Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo by: Monika Mudranincová
Thanks to hard work and luck, Jana Procházková (38) built several successful businesses – the Global Express BTI travel agency, the airline representation company Globair, and toy importer Global Express – from scratch.
No 1 – the travel agency
Prior to 1989 she wasn’t accepted as a translation-interpreting student by the Charles University School of Philosophy. She wasn’t discouraged by this failure, and she used her knowledge of foreign languages as a guide for tourists at the Rekrea travel agency, which soon became a key contact for groups from the Far East. This specialization played a seminal role in her later business activities. After the former regime ended, she decided to go into business on her own, so she bought a fax machine for her living room and got in touch with her contacts from the past. Satisfied tourists spread her reputation among their acquaintances, which facilitated her start-up. “There was enormous demand at that time. I didn’t need to buy any advertising at all. Furthermore, my services were paid for in advance, thus eliminating any need for basic capital,” Procházková recalls.
By the end of 1990 her space at home was already insufficient, so she moved into a real office and hired a small staff. Her business grew, but more and more travel agencies were also appearing at that time, as tourism had begun to take off in earnest. Procházková foresaw that if she didn’t change the nature of her company it wouldn’t continue to be competitive. She decided to specialize more narrowly and provide business travel services to corporate clients. Her move turned out to precede a trend that began in the mid-nineties, which involved a great influx of foreign companies into the Czech Republic. These companies were used to having one person or firm arrange every detail of their business trips, and there weren’t many agencies that were able to meet their needs. Procházková’s “one woman show” turned into a brisk business that employed fourteen, and paid off with enormous revenue increases – from three million crowns in 1994 to CZK 132 million in 1995!
Global Express very quickly became the largest independent Czech travel agency specializing in corporate clients, and it ranked third among all local travel agencies, just behind its international competitors American Express and Carlson Wagonlit. Even so, it was still just a big fish in the small Czech pond, unable to assert itself in the oceans of the world. Procházková was finally able to expand and assure her firm’s future by allying it with a strategic partner, Business Travel International (BTI), one of the largest multinational firms specializing in corporate travel clients, which has over 3,000 offices around the world. Since 2002, when the merger was accomplished, Global Express BTI has had access to multinational clients such as Deloitte & Touche, Dell, and Motorola, which was reflected in increased sales from CZK 390 million in 2001 to over CZK 450 million in 2002. This also meant that her company ranked second among travel agencies dealing with corporate clients (data from IATA BSP, 2002).
No 2 – the toys
Through clients of her exotic travel agency, Procházková got into a previously unexplored line of business – importing toys from Southeast Asia. In 1991 she tried buying two containers of toys from a client who had been unable to find a Czech partner. The risk she took paid off. She sold the toys in two weeks and made more money than her travel agency made in the whole year. As a direct importer from the Far East she could afford to charge less than domestic vendors, and additionally, there was great demand for new goods. “Toy sales were growing very rapidly, and it was a very exciting time,” she recalls. Thanks to the opening of the first cash & carry outlet in Prague – in Průhonice – her turnover recorded a great jump of about CZK 100 million from 1996 to 1997. Further sales increases were associated with the reinforcement of the firm’s position with retail chains, which today are the biggest buyers of the firm’s portfolio of over 5,000 items. The opening of consignment warehouses also helped the company, as they allowed distribution of goods throughout the republic.
Last year the firm – which includes headquarters in the Czech Republic, and branches in Slovakia and Hungary – enjoyed sales of over CZK 700 million. Global Express controls 30% of the market, which makes it the largest toy importer in the Czech and Slovak republics. It’s also the exclusive distributor for Mattel, the well-known manufacturer of such favorites as Barbie Dolls. Striving for maximal efficiency, this year Procházková opened a purchasing office right in Hong Kong, because most of the toys she imports are made in China, where her firm also buys goods.
– willingness to take risks
– successful prediction of trends
– diversified activities
– narrowly specialized services
– expansion in direct proportion to the firm’s growth
No 3 – airplane tickets
When in 1995 the British airline British Midland was looking for a partner in the Czech Republic to open a permanent office in Prague, it contacted Jana Procházková. Although she didn’t have any experience with exclusively representing an airline as a general sales agent (GSA), she agreed, and established a new firm, Globair. Today Globair successfully represents six airlines: British Midland, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, and South African Airways. Additionally, it represents the Marriott Int. hotel chain and Alamo car rental firm. Globair has already expanded to Hungary and Poland, and in 2002 it sold airplane tickets worth about CZK 200 million. The firm is planning on opening branches in other central and eastern European countries in the future.
Procházková currently chairs the supervisory board of the joint-stock company Global Express Group, which employs over 200 people, and she’s also the managing director of Global Express BTI. In 2001 she founded a branch of her travel agency in Slovakia, but Global Express BTI isn’t planning on any further expansion. The plan is to concentrate on strengthening its position on the local market and place greater emphasis on incentive tourism (see sidebar). Her plans for her toy business are completely different: “In a few years we’d like to be one of the largest toy firms in central and eastern Europe,” she says.
|Shifting structureAt first Procházková worked the toy business with partners. “Family relations” ruled in the company, and everyone did everything. But she understood that if the firm were to even survive the Czech Republic’s EU accession, it would need professional management. Her two other partners didn’t agree with her vision, and they left the company. “Every growing company has to go through this change if it is to function healthily,” she argues. In 1999, Procház-ková turned to a new organizational structure with the help of the consulting company KPMG. “This step paid off very well. Who knows where we’d be today if we hadn’t taken it,” explains this manager who set an example three years ago by successfully completing an MBA program at Bradford University (UK).|
|Incentive tourismWhy motivate employees with money, when incentive tourism exists? For example, a team of employees could travel to Lisbon, try their hands at film-making and then screen their film, and laugh heartily at situations that could never happen in the office. “We tailor similar types of trips for our clients, it’s merely a matter of what they want,” Procházková explains, adding that she has been following the trend towards rewarding employees or clients with unusual trips abroad for several years already. It’s an interesting, creative way to motivate people, and it results in satisfied, more productive, and better bonded teams. Incentive tourism is currently one of the most rapidly growing branches of the travel industry, and Global Express BTI intends to become number one on the Czech market.|