“When I see a real, happy patient, I find it immensely satisfying”
Text: Martina Hošková and M.Zisso; Photo: Archive
“In 2018, I received a very interesting offer from Lexum, part of the Optegra Group, an international group operating state-of-the-art eye clinics in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe. It is a really strong specialist provider of surgical medical care that delivers real benefits to patients quickly and painlessly, in the beautiful and clean field of eye surgery. I didn’t hesitate for one second,” This is how Michal Krejsta, the head of Lexum European Eye Clinic network recalls the moment of joining the company. How did he get from a Moravian block of flats into this top position? And is it different from all his previous extensive career experience?
Tell us about yourself. What influenced you on your path to top management?
I was born in Boskovice, and spent my youth in Blansko and Brno. I was a very ordinary boy from a block of flats with lots of interests, a passion for sports, and caring and loving parents. Which, I believe, is a great foundation.
I did well at school, I was a good pupil and student. I completed each year with honours, and I graduated from secondary school with honours as well. Then I went to university. Originally, I wanted to study law, but since my parents had opened a pharmacy and my brother was already in medical school, there was a question of who would take over the business my parents had built. So, I decided to study pharmacy instead of law. At that time, I made this purely pragmatic decision knowing that I could get a law degree later. That is also why I have recently completed my studies at Charles University and obtained my LL.M. But, back to studying pharmacy. Surprisingly, I have to say that I did really well, and even started to enjoy it. After successfully graduating, I went on to obtain a PhD in pharmacy in Brno and Belgium. In England, I earned an MBA Senior Executive degree, and I also successfully graduated from Cornerstone Business School in the USA.
So, completing your studies didn’t take much effort. Tell us, what was the beginning of your professional career?
I started as a medical representative at AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company, in 2001. Quite soon afterwards I was promoted to Product Manager, and then Marketing Director. However, I also wanted to learn how to manage people, so I joined Bayer, where I was involved in oncology in the Czech Republic and Germany. I then moved on to Business Director at Pfizer, where I successfully combined my marketing and business experience, and became CEO of the company within a few years. I stayed at Pfizer for ten years. Then I decided that I wanted to get to know and understand the entire drug and patient chain in detail, including its opportunities and risks. And there was no better place to do that than PHOENIX – a giant in the pharmaceutical distribution market in Europe. I won the selection procedure and was named CEO. After that, I got offers from Penta, and later from Omega Pharma, which I accepted. In 2018, I received a very interesting offer from Lexum, part of the Optegra Group, an international group operating state-of-the-art eye clinics in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe. It is a really strong specialist provider of surgical medical care that delivers real benefits to patients quickly and painlessly, in the beautiful and clean field of eye surgery. I didn’t hesitate for one second. This essentially completes my journey from manufacturer to distributor to provider, so I dare say I understand the entire patient chain and can take advantage of all its synergies, as well as navigate around its pitfalls.
How do you explain such rapid career progression, something few of us achieve in our lives?
I think I have always been able to see “around the corner”. I have been able to connect the dots and understand the entire context, which I am able to quickly apply wherever necessary. That is a model that allows me to overlap my expertise. Few people have this ability, and I believe this is what made me attractive to employers and colleagues. I had knowledge, experience from abroad, and spoke fluent English. The fact that I am able to put my ego aside certainly played a role too. I am aware that I have it, but I am also aware that it is the most precious thing, and therefore it is pointless to let it show too much. Where convenient, I have no problem suppressing my ego in order to gain an advantage, to reach an agreement where both sides walk away from the table satisfied and are eager to meet again and develop co-operation. This is what relationships between people should be all about in the first place. Companies have primarily approached me when they needed to set up changes and establish processes. In most cases, a shift from “zero to a hundred” was required. Except for perhaps Pfizer, I took over these companies in situations where they were not doing well – for example they suffered from poor local management or some other problem. I implemented reorganisations and restructuring, I initiated change management, and did my best to motivate people.
You have mentioned the ability to motivate. What is your relationship with the people who work under your leadership?
I can honestly say that I really care about people, I really like the people around me, and I most likely wouldn’t be able to do the job properly without them. I am not someone who says one thing and does another. I think I am authentic. I am happy with myself, and maybe that is why I want the people around me to be successful and happy. I am glad when I can teach them something and nudge them forward. And I am always happy to learn from them too.
Let’s go back to your current position as CEO. How do you feel at Lexum, for example, compared to your previous positions?
Lexum has had a very personal and strong impact on me. To me, it is not simply a job or a mission. The way I see it is that my commitments to Lexum are like those to a family that I need to take care of, develop in specific ways, and enjoy the fruits of. At the same time, I feel great respect because I work with mature and wise people, excellent professionals, and experts. In fact, I never thought Lexum would mean so much to me. Lexum is definitely the best thing that has happened to me professionally, and I also have the closest personal relationship with it. This may be in part because, prior to now, I had no direct contact with patients. In other companies, I saw patients as end-users from a distance; they were never a direct consumer of my care. Here, I see it differently because whatever we set up at Lexum has a direct impact on our patients’ medical outcome and satisfaction. And even though it is not always easy, when I see the high level of quality and premium care we provide, and I see a real, happy patient, I find it immensely satisfying.
What, in your view, is the key to a well-functioning company?
There are certainly many important things but if I were to pick one, it would first and foremost be integrity. And that, in turn, is underpinned by the responsibility of each individual. The strength to live up to it, to enforce it. When I am responsible, I have respect. Respect for myself and others.