Václav Fischer: Ups and downs
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: Tomáš Kubeš
Václav Fischer (50) was a symbol of success in the 1990s. It took only a few poor decisions and unfavorable outside influences for the business of this successful travel magnate to collapse like a house of cards. Although he’s now trying to follow up on his earlier successes, it’s no simple matter.
FISCHER, who studied business at the Prague School of Economics, was a successful entrepreneur way back in the 1980s. The Fischer Reisen travel agency, which he ran in what was then West Germany, was the largest private travel agency in the country, and when he sold it in 1996 it was serving a half a million clients annually, with sales of 450 million marks. At the height of its glory his Czech travel agency, CK Fischer, held a dominant market position, carrying 250,000 clients a year with sales of CZK 4 billion. But managerial errors and the global travel industry crisis put his firm in financial trouble, leading to its sale in the summer of 2003 to businessman Karel Komárek. “I sold it under pressure, and I didn’t get a very good deal, Fischer says. “It was like having to send my child out into the world.”
He now follows the state of his former empire only as a shareholder – with a 25% stake in Fischer Air (aircraft supplier) and Fischer s.r.o. (provides services to CK Fischer). Although he says he holds the same percentage of CK Fischer, the new owners claim he owns only 0.07%, because he didn’t take part in raising its basic capital by more than CZK 10 million. The City court agreed with Komárek, but Fischer plans to appeal to the Supreme Court and requests that the travel agency no longer carry his name. But this in not the only case on the table. According to Komárek’s spokeswoman, Marie Schorchtová, in September 2003 Fischer signed a notarized statement whereby he voluntarily assumed all debts he had created while doing business, becoming the company’s so-called collective debtor, not its guarantor. This was insurance in case it turned out that the firms were in worse condition than the purchasing party assumed. Which is allegedly what happened. “His personal debt to our companies is currently in the CZK 400 million range,” Schorchtová says. Fischer rejects such conclusions, saying that since Komárek controls the companies he must also pay their debts.
The dispute came to a head after the Prague 1 Commercial Court last summer sent bailiffs to Fischer’s apartment. However, according to all indications, they didn’t find anything to seize. To protect his property in the CR, Fischer filed bankruptcy on his private property in a German court a few weeks before. The court accepted, and Fischer is prepared to sue for his rights in international courts. Meanwhile, he’s focusing on a new business that he launched last April – under the brand Cestovní agentura Václava Fischera he sells excursions of other travel agencies. He also operates the fashion brand Fischer Collection, the Fischer Café chain of cafés and bistros, and together with his business partner, the Hotel Ventana on Celetná.
Which managerial errors do you see as fatal?
My biggest mistake was my decision to run for the senate in 1999. I spent 3 1/2 years there, and because I worked so hard I didn’t have time to manage my own operations. My second mistake was delegating economic management to colleagues. The third factor came from outside – the global tourism drawbacks associated with the terrorist attacks, SARS, and the floods here.Although you left politics disillusioned, do you still see business and politics as compatible fields?
Certainly, but only in advanced democracies. Not in a country where democracy is still evolving, even 14 years after the revolution. I unambiguously connect my failure with politics. I was an independent senator and I probably stepped on many people’s toes. I created influential enemies. Suddenly strange things were going on with my business – there were inspections looking for something but never finding anything, one of our planes was seized for alleged failure to pay duty, but it was returned in a few days because it wasn’t true. These inexplicable actions escalated. Unfortunately, I’ll probably never know who was behind it all.
Do you think that in the future you will be able to build as strong a market position as you held at the height of your prosperity?
Last year you turned 50. Did your attitude towards life change with this milestone?