Written by: Jasna Sýkorová
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.
|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.
“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.
|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.
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.
|People, horses, food and billboards
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.
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 t.c.b.cz, 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.”
|Leaving the briefcase backstage
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.
“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.