One life is not enough

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.

Pavel Slabý 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.

Pavel Slabý Photo: Archiv

“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.

Otto Jelínek 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.

Otto Jelínek Photo: ČTK

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.

Former champions in the office

Robert Změlík
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.

Robert Změlík
Photo: CŤK

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.”

People, horses, food and billboards

Marek Šebesták

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 employees.”

Marek Šebesták
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, 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.

Leaving the briefcase backstage

Daniel Gladiš
Photo: Jan Brada

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.

Daniel Gladiš
Photo: Jan Šipoch

“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,” says Slabý.

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