“Life has taught me humility and respect”
Do you need to sell or buy commodities in large quantities? And not only commodities, but also large industrial units or expensive machines such as aircraft and locomotives? Then BETONDIS is here for you. A company whose mission is the democratisation of the commodities market.
How does it happen that you start selling individual products in volumes of thousands of metric cents? How can you build a company whose team includes two former Czech Prime Ministers, a former Canadian Minister and former Canadian Ambassador to the Czech Republic in one, and several former Deputy Ministers, alongside large global investors and a London physicist? And parallel with the business you devote yourself to a foundation which collaborates with the Clinton Foundation?
The claim that life itself writes the most beautiful stories is not a cliché. Ladislav Dráb’s life story could be published as a novel. However, Ladislav Dráb doesn’t care much for flowery words; he’s more attracted to concrete actions and most importantly results. Meeting Ladislav, and listening to his concept of building a business, was very stimulating in today’s hectic time of startups which don’t even survive one year of the company’s existence. At a time when investments are decided on by PowerPoint presentations with a so-called sketched hockey stick, Ladislav Dráb only launches an established international company on the market after three years’ operation. And the fact that the event will involve a former US President and several individuals who are at the top of the list of the richest people on the planet certainly heralds one of the highlights of next year.
We spoke about the commodities trade, an ambitious plan to help small and mediumsized companies, the foundation’s mission and friendships with celebrities, not in some opulent hotel or trendy restaurant, but in a co-working centre in Karlín. With Ladislav Dráb, you cannot help but notice that content always takes priority over cheap external effects.
How do you build an international company which trades virtually, and one transaction starts at a minimal value of 300,000 USD?
Every company has its own development and history. The present-day BETONDIS stands on solid foundations of more than 30 years of business activity, which began while I was working in Canada. We gradually came to the conclusion that today we have far more opportunities to trade virtually than physically. Therefore, we wanted to create a platform which will help business. We focus on not only commodities, but also large investment projects.
Given the fact that the platform was launched in September 2018, it looks like the current wave of the Covid-19 pandemic found BETONDIS prepared.
Yes, that’s the case. We’re proving that a travel ban doesn’t have to mean the end of fundamental, large-volume transactions. With us, you can still trade fully. The platform is completely original. There are platforms for individual commodities, but our scope really is wide. Our offers and request brokering options are truly complex, and go across continents, sectors, markets, etc. I can’t use the comparison “from a screw to a locomotive“, because even the screws would have to be of a volume worth 300,000 USD. We currently offer not only flour, but also the option of building a mill processing plant. Please, let us not confuse platforms with e-shops. In our company, we’ve set a very high initial level of investment, so that we can provide both sides with a maximum guarantee of the successful realisation of the entire sales cycle. The BETONDIS team is composed of high-quality experts, and every one of them brings unique experience and expertise in the given sector to the project. By the way, in relation to your comments in the introduction on the composition of the team – with the growth of BETONDIS, the team will also expand to include at least 12 more people in the near future.
What’s your approach to building companies? Do you pursue a strong vision or mission, or do you gradually build the company from the ground up?
Life has taught me humility and respect. We’ve no ambition to be number one or number two. We want the users of the platform to be sure not only that they will conclude the transaction, but also that both sides will fulfil their obligations. In September 2021, we’ll celebrate three years’ operation in the market. We’ll officially launch the company on the market. We’re looking forward to the arrival of one of former US presidents, and we also invited persons who are at the top of the list of the wealthiest people on the planet.
From the future, let’s go to the past. The story of your career began in Canada?
In the year 1987, I left socialist Czechoslovakia and went to Canada. Just like many other people, the beginning of my story revolves around the decision to go to a foreign country without savings or a knowledge of the language which is spoken there, and with the idea that I may never return to my old homeland. And then I just kept going. I believe that each one of us has a certain life story. In Canada, I belonged to the so-called Cuban generation of immigrants, and before us there were the August and February generations from the year 1948. My first work in Canada was sealing leatherette seats in orange school buses with a soldering iron. The schoolchildren damaged and tore the seats out of boredom. It was customary around the world to get your wages every Friday. More experienced fellow workers advised us that if we don’t get paid on Friday, we shouldn’t come in on Monday. I didn’t believe them, so I went back to work. After I didn’t receive my wages for the second time, I understood. It is these experiences that are formative. If someone asked me whether I’d do it all again, I’d answer yes. What I value the most is meeting the interesting people whom I came to know while doing business. And I’m happy that I’m still in contact with most of the people today. For example, I know Otto Jelinek, former Canadian Ambassador to the Czech Republic and Canadian Minister for Sport, from Canada.
But you came back from Canada. What was the return like? Many people expect a shock when leaving, but they don’t always prepare to return.
I returned to the Czech Republic in the year 2000, so that the children could go to a Czech school. I wanted to enable the children to speak Czech, spend time with their grandparents and experience a childhood similar to mine. However, after five years, the children wanted to try the Canadian school system again. Canada has one major advantage. You have winter from November to May. Note my positive attitude; I intentionally didn’t mention it as a disadvantage. Montreal, Toronto and other big cities are well prepared for winter. Life takes place indoors or underground. In the end, we chose the USA instead of Canada.
As for the return, everything went without problems. I started doing business again. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I don’t really understand individuals who can’t speak Czech properly after two years, and intersperse sentences with badly pronounced English words. Since the year 2008, we’ve been living alternately in Prague and the USA, and if it wasn’t for the current restrictions I’d still alternate our regimen between Prague and abroad. Thanks to living in the United States of America, I got to know Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods and Carlos Bremer, right-hand man of Carlos Slim Helú, who was the richest man in the world for several years and even overtook Bill Gates on the list.
You mention Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton, with whom you became friends during his trip to Prague in the year 2012. Was it he who inspired you to set up the Foundation?
I really admire Tiger Woods as a personality. His energy is unique. He can draw attention to himself without speaking. I played golf with him several times. I’m sure that when he’s wearing a cap and glasses, people won’t immediately recognise who he is, but they’ll always note his presence in some way and start watching him. Bill Clinton’s voice is very interestingly set, thanks to which he can speak to people really well. He has an incredible ability to unite people rather than polarise them and pit them against each other. I really appreciate the fact that I had the opportunity to discover Africa by his side. Over six days, we travelled through seven African countries, from Malawi to South Africa. Africa had a huge effect on me. Never before did I see so much beauty and poverty at the same time. I think that every European should try to live a day in the difficult local conditions, so that we appreciate what we have. For example water and its availability. I got involved in the “Water for Africa“ project. However, I discovered that in the case of non-profit projects, relatively large sums very often stay in the foundations themselves. That’s why I decided to set up my own foundation, where 99% of its income will truly serve its purpose. At the same time, I realised that I can’t help everyone.
The Drab Foundation, which you set up, helps in three main respects: it provides lunches to children, and focuses on the health service and education. However, people who don’t fall into any of those categories can also turn to you. Which story is etched in your memory the most?
Yes, if we think we can help, we organise a public collection whose entire proceeds are donated to the specific form of assistance. We started the Lunches for Children project in the year 2014. I remember the story of two schoolchildren whose parents died in a car accident. They were put into the care of their aunt, who however wasn’t prepared for this new role. She was one of the first applicants. What bothers me even more is the fact that, in our country in the year 2020, we simply aren’t able to ensure that children in need have basics such as a school lunch. Children aren’t responsible for their parents. And it really bothers me that the state is failing in this regard.
We’ll stay on the topic of education. What mentoring advice would you give to your younger self?
This isn’t a difficult question, but it is an interesting one. It can be answered from many angles. If I have to summarize it in one sentence, it would be about the ability to stop. It seems to me that the young generation has lost its humility towards other generations, and I see a tendency to push everything forward. I want them to not just hear, but also listen. And perceive the world around them…
We’ve reached the traditional end of the interview. From what I’ve learned about you, I suspect that it will involve a specific new project rather than lofty quotations.
We’ve prepared an offer of assistance for small and medium-sized companies, not only in the Czech Republic but around the world. I think that the pandemic has only begun, and its impacts will be very far-reaching and deep. On our platform, we now offer the category “Restart Your Business With Us“, for the purpose of starting a business and increasing its visibility. Every country has the option of 15 vacancies, and others can participate for a symbolic fee of €1/day. I hope that entrepreneurs will avail themselves of this opportunity, and address a group which they haven’t considered until now. We currently collaborate with more than 1,000 personal contacts around the world. And this network creates other networks and potential contacts. I’ve already stated that relationships are key for me. And in conjunction with the platform, they can mean great potential and opportunity for other people who are interested. BETONDIS was created from the phrase “I bet on this“, and I stand behind the new project and our motto.
I am confident in declaring that our executive and senior advisory boards of the BETONDIS, which are represented in significant and internationally recognized personalities and representatives of business, diplomacy, financial area and politics, are a guarantee of seriousness and success, for all our partners. I am sure that all of them would confirm it. Let us name some of them. Miloš Hala, my founding partner and the former Deputy Minister of Transport and a successful businessman, Mr. Jan Fischer, former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Mrs. Eva Anderová, former Deputy Minister of Finance, Mr. Carlos Bremer, successful financier, and I could continue with other significant BETONDIS partners and representatives.
I am fond of being the partner and the member of the team of the outstanding personalities of the BETONDIS and its unique trading platform, which enables a realization of business across all continents, the North and the South Poles excluded. Even more so, saving significant economic costs, to all our partners. Literally, those of logistic and other costs connected with business realization.
Carlos Bremer Gutierrez
BETONDIS trading platform brings global connection of various activities without the need to travel. Mostly small and medium-sized companies may acquire business partners that they do not know about today.
BETONDIS ́ great benefit is that through transactions it connects people and creates a platform for their effective communication.
World changed and significant changes are influencing more and more everything what we do in our jobs as well as in our everyday life. Electronic communication has impact in many respects on business behavior of clients and procedures in global scale. It became quite normal to purchase consumer goods from US or Europe in China, we are convinced that in near future it should not be any problem to conclude bigger transactions from any country in the world by using our unique business platform “BETONDIS”.