Written by: Philippe Riboton
IT WAS ONLY a few years back. A former boxer named Vladimír Mečiar was presiding over the fate of Slovakia, dictating most privatization decisions and placing in key management positions those of his friends that would allow him to exercise his power without restraint. To the rest of the world, Slovakia appeared to be run like some sort of village in medieval times. As a result, foreign investors tended to stay clear of the country, and EU officials were often quoted saying that Slovakia would certainly fail to join the first wave of EU accession if it decided to stay in the hands of such a political dinosaur. That was the time when Czech managers looked at Slovakia as a natural pool for cheaper manpower – employees that would quite naturally be attracted to the Czech Republic as a real market economy where they could realize their talents and get harder currency for it. Nobody at the time would have dared to ask a Czech manager whether he or she would be interested in taking an assignment in Slovakia. Fever was high on the Czech employment market, as managers were enjoying the luxury of choosing their next professional assignment based on the horsepower of a corporate car. Thankfully, times have changed – Mr. Mečiar is now totally free to make such decisions as whether to spend the day fishing or picking mushrooms, and Slovakia is about to join the European Union. Foreign investors are now regarding the Slovak market as the next “place to be”, and Czech managers have followed suit. Over the past two years or so, several leading Czech business figures have decided to relocate to Slovakia to undertake challenging assignments. Some experienced managers have acknowledged that they are more likely to be given the chance to realize their full potential just across the border. They are the ones portrayed in our cover story this month. From telco to banking, these managerial exports show that they are able to make things happen and change the fate of a country where everything is still possible. Turn our pages and meet a few Czech pioneers in the Slovak lands.