainly ask for installation of security systems, security consulting, monitoring and solutions for crisis situations. “We are seeing a higher demand for bodyguards, but usually in combination with a classical guard, butler and driver,” he says. Costs for this “3-in-1″ service can run up to to CZK 100,000 a month and gives a client 24-hour service, complete with someone to check the house, as well as escort the family and kids anywhere (basic cost for a guard runs around CZK 30,000 a month).
But for many this seems extreme. Passer, who was included on Lidové noviny’s top 50 list, says he meets relatively few people who show him any animosity. “Probably I’m lucky that the majority of people I meet are just really nice,” he says. Or it could be that these people are also one of the other 11,000 Czech dollar-millionaires – but were just equally hard to recognize.

A return to old-fashioned values

Mária Gálová
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

Enjoying the finer things in life – priceless art, rare wine, fast cars – certainly isn’t new in the Czech Republic. In the time of the First Republic, when a wealthy class flourished, regular luxury purchases and collections were a sign of taste and sophistication. But with a new rich elite here finding their feet, some aren’t so sure there has been a great return to the days of old.

Take art, for example. “I think that we would have to wait a bit for the return of those old habits,” says Mária Gálová, director of the art and antiques auction house Dorotheum. “Buying art [then] was a sign of a particular lifestyle. In this sense we still have a long way to go,” she adds. But there are positive signs, of course. For example, an art gallery focusing on modern art was recently set up by Česká pojišťovna, a daughter company of known art fan Petr Kellner’s PPF.
One similarity to days past is that art is still quite accessible. “The market for artistic objects includes works in different price categories, not only [pieces] for hundreds of thousands of crowns,” says Gálová. However, she points out that “the most expensive items in our auctions or galleries are purchased mainly by entrepreneurs or people in top management positions.” Although she doesn’t survey clients, she assumes that more expensive items are purchased as an investment, as much as for pleasure.
Wine is another area where those who can afford it are looking for quality over an expensive price tag. French wine importer Jean-Pierre Hottinger admits there are still those buying a wine because it’s expensive, although he also sees more serious collectors. He says he now has about 36 Czech buyers who have collections nearing 1,000 bottles of wine from around the world. For his French imports, a typical bottle will cost between CZK 700 to CZK 1,000. Of course, there are more expensive purchases: one notable bottle was a ’47 ChČteau Yquem that cost upwards of CZK 200,000. But wine as an investment? “It’s for pleasure,” Hottinger says. “In the end, someone has to drink it.”

Petr Vykoukal, Jason Hovet

Nonstop holiday

After years of hard work and accumulating a nice fortune, many successful entrepreneurs are starting to spend both money and time abroad. But why pay for a hotel, when you can just buy a residence yourself?

Photo: allphoto images

ALTHOUGH it has always been possible to buy real estate abroad, in the last few years a number of new agencies have started specializing in foreign properties catering to the country’s wealthier side, and successful entrepreneurs are the most common clientele. Opposed to top managers, “entrepreneurs have more money and more time,” says Jan Rejcha, who started Rellox, a company specializing in foreign properties and relocations, at the beginning of this year. But Lucie Pilipová, founder of the two-year-old Mediterranea Real Estate Investments, believes buyers can come from the middle- to upper-classes. She does concede that “most of our clients know each other, but they don’t know that they are all clients.” Above all, people buying these properties need to be “very cosmopolitan,” Pilipová says, noting that learning the local language is almost a necessity.
Currently, the most popular destinations are around the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas. Tuscany is the most popular spot, although “only a few can afford it,” Rejcha admits. Prices for a small home there start at around EUR 300,000 and a recent purchase went for EUR 500,000. For the same price, clients of Pilipová can get a Florida retreat in the US. Closer to home, properties in Spain, France, and especially Croatia are big draws. While prices can reach upward of EUR 2 million, all agents agree clients should be prepared to spend between EUR 200,000-400,000.
So far, the market hasn’t been as brisk as expected. “This is a new thing,” Pilipová says, “the decision-making process is very slow.” Although there are no precise statistics, Rejcha predicts the market could double in the next year. “Quite a lot of deals are in process,” he concludes.

Jason Hovet

Financing good will

“Money can’t buy happiness” is a saying that’s slowly being disproven by the charitable elite. Tereza Maxová’s Foundation successful new campaign stresses that charity can change the giver as well as the receiver.

Marie Vodičková
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

With the number of charities, foundations and civic groups on the rise, a competitive market is being created where large sponsors and contributors are being relied on more heavily. “Competition in the field of charities and foundations is very big, and it’s still growing,” says Maja Svojgrová, a board member at the Foundation for Bone Marrow Transplants (NTKD). Alena Stuchlíková, vice-chairman at the non-profit Czech Epilepsy Association, agrees, saying her group’s modest increase can be attributed to becoming more active in attracting donations. And, with the right advertising, the Tereza Maxová Foundation has also seen a rise in individual contributions, according to its director, Terezie Plasková.
” The collection from private sources is currently our biggest income,” says Marie Vodičková, director at the Threatened Children Fund. “But it isn’t always enough for our expanding projects.” The foundation has 150,000 donors in total, but the average sum given is only around CZK 300. “Therefore, we want to orientate ourselves more to larger donors,” Vodičková adds. And large donors are definitely out there. Apart from some more well-known cases – like Michal Horáček, of Fortuna betting agency, who gives millions to hospitals; or Radim Passer, of developer Passerinvest, who is actively involved in religious charities here and abroad. Sums of CZK 100,000 and more are quite common, with some even donating to several charities multiple times in the year. In August, according to Vodičková, her foundation received CZK 500,000 – its largest individual contribution to date.
While everybody surely is donating money to help, publicity often can play a part. However, “the majority of our big donors aren’t doing it for exposure,” says Vodičková, admitting that perhaps a third may do it to improve their image. Nonetheless, charities do publish the names of all donors, and most groups organize yearly events as a thank-you.

Jason Hovet

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