You may not have heard about them yet, but in their fields they already carry weight. Step by step these thirty-something Czechs are making their way into the professional elite. On the surface they look like anyone else – they don’t drive flashy cars, don’t live in expensive villas, or have extravagant indulgences. What is different about them is their talent, determination and devotion to what they do. The following gallery of portraits is a recognition of their accomplishments today, and an introduction for our readers to the stars of tomorrow.
Taking advantage of coincidence
Not everyone is capable of studying in the Law Department of Charles University and the Institute of Economics at the same time – both with honors – while also working practically full-time. But this fast-track into the field is exactly what Jan Urban (30), director of mortgage broker firm Simply, did.
“I HAVE ENCOUNTERED many coincidences which I was able to take advantage of,” says Urban. Coincidence also landed him in one of the largest law firms in the world, White & Case, when, in 1992, two of his schoolmates brought him in. Five years later, while studying in the Law Department of Harvard University in the US, another coincidence came about. Employers from the leading global consulting company for strategic management, McKinsey & Company, found him in the CV databases of the university. He was hired there as a consultant and given the responsibility in the Czech Republic of restructuring a leading Czech industrial group. Just two years later, in 1999, he started to co-found a new project called Profira, which was focused on the creation of a loan register in the Czech Republic. Many people would consider leaving a top company for a project riddled with uncertainty imprudent. However, Urban had his reasons. “I realized the opportunity was directed precisely where I wanted to go,” he explains. “To participate personally in the creation of something, to be a member of a team that was able to put something together and make money for doing it.”
When the project ended unsuccessfully because of the withdrawal of an investor, Urban decided upon another start-up. Thanks to his contacts from previous activities, he was able to attract an investor and a strategic partner, and, in 2001, he started Simply. For Jan Urban, creating something is more important than what follows from the activities themselves, and maybe this is why he is not sure where he would like to see himself in five years. And what are the strengths that helped him on the road to success? “I am able to admit mistakes and I know how to ask questions,” insists Urban, who is more of a team partner for his employees than an omnipotent boss. He has a strong drive not to be defeated, mainly for his own sense of self-worth. While he enjoys sports, reading and time with friends, as a married man Urban’s main hobbies include his wife and, currently, the renovation of a recently-purchased apartment.
Charm goes a long way
A year and a half ago, a specialist in corporate communications, Miloš Růžička (29), co-founded a specialized PR agency, Bison & Rose. Since that time, he and his partner, Jiří Bis, have doubled sales and climbed into the top ten PR agencies in the Czech Republic.
THE FACT THAT Bison & Rose have managed to break into a market that, ten years after the revolution, was almost completely saturated is credited by people in the business sphere to Růžička’s specialized knowledge, his charisma, and his contacts. “When someone is well-known and his name represents a trustworthy brand it plays a big role in this business,” confirms Růžička, whose name, as well as that of his partner, is wittily applied in the agency’s name. “However, it can unfortunately happen that business does not depend on your capabilities but on your contacts.”
Until 1995, Růžička worked in the media (Frekvence 1, Czech television). Then he went off, for three years, to the National Property Fund as spokesman, and from there, to Komerční banka, as director of the communications department, again for three years. During that time, he established himself as a communications expert in financial institutions. The agency’s clients include, for example, ČSOB (Bison & Rose prepared communications for the Cayman Islands affair) and Credit Suisse, as well as construction firms and pharmaceutical companies (Léčiva Praha).
Working at the agency is attractive to him because he can have more of an influence on everything, both from the financial and human points of view. He claims that his individual decisions affect the functioning of the agency, with 25 employees, much more than in a 100-member bank department. Růžička speaks of himself as a tragic example of a job-changer, and so does not exclude the possibility that he might someday go back to a large firm. But today, he is not interested in anything but Bison & Rose. “In five years, only the agencies that are part of an international chain will be able to maintain a strong position, and they will work for their clients as affiliates of international groups,” opines Růžička. Therefore, this new father, admirer of good wine and classical music (he is a board member of Prague Spring), has set himself the goal of attracting a foreign partner to his firm.
Photo: P. Poliak
Between business and politics
Jan Juchelka (31) ruins the set notion that youth, careers and state administration don’t mix. For seven years, he has slowly risen up the hierarchy of the National Property Fund (FNM), and there is speculation that he could be the new chairman of the institution [not confirmed as of press time].
FOR NOW, this young man born in Ostrava does not yet use meaningless jargon so typical of politicians, at least when you aren’t asking him about the Fund’s projects. “I don’t like stagnant waters,” Juchelka says, explaining his motivation. “The work at the FNM attracts me because it is a dynamic environment somewhere between business and politics. I would like to understand the rules of both.”
Juchelka graduated from the Business Trade Department at Silesian University in Karviná. As a holder of a broker’s license, he came to the FNM in 1995 on the basis of a tender, in a senior position connected with brokerage activities in the securities trading department. He quickly became the director of this department and then transferred to the corporate governance department, again as a director. He participated in the preparation and implementation of the privatization of banks and the power and gas sector, etc. Since spring 2000 he has been the second vice-chairman of the FNM ČR executive committee.
“I like that I was able to rise up the ladder and accept new challenges, to work on different projects than before, but I didn’t have this as a goal,” Juchelka says of his career, adding that his main goal was the opportunity to learn something and to work among capable people. And he succeeded in this – he is now a member of the supervisory boards of Komerční banka and ČEZ and the board of directors of Český Telecom. He doesn’t feel his age is a handicap. “Age doesn’t play a role, neither positive or negative. After 1989, everyone here was just beginning,” he insists. In his team, he works with both younger and older colleagues. “I am not the type of parlor functionary to whom other people are bringing solutions and who just points to one. I like to cooperate on the solutions,” he says.
The Fund, as a state privatization agency, will probably finish up its activities in about two years, and so Juchelka might be one of the last loyal people to close the operation. And what is next for him? “I don’t think that I will exchange my career as a state official in FNM for a political career, but rather a commercial one,” he remarks, adding that he is thinking about consulting or investment firms. It is too soon to make a specific plan, but Juchelka explains that he certainly doesn’t plan to accept any handouts from firms of whose statutory bodies he is now a member.
Success is like a drug
Jakub Ditrich (29), founder of Globe Internet, one of the largest web-hosting companies in the Czech Republic, with roughly a one-fifth share of the market, relies mainly on intuition and strict control of costs.
HE FOUNDED the firm in 1996 together with his friend, Karel Umlauf, and, since then, they have been equal partners. Their success has been based on the fact that they are able to take advantage of opportunities and are not afraid of entering uncharted areas. “Ours was the first Czech firm to host a domain for clients free of charge. We were well established before other firms reacted to this,” says Ditrich. Now their new focus is directed at the management of payments over the internet (platby.cz) and electronic communication for the state administration (podatelny.info). When internet advertisement and web design are added in, we are left with a firm with 70 employees and sales over CZK 50 million (2001). “We realized that services, in particular, are a business that can be done over the internet. If the clients trust us, there is no reason why they wouldn’t order another solution from us,” says Ditrich, who graduated from film production and jumped into the IT business with almost no experience.
Although it is hard to think of the firm suffering financially, Ditrich is still trying to figure out where to save. “I am half Jewish, after my ancestors,” he laughs, explaining how expensive the offices are and how it would be more efficient if some of the employees worked at home. However, Ditrich does not squander much on himself either – his managerial wage is not head-turning and he lives, together with his wife and two children, in a normal 3+1. And people around him appreciate this “normalcy”.
In the beginning, Ditrich proceeded with the knowledge that practically no one was focusing on web-hosting and web design in this country. Now he cannot imagine getting off the carousel. “Success is like a drug,” he says, adding that is not only about the desire to succeed, but also the opportunity to have an influence. “If I worked for someone, I would never have the last word.” At the time when the internet bubble was the biggest and strong financial partners moved into Czech internet firms, Globe Internet hesitated on allowing someone to influence the firm for so long that the bubble burst. Ditrich says that he does not regret this, and conversely, he thinks that this year or next there will be time to look for another partner again.
Photo: P. Poliak
A complicated path
The education and career of Josef Beneš (32) took him to the USA, China and England. Last summer, he returned to Prague to head up ČSOB Asset Management, the largest financial advisor on the Czech market.
THE PATH TO the top of a firm that joins together Patria Asset Management, ČSOB Asset Management, OB Invest and První investiční, was very complicated. After graduating from financial studies at the Institute of Economics, Beneš worked for a year in ČNB and then went to New York to study an MBA and macro-economics at Columbia University. After he finished his studies, he spent nine months in China as an employee of the World Bank and, in 1996, he returned to Prague with his wife and first child. He started work as a director of dealing at IPB, and the exemplary performance of hundreds of people under his management in the treasury resulted in worldwide interest being heaped upon this young banker. In the summer of 2000, he became head of the trading department for new markets at the Standard Chartered Bank in London.
Although he was probably the most successful Czech in the city of London, he decided to return home. “My wife didn’t want to go to London, so I promised her we would only be there for two years,” he says. But the return wasn’t simple – the children had already gotten used to being there, and there were many questions as to Beneš’s potential for employment in Prague. In the end, he found one due to his experience in London. “KBC wanted a foreigner without ties to the Czech environment because the cultures of ČSOB and Patria are very different, and KBC didn’t want to lean towards either of these sides by choosing a chief from either the bank or Patria,” he says.
Accepting the KBC offer brought one special result – he started to cooperate closely with his brother Petr, the vice-chairman of the board of directors at První investiční, with whom he has a close relationship. Together, they were one of the top beach volleyball teams in the Czech Republic, one-time national champions, and twice runners-up.
Tomáš Prouza, www.penize.cz
Loyalty to one firm pays off
Tomáš Tkačík (31) is not one who floats from one firm to another, chasing new challenges and positions. The current general director of Bertelsmann Springer publishing house for central and eastern Europe has worked at the same firm for eight years, and his loyalty has proven well-placed.
WHEN HE GRADUATED from the Institute of Economics in 1994, he was a young man of 23 and starting work from the bottom – first as a sales representative, then as a manager of the construction magazines division until, in 1998, he was promoted to managing and general director of the Czech branch of the multinational media concern Bertelsmann. The firm is best known in this country as a publisher of Můj dům, Moderní byt and Supermoto. Tkačík explains his long- term engagement to one firm by the fact that the world of media is very exciting and, in addition, his career success has been relatively quick. Only once did he consider leaving his employer, when, in 1998, he successfully applied for a Fulbright Foundation scholarship connected with a one year stay in the US. But he changed his mind at the last moment and was rewarded with the position of general director for central and eastern Europe in 2001.
Despite the fact that he belongs to an elite of young managers with above average incomes, he does not suffer from the manners of the nouveaux riches – he does not own a luxury villa, and, besides his company Volkswagen Passat, the metro is his favorite means of transport. This doctor of economics perceives his success as a combination of talent and hard work. “Talent is something you are born with – it is a gift of intuition to be able to choose the right people and to select a good company strategy. The rest is hard work and continuous self-education,” he explains. His big plans for the future? “A proud accomplishment would be to make BertelsmannSpringer the number one specialized publisher in central Europe,” he says, adding that he probably wouldn’t refuse an offer to go work in some Anglo-Saxon country.
Photo: P. Poliak
A career as by-product
Originally he wanted to be a member of the VB (the police under the old regime), at an age when everybody has similar notions. But when Jindřich Fremuth (27), currently the director of Euro RSCG Dialog, was deciding what to do after high school, he chose to attend the Institute of Economics, in the Department of International Affairs, majoring in international trade. In the end, fate whisked him into the world of advertising.
AT THE END of 1997, his last year of college, Fremuth began work at the RSCG advertising agency as an account executive. There he became acquainted with the real meaning of such terms as advertising and marketing communications, and quickly moved up the corporate ladder. First, he worked as an account manager, then as an account director. His big moment came in 2000, when he was offered the position of director in the newly established Euro RSCG Dialog communications agency, an affiliate of Euro RSCG. Long interested in the field, Fremuth took a relatively quick and direct path to the agency director’s chair. Business, communication, interactive environments, dynamics and diversity are the attributes which he appreciates most in his work. He doesn’t consider himself exceptional, and is modest when describing the characteristics he sees as key to his successful career: “the ability to communicate, and intuition for interpersonal relationships in general, the ability to be where something is happening, and of course, ambition in the good sense of the word.”
As for professional goals, one of his focal points is the desire to stay in the area of marketing and trade. “I want to be successful in what I am doing, but I don’t have any set goals. Rather, I wait to see what the next day brings,” he says, adding that he considers his career to be a by-product of his activities.