“Being Loyal to the Company is Paramount to Me”
My personal meeting with Mr. Karel Feix, who also has the nickname “Mr. Kapsch” due to the quarter of a century long history associated with the company on the Czech market, was very friendly. I admired his high working attitude as we were trying hard to find a suitable day to meet and finally we opted for Friday morning, 8 am. I was astonished to witness not only him being loyal towards the company, as this is rather rare quality in the Czech Republic but also him being very modest with regards to the early beginnings of the company.
This year, Kapsch is celebrating 25 years since it entered the Czech market. As you were the first employee, how do you recall the beginnings?
You have mentioned that the subsidiary in the Czech Republic is the most successful, both from the product portfolio point of view as well as its success. What are your relations with regards to the headquarters? Prague is a place for many subsidiaries of large corporations and from talking to top managers the relations between headquarters and subsidiaries are often far from being harmonious ones…
It is a fact that after 25 years working for the company, I have become a part of its inventory and I will be glad to answer this question openly. Kapsch is a family-owned company, today owned by the fourth generation and currently there are three siblings, two brothers and one sister responsible for managing the company. The attitude of a family company from neighbouring Austria is much different from the attitude of US or British companies very often held by anonymous stock-holders. Although Kapsch is a global business, one can feel that family ties between employees and owners are still being present. Even the average time span of an employee is much longer. The fact that the owner is part of the executive management feels much more personal for me. My boss is simply Georg Kapsch as the main owner of the company. Approvals, processes, decision-making is much more simple, faster and flexible. Communication is also direct, according to the need we call each other every other day or once in two weeks. And another advantage is the possibility to invite Mr. Kapsch to key discussions, where as the owner he can give a personal guarantee to any offer. Personally, Mr. Kapsch visits the Czech Republic once or twice per year; he tends to be very busy as he also holds various other positions, such as the President of Austrian Industry Association.
From almost ideal relations, let me ask a question that I tend to ask frequently. Can you share with us the challenging moments in your career, as these are the ones that help us grow?
I will start with the crisis after the year 2000, which was not an economic one, but IT crisis. It was the time where the old order was coming to an end and older technologies were substituted with new ones. Kapsch as a company had an advantage of being in various segments and industries having a wide-range product portfolio and solutions, so thanks to the wide portfolio we managed and overcame the crisis. Already at that time we were offering solutions for railway and road transportation, in addition to enterprise solutions. We stood on several legs, so the old saying about diversification proved to be true again. Personally, my biggest accomplishment is the fact when I look back when we started from scratch and now we reach annual turnover 120-130m EUR, 2.5-3bn CZK. I tend to underline this fact to younger colleagues who join the company having the feeling to receive all benefits and bonuses. I remember well my own discussions with my parents when they used to say “Cherish the times you live in” but I still believe that it is essential to be modest and to remind oneself of the humble beginnings.
So how do you perceive the new generation, the so called millennials, coming to the workplace?
Well, they are different. They demand certain comfort and standard level in exchange for dedicating a certain amount of effort to the task. They often do not realise that others might have a different opinion based on own experience, such as the humble beginnings I have mentioned. On the other hand, I also understand that for young people it might be difficult not to receive immediately whatever they believe they are entitled to. It is difficult to explain such a thing to a person that has not lived without a mobile. However, I also want to add certain positive traits, such as the fact that young people are more advanced both theoretically but also with regards to language competencies, they have better understanding of working abroad, many of them have such experience, they are more confident when presenting. To the extent that confidence sometimes is more important than the real content. During recruitment interviews I often find them rather superficial? while we actually try to build expertise in the long term. We tend to reflect the family company environment in our hiring practices. Leaving after two years should not be the case in our company. We tend to search different kind of personalities, we value loyalty and on the other hand we try to offer long-term career perspective and feeling of certainty.
You do not seem to be a controversial person, however, you have become one in the media due to the toll system. How did you handle such situation?
I believe I was influenced by the fact that I was doing sports, I played tennis and competed at various tournaments. Sport taught me how to lose, how to learn from it and how to move on. Such was the attitude I used while building a company. I dedicated all my energy to it, I sacrificed a lot. At that time, we had small children and it was my wife who sacrificed her professional career, despite having economical background from the university. Until today, I hear the claims that I was not at home when needed. I definitely would not be able to achieve so much without the help from family and support from my wife. So I have identified with the company and naturally I enjoyed the success that was coming. When Kapsch was new to the market, we used to compete against the companies that were more established at the market, such as Siemens, Alcatel, Erickson and I very enjoyed winning against those multinationals. I remember then competing about the project Prague Airport and we were considered an outsider next to these big companies. Then we won and this project was not only prestigious but also very successful. Wining such a competition was for me much bigger satisfaction then the financial rewards. I just wanted to stress that I was ready to fight and to sacrifice.
The situation that arose with regards to the toll system was totally shocking. Making business with state administration is not easy by all means. But one realises how much other circumstances play role in case of such a large project. The politics was the most difficult for me. We were offering a technical solution that was not supposed to be a problem. There was a general consensus about the toll being introduced, at that time it was a world-wide trend. Then not only interests of competing companies did enter into the game, but also the political interest and the issue has grown totally out of proportions. Kapsch has installed similar projects in Poland, Austria and even South Africa. The Czech project was unique in terms of its character in Central and Eastern Europe and turned into a unique battle. If I was to name one lesson learned that it would be the need not to underestimate dealing with the media.
We have focused on technical solution and on preparing the best offer possible and we even managed to complete the project in only nine months, which until today represents the world record for such a large project – yet, we underestimated the need to pay attention to the media. We left the space to our competitors or political opponents and until today we still bear the “stigma”. The fact there was not even a single failure in ten years of functioning – not even for one second – of the system proves that the system was very well prepared, in comparisons to all failures of other system at the civil service, banks, telco providers and other institutions…
What kept you there, present and moving forward during these challenging times? Only a few people can feel how difficult it is to be chased by the media…
Let us come back to my family and the support I have already mentioned. In the Czech Republic I am the executive director and director of several companies, which presents an advantage so we can integrate and create synergies. The fact that I was personally linked to the company kept me going. For many people I was Mr. Kapsch, not Mr. Feix and such a tongue slip often happens from the side our partners. I took all negative articles in the media very personally, once there was even a photography of the house that my father-in-law built 40 years ago and which I helped finish under the title “This is how Kapsch’s managing director lives on the expense of state money”. Naturally, my wife and even my children at school were negatively affected and bothered. Such is the dark side of success. Then I realised how important for me it was to have a stable background, support from family, friend and even company. And to all others who might be facing such unpleasant situation I recommend to pay attention to careful presentation of real results of their own work in media. Success and being different is not forgiven in the Czech Republic, there are too many enemies.
As the year 2016 is coming to an end, what is your seasonal greeting?
I wish health and success to my close relatives, family and to my grandchildren. I really try to spend time with my grandchildren and being close to them gives me another view on the world and a different perspective when it comes to priorities. From the point of view of the company, I am very pleased to say that we are doing well and that we have had the 25th year that was more successful than the previous one. I am glad that the company has a stable perspective and this is also thanks to the fact that the Czech economy is growing because that naturally helps the business. And to all of us I wish white Christmas and a pleasant winter!
By Linda Štucbartová