Zdeněk Zahradník: Wish fulfillment, Inc.
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: David Holas
The owner of V.I.P. Service, which caters to show business stars, royalty, and executives of international companies, selects his employees with great care. In this competitive environment, the only survivors are those willing to fulfill a client’s every wish.
You take care of VIP clients. You’ve met Queen Elizabeth II, and chauffered the Rolling Stones around Prague. What kinds of things do you have to be willing to do for your clients?
Whatever. It’s all a matter of money. Our motto is “Never say no”, and that’s precisely what we’re all about. We pick up our clients right after they arrive, and we provide them with services throughout their stay. We arrange for their transport from place to place in our limousines or microbuses, we protect them with our bodyguards, and we serve them in all sorts of ways.
How many full-time employees do you have, and how do you recruit new ones?
I have 12 employees, all of them men. I would never hire someone coming right off the street. Our work is so narrowly specialized that I can’t even rely on anonymous sources like advertisements. Everything is based on contacts and personal recommendations. I always test newcomers at five events at least, in various positions, to see what they’re best at doing, and then assign them appropriate roles.
What kind of person would never make your team?
The typical bodyguard prototype – a conceited two meter-tall man with a shaved head, whose visage draw attention. My bodyguards are civil in their appearance and behavior.
Do you employ any former policemen?
Yes. They have their pros and cons: they’re used to following orders and they drive very well, but unfortunately they don’t know foreign languages. If my team includes a former intervention unit agent or a member of URNA (Rapid Reaction Force), I know that sometimes such people opt for overly brutal solutions, so I train them to react appropriately to the situation. I reject men who want to work for me so they can legally beat people up on principle.
Do you also look for businessmen?
Basically, no. If a person has a clear conscience he doesn’t need a bodyguard. I can’t make judgments about who owes whom money. I have no intention of destroying my reputation by getting involved in problems with the police, because the person who arranged for the bodyguard would be the first to be dealt with.
What was the most complicated event for you to coordinate?
My team faced its greatest test when we arranged for services for Michael Jackson in 1995, when he kicked off his “History” tour here and came to Prague with Sony Music’s entire management. Six hundred people were working for me on the day of the show. Although we were in contact by radio, it was quite difficult to manage the whole affair. Jackson was protected by ten bodyguards, including myself, but at least thirty people would have been required, because everywhere we went there were crowds of people.
Have you ever had to fire anyone?
Of course. On the spot. This happened in the context of the Michael Jackson show. He originally didn’t want any protection from us at all, but he changed his mind and I had to quickly hire people I didn’t even know. One of these bodyguards was with us in the St. Vitus Cathedral. Usually you just ask people to step aside because a celebrity is coming, and there’s no reason to be aggressive. But that bodyguard couldn’t handle the situation, he charged ahead and mowed tourists down like dominos among the pews. He was fired on the spot.
Foreign stars are often eccentric, and sometimes they have wishes that cannot be fulfilled. Do you remember any curious situations you had to handle?
Lots of them, but I’d like to say that we can arrange anything over the phone. For example, Jean-Claude Van Damme wanted a massage on a Dutch bed. Five years ago no one here knew what that meant. After an hour we discovered that it’s a bed with a hole for your face, and that a fitness center in Konopiště had one. In a few hours the bed was in the Hilton hotel, along with a masseur, and Van Damme had no idea how much effort it was for us, or how nerve-wracking.
Do your men find providing services to stars degrading? How do they psychologically handle having to carry baggage, flowers, etc.?
We often deal with this within our company. Professionally speaking, bodyguards shouldn’t have anything in their hands, so that they can immediately intervene. In government service a bodyguard can tell a minister that he is not a porter, but in a private company he can’t. We provide a service, and we must be willing to hold things, open doors, help people with their coats, etc. There’s no room for pride.
Are your bodyguards ready to lay down their lives for your clients?
That’s how it should be. But in my work I’ve met many people who claimed to be fearless and said they would shield clients with their bodies, but were the first to flee when the situation became critical. We don’t carry guns at show business events, because in a crowd they could be grabbed. At events for bankers or aviation company executives we carry guns, but fortunately we’ve never had to use them.
What draws a person to this sort of job – what is the primary motivation?
It’s certainly the prestige associated with the fact that we take care of global stars, as well as the attractive environment. The work is filled with adventure, and it’s creative, it’s never routine. Money could also be a draw. Our guys make 200 to 300 crowns an hour, which they’d never get doing government work. But you always have to be on your toes, completely ready for anything. That’s very stressful.
You take part actively in nearly all of the events. Do you ever have trouble exercising authority when you’re one of the team?
Quite the contrary. I see it as completely positive, because I stay in touch with reality. I couldn’t just sit at my desk and assign tasks. Furthermore, the clients usually expect me to be there.
What kind of a boss are you?
I’m very sociable, and I don’t know how to be tough. But if someone crosses the line I yell and scream, which horrifies those around me. But in five minutes I’ve forgotten about it. I’m very impulsive and unrestrained.