Vendula Mráčková: Business lessons begin
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo by: Vojtěch Vlk
Junior Achievement (JA) is the oldest and most widespread
non-profit educational organization in the world. We spoke with the
executive director of the Czech branch about the group's goal of
developing a knowledge of business and trade in youth.
You are engaged in educating children in economics, and
one of your projects, called "The ABCs of Business" is
designed for twelve-year-olds. Are they really interested in
management or marketing?
You'd be surprised! Children grow up in families, perceive what's
going on in society, and commonly encounter terms and problems
that adults resolve. These young children absorb information as
eagerly as a sponge absorbs water, and Junior Achievement (JA)
makes use of their initial enthusiasm. It's a bit different with
teenagers, who already have clear wants. They get allowances from
their parents, but they often have to budget it, or learn how to
get more of it. We teach them how to make money so they can meet
their desires themselves.
JA's most popular project, globally and locally, is called "Student
Company". The students set up real firms that make real money.
Can you explain how it works?
These companies work with real projects, products, services, and
money. They get their basic capital by selling bills of exchange
worth CZK 100, which they receive from us. The students sell them
to people whom they can convince about their business plans. Imagine
a typical school class with friendly and rivalrous relationships
- there are three natural leaders, and they all want to be the
president of the company. This is the first learning point: they
must prepare strategies that will convince the others to vote for
them. Then they have to delegate positions in the company, attract
creditors, and agree on what is to be produced or sold. But the
goal of the student companies isn't profit, it's learning how to
How do children react to bankruptcy?
It's perhaps a greater lesson than success. The most important
lesson is that without pain there's no gain. Then both success
and failure can be seen as positive, because it teaches them
to harden themselves to the external world. Even the best business
plan doesn't guarantee success. This is something they'll encounter
all the time as adults, and the better they can argue, seek out
compromises, and adapt themselves to changing conditions the
What percentage of those 180,000 students who have taken JA courses
in the Czech Republic go into business as adults?
Unfortunately, we don't have any figures for the Czech Republic,
but research conducted in Sweden and Norway shows that 20.5% of
JA graduates actually establish firms, compared to only 4.5% of
students who didn't take JA courses. We get feedback only from
those who stay in touch.
Junior Achievement was brought to the Czech Republic by world-renowned
entrepreneur of Czech origin Tomáš Baťa, who is now the honorary
chairman of its administrative board. How closely does he track
He monitors us constantly! Whenever he comes it's like a hurricane
raging through the office, and he asks everyone what they are working
on right then. He demonstrates the appropriate enthusiasm and always
tells us what can be improved. He loves meeting with students,
and he emphasizes that it's very important to learn languages,
to be open, and to learn something new every day. He has a great
sense of humor. Once he was asked how he maintains his good spirits,
and he said that besides success in business it's also important
to marry well (laughs).
Does his name open school doors and the wallets of sponsors on
whom you are financially dependent?
Yes, but we're already seeing a difference between the young generation and
the older one. For the thirteen-year-olds and older those doors are still open,
but the very young no longer see him as such a legend. He's a part of history
One of your projects is called Global Business Ethics. But in
this country children can see that it sometimes pays to act unethically
- to malign your competitors, not to play fair or honor debts.
Do you think the upcoming generation of entrepreneurs will accept
ethics as a natural part of doing business?
We haven't had any problems yet with any student intentionally
falsifying or distorting results. That could be a sign of improvements
ahead. At JA we work on ethical problems in groups, in which they
think over how to solve ethical problems that have actually arisen
in the past. And we also discuss the issues with other JA branches
around the world. True, globalization is nascent in this country,
but it will develop, and people will have to travel around the
world and work in teams with, say, an Indian, an American, and
a Czech. We can already see this in multinational corporations.
Our students learn to undertake joint projects as games and reach
agreements, but also to explore cultural differences and varying
opinions on ethical matters.
Today's generation of thirty and up went through an authoritarian
education model, when allegiance was valued and discussion wasn't
permitted. JA works on the exact opposite basis. Tell us about
your experiences with today's students along these lines.
life in numbers
||born in Prague
on 4 February
as an assistant at the British International School
for Junior Achievement Czech Republic
executive director for Junior Achievement Czech Republic.
Concurrently studying pre-school education at Charles
Unfortunately, I must say that the Austro-Hungarian authoritarian
education model still persists in most schools. The greatest stumbling
block is passivity. We're trying to get over this barrier, we're
trying to change school directors' and teachers' attitudes, so
that they are accommodating and open to the world, and so that
conservative teachers with their auras of omniscience become their
students' partners and become able to admit that they don't know
everything and are still learning. But this assumes that they change
their habits of many years, and we can see that not everyone is
able to change so much.
JA branches in different countries work closely together. Could
you compare how it works in this country and around the world?
In terms of mentality, interest, and approach to life, we're all
quite similar, but in the Czech Republic we have to deal with one
problem - knowledge of languages. Even in 2005 our students are
unable to participate in any international event that requires
excellent knowledge of English. In comparisons with the Nordic
countries they come out poorly. They should know that knowledge
of languages is really the basis for everything.
What advice would you give students for successful careers?
Don't think you're the smartest person in the world - learn from
Where would you like to be in five years?
I'm looking forward to it. I enjoy always learning things, and
I'm enjoying getting older. I'll definitely be less naive, and
hopefully I'll be wiser.
How would you describe yourself in a few words?
Hard-working, thoughtful, and sometimes easy-going.