Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: David Holas
Fidelis Schlée (55), the former publisher of Večerník Praha, has supporters and detractors. He is an uncompromising businessman, a wealthy hedonist. But he is also the only Czech member of the Global Economic Forum in Davos. Where did he go, and what is he doing today?
ONE OF THE WEALTHIEST Czechs surprises you with his disarming directness: “Right now I’m very pleased that my small daughter is finally potty-trained.” A few years ago such a response would be most unexpected from this man, whose business activities, disputes with rival Josef Kudláček, the publisher of the advertising paper Annonce, and love of luxury were colorfully described by all newspapers at the beginning of the ’90s. Schlée points to two defining milestones in his life – when he made extra money as a cloakroom attendant in the Mír movie theater during his studies, which taught him the value of money, and when, in 1971, he became the youngest judge in Czechoslovakia at age 22. That same year he applied for communist party membership. He reached the position of chairman of the court senate, had to leave the party in 1976 because he refused to pass a sentence under duress. This event brought his judicial work to an end for a long time, so he earned his living as a company lawyer. During that time he spent twenty-seven months in prison for allegedly abetting a criminal. He later discovered that it was just a pretext, because the party believed that he was the chief CIA resident for Czechoslovakia. He was rehabilitated after the communist regime’s collapse.
A year and a half before the Velvet Revolution he founded the first private law office in this country, and following November 1989 he founded the Association of Entrepreneurs. He reacted quickly to the demand and wrote a six-volume book, Private Business, and published it at his own expense. That was how he earned his first sizable amount of money, roughly CZK 7 million. That was a lot of cash in 1990, and Schlée admits that he had trouble handling it. “I brought the money home in a suitcase, and in my euphoria I bought a pitchfork to move it around with,” he says, describing the shock so much money caused him then. He became more widely known at the beginning of the 90s, mainly as the publisher of the dailies Večerník Praha and Lidová demokracie. His heavily publicized disputes with Kudláček also date to that time. “Mr. Kudláček published false information about me: for example, that I was a state security agent,” says Schlée, adding that he won all of the suits he initiated against Kudláček in connection with libel suit.
In 1999 he was the last Czech publishing daily newspapers. He decided not to fight with a gang of foreign publishers, and sold both dailies at once. A year ago he also ended his publishing activities for Knihcentrum. He kept only his humor magazine Sorry, which he treats as a hobby, making his living through contacts he has made while serving as media governor for the Global Economic Forum. He refuses to disclose details of his business activities, allowing only that they involve international legal services, corporate merger and acquisition consulting, and mediation services. And what is his top priority today? “My baby,” he concludes with emotion and pride, showing off a photograph of a several-month-old girl and his young wife.
Three questions for Fidelis Schlée
You travel in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, you wear suits that cost a hundred thousand crowns, you own valuable works of art, and you even had a stable full of steeple-chase mounts. Can you tell us just how rich you are?
Why doesn’t the media report on you any more, and why did you focus on international business? Did doing business in the Czech Republic lose its charm for you?
How would you describe your business philosophy?