Cuba, “the Prague spring” and my interest in politics and economics
I was born in 1953 in Prague and received an education and upbringing typical for my country of 1950s and 1960s with one non-standard exception. My father was an engineer-metallurgist and, in 1967, he was sent to work in Castro’s Cuba for two years. My mother and I went with him. Two years of living in the Caribbean were huge experience for a teenage boy. I learned Spanish (after returning home I passed the state exam) and by listening to American radio stations from Florida I learned English.
However, I did not live in Cuba for the entire two years. In the spring of 1968, my parents sent me home, because I had to pass entrance exams to a secondary school and in September I started the first year of my studies. Therefore, I spent the Prague spring of 1968 alone at home as a 15-year-old boy, who was only supervised by his grandfather living just round the corner. These months were probably the most formative in my life, because since then I have been interested in both politics, including international politics, and economics.
How I became a university teacher and discovered Western economy
In 1972, I passed my final exams and after finishing secondary school I studied mathematical methods in economics for five years at the University of Economics in Prague. At the end of my studies, I was offered to work in the Department of Econometrics and after completing military service I became a university teacher in 1978. At that time, I did not think that despite doing a lot of other activities in my life, teaching at various universities would accompany me for my entire life.
The year of 1978 meant a big change for me, though. In addition to being an assistant in the Department of Economics, I started Ph.D. studies which I successfully completed in 1983and which led me to scientific work and later to cooperation with colleagues, with whom I ended up in politics. Furthermore, I received a scholarship from the Belgian (Flemish) Ministry of Education to study MBA at the Catholic University of Leuven and I left for Belgium in early October of 1978.
I spent a wonderful year in Leuven. I could not finish my MBA since my exit permit was not prolonged. However, this study stay was of great importance for me – throughout that year I had an opportunity to learn about market economy, which was not taught in the (former) Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (ČSSR) during the period of normalization in the 1970s. I had the feeling that in one year I caught up on what I missed during five–year studies at the University of Economics.
Studying in Belgium opened my eyes
Studying in Leuven changed me also politically.
Suddenly, I realised the backwardness and ineffectiveness of centrally planned economy based on the Soviet model. At the same time, I experienced Margaret Thatcher’s rise to political power and followed discussions about a return to real market economy.
For the first time I heard the term privatisation and learned to understand the importance of free global trade and the free movement of capital.
After returning home, I started to cooperate with Czech economists, who, after the normalization purge were either not allowed to work in their field of their specialty at all or only in subordinated positions.
The Prognostic Institute and my journey to the first non-communist Czech Government
At that time, I met Václav Klaus and other unorthodox Czech economists. I was at the origin of unconventional (and later famous) Klaus’ seminars in the State Bank of Czechoslovakia. I started to publish scientific papers with them, to which I mostly contributed with statistical data and mathematical models. In the end, I became so captivated by this work that, in 1983, I left the department at the University of Economics and joined the Economic Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. In 1984, when the Prognostic Institute was established, I became one of its first nine employees.
The Prognostic Institute became a place for preparing and training economists for the posts in the first government after political changes, without us knowing it at the time. Our work in the Institute was not about theory and mathematical models, but about the real economy and reforms. At first, this work was quite moderate, reflecting the communist regime, but later it became more audacious. Therefore, it was logical that Václav Havel chose us when forming the first non-communist Government in December 1989, and I became the Deputy Prime Minister in that Government and Chairman of the State Planning Commission.
Eight years in the Government as the main leader of the Czech economic transformation
I stayed almost eight years in the Government. Until the summer of 1992 as the Czechoslovak Minister of Economy, then another five years as the Czech Minister of Industry and Trade. A lot been written and said about that time, but I will always remember it fondly regardless of the huge amount of work and difficult moments.
Many people look back critically on the 1990s. I admit many mistakes and missteps, but I am convinced that we had done a good job and laid the solid foundation for the further development of the Czech economy and the society as a whole.
Cooperation with Goldman Sachs, ABB or Rolls Royce
In the summer of 1997, I left the Government, set up a consulting firm and started working for leading international companies.
Until today, I am still adviser to investment bank Goldman Sachs, for more than ten years, I worked for the Swedish-Swiss company ABB, and for several years, I also worked for the British Rolls Royce. I had and still have clients in India, France and other countries.
After the experience from the academic and scientific life in the Academy of Sciences and several years in the government, it was yet again something new, when I had to discover and learn the managerial and entrepreneurial view of the world. Especially with Goldman Sachs, it was a lot of work again, but the experience was priceless.
Development of university education in the Czech Republic and the USA, my membership in the National Economic Council of the Czech Government and important international institutions
In 1999, I started teaching again, this time at the Institute of Economic Studies of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Charles University. I am still running the course until today. Over the past twenty years, there were numerous students that have enrolled the course, and today, they are holding interesting positions all over the world.
For more than ten years, I worked at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago as a member of the Board of International Overseers.
Today, I am also a member of the boards of directors of the Czech Technical University (ČVUT) in Prague and the Brno University of Technology (VUT). Since 1998, I have been a member of international think-tank called the Trilateral Commission and for six years, I had been the Vice-President of its European Group.
Between 2009 and 2012, I served in the European Advisory Group of the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund in Washington.
In the period of 2009 and 2013, and once again in 2020 in reaction to the COVID-19 crisis, I was appointed a member of the National Economic Council of the Czech Government (NERV).
Candidate for the president of the Czech Republic
Unfortunately, my presidential bid was not successful. After all, my candidacy was rejected, as the commission discarded significant portion of the signatures that I have collected to support it, and I have thus not met the necessary threshold required to join the presidential race.
Nonetheless, it was a great experience and a good lesson to learn. Within the few months of the campaign, I again toured around the whole country and learned about people’s opinions and moods, despite the fact that the things that I heard were not always pleasant to me.
Since 2014, I have been heading the Czech Chamber of Commerce and, since 2019, I have been Deputy President of Eurochambres.
At the beginning of 2014, I was approached by a group of members of the Czech Chamber of Commerce, that were dissatisfied with the then leadership, to consider running for the position of the Chamber’s President.
I have answered their call and in May 2014, I was elected to head the Chamber and I got re-elected to the position again in 2017 and 2020. I enjoy the job, as the President of the Chamber of Commerce is close to the key decisions on economic policy, participates in social dialogue and is a strong representative of Czech entrepreneurs, both large, medium and small.
In 2019, I also became one of the deputies to the President of Eurochambres, the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Brussels.
I speak five languages and I love music and sports my whole life
Sport is my hobby To this day, I will not turn down on a real running challenge.
I had been married twice; I have a son, Štěpán, and a daughter, Markéta, from my first marriage, and I also have a grandson Štěpán Junior.
All my life I have enjoyed amateur sports, I still practice skiing, cycling and I play golf; a few years ago, I was able to successfully finish the Prague Marathon.
I used to play piano and guitar in fairly amateur bands during my student years. My love for music has remained to this day, I like to go to classical music concerts and recently, my current partner Lucie and I have sponsored the Dvořák Prague Festival.
I am very interested in the history of the 20th century. I also enjoy foreign languages and I speak English, Russian, Spanish, French and German.