Jan Veskrna Interview
Jan Veskrna (CEZ)
CEZ Group is an established, integrated electricity conglomerate, headquartered in the Czech Republic, with operations in a number of countries in Central and South-Eastern Europe and Turkey. Its principal businesses encompass generation, distribution, trading, and sale of electricity and heat, as well as trading of natural gas, and mining. CEZ Group has been present on the Romanian market since 2005, when it took over the electricity distribution company Electrica Oltenia SA, which after the process of transformation, supplies electricity in Oltenia region (Argeş, Dolj, Gorj, Mehedinţi, Olt, Vâlcea, and Teleorman – counties). CEZ Group’s businesses in Romania are represented by its eight companies – CEZ Distribuţie, CEZ Romania, CEZ Vânzare, CEZ Trade, Tomis Team, MW Invest, Ovidiu Development, and TMK Hydroenergy Power. CEZ Distributie and CEZ Vanzare, the companies which resulted from the process of unbundling of Electrica Oltenia, have the headquarter in Craiova.
I proudly present you the “father” of CEZ Romania, Mr. Jan Veskrna, who was very kind and agreed to share his thoughts, about Romania, about Craiova and about Romanian people, with readers of this blog, thing for which I am thanking him very much.
Y0u have lived in Romania and managed CEZ Romania, 3 mandates, for a period of 9 years. You know Romania, but as well you experienced living in other countries. How do you describe Romania and Romanian people? What are the best memories about Romania?
Natural beauties, culture, history, tourism, countryside painted in autumn colours, crumbling inner city of Bucharest …. I can think of all these attributes. Yet the people are the main reason of mine for liking Romania.
Everything about Romanians seems to be paradoxical.
Romanians are very human and see everything in human, not in abstract terms, but when they talk about ideas they always start from abstract and end up with cloudy first principles. They are the warmest, the most generous and kindest of people I know, but can be astonishingly cruel and very malicious to each other, too. They are very mystical yet have their feet on the ground. They are very other-worldly but are often materialistic. They adore freedom yet they are very suspicious and live in an atmosphere of fear. Romanians are very much friendlier than any other Europeans but much more formal. Respect is terribly important because power is terribly important. They are driving their often expensive luxury cars through the often broken streets.
Romanians expect the worst but always contrive to be shocked that things are even worse than they imagined. People tut-tut about scandals but they are easily scandalized. Romanians esteem brains and learning. Large majority of Romanians dress appallingly, they also know that physical good looks are very important but they can discuss other people’s appearances with penetration and complete absence of charity. They are more profound than the English or French (where I had been living for couple of years) who think it is superficial to talk about other people’s looks. Romanian taxi drivers and barbers know everything, they become very dull when they talk about the political class in general but they have much to say about God. People are assumed to be Orthodox, unless proven otherwise. Despite the terrible damage that Communism did to this country there is still a tremendous sense of cohesion and common values.
Bucharest, the European Havana, is still probably the most interesting capital city in many ways in Europe. The town has so very much energy. I do not like clubs (you must never use that word with Romanians because they think it means something improper) but as to the parties – Romanians give great ones. Romania endure each year the bitterly cold winters though Bucharest is living it with surprise always. Living in Bucharest is like living in a movie with open end.
In Romania, everything is difficult but after a while you get used to it or you go mad. Romanians believe in God yet most people tend to take the existence of God for granted, like the sun rising each morning. They long to enter Paradise but they refuse to die. Romanians have a wonderful sense of humor, very ironic, very black.
They are often scorned by other people of “would-be” richer European countries yet Romanians can always shine their shoes and hearts, they can be genteel and happier than in most countries. I think it is due to the fact that they are open, friendly, warm, they are always human and they are always emotional. I love them for this. They are my “lupii nemuritori”. These are my best memories of Romania and its people.
You have declared several times, that CEZ Romania, is the best acquisition from CEZ Group portfolio. Which were the factors that brought the success?
I might already become annoying with that but I have to say it again: it is because of the people.
“Copii mei” understood what was in the stake, they have embraced responsibility for achievements, they have found their motivation in it and they have given themselves to the company cause. Most of them I know are very good experts in their jobs, excellent technicians, hardworking people. They understand that future is conceived in present.
You were declaring in an interview, in 2011, that “you were undecided” if to accept or not the proposal to be Country Manager of CEZ in Romania, but finally you considered to be “the best decision you ever made in your life”. Do you still have the same opinion? Why?
Oh, yeah. I do. I’ve learned so much, I have moved on in many departments, I have myself lot of new friends. And I understood one important thing. I was leaving my country (Czech Republic) in 2005 with a homework given to me by my managers “to be the best”. Doing my job I understood that there is not such a thing. To be the best is the most perishable fruit ever. The real challenge is striving “to be better”. It is never ending process, it is keeping you focused, modest and happy in all your doings. And it has infected the approach to my private life, too.
During your leading, was made the decision to invest in the biggest wind park of 600 MW, classified to be the largest wind park in Romania, a 1.1 billion euro project that has not been equalled as size, to any other investment on land, at European level, as well. What you feel when you have to take a decision like this?
The wind park was never my decision, it was not my call. It was my task and I made it happen. In many conferences and in many interviews I stated that future of power market in Romania was lying in interconnectivity (transmission and distribution grids) and in cogeneration.
I am happy and proud though that Romania has taken another first place in Europe in something. It is a good thing. Romania deserves more things like that.
Each time when I have to take an important decision I try to consider the most relevant aspects and to verify if they can be melted together before such decision takes place. Significant factors for my decisions include: past experiences, a variety of cognitive biases, an escalation of commitment and sunk outcomes, individual differences and a belief in personal relevance. If I translate this into the business then these factors are going to be: match with company history and its strategy for future, value for the shareholders, local market aspects, priorities and its future answers, risk assessment and contingency plan, valuation, assessment of motivations both group and individual.
You, Martin Pacovsky and your entire team of expats, that initially arrived in Romania, have been an inspiration for me and for many other managers. In Business Magazin, were published advices that you give to young managers. I would like to list them, also here and ask you to comment about Romanian managers. Do they know to make themselves inspiration for the team they lead? What they should improve in order to be competitive and be able to aspire to be part of a team, as you had, when you came in Romania in 2005? The 10 “fantastics” as I like to say.
“Advices for young managers:
- Rely on yourself. The philosophy “We are born alone, we die alone” it applies also, many times in business as well.
- Inspire trust to others.
- Decide if you are a team player or one man show. It is important.
- You must have a vision. Make a plan.
- Dare to dream: if you have a dream, the plan to make it come true, can become a sensational strategy.
- Don’t be lazy. Managers must work side by side with any employee from the company.
- Be modest. Let the others to analyse your results.
- Make friends. Not to propel you, but to make you feel good.”
You tell stories to people, to make them understand essence of life, that can’t be forgotten. I will list here, the ones that marked me, especially the last one, because was told by you to me, when I decided to choose another professional path.
You were about eight years old the day when your father, a doctor by profession, came home and told he amputate a man leg. You became worried that your father is a bad man, killer or butcher, to have done so. Your father explained and make you understand, that human foot was sick and thus he saved the life of the man. You applied the lesson learned, in so many occasions in business and you have been teaching also, your team the lesson. One example is cut off personnel to save the company.
Other lesson, I remember you have told it to one CMM (ČEZ Management Meeting ), is about, what is important in life and about priorities. You said: “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling 2 balls in the air. One of glass and one of rubber. Imagine, work is the rubber ball and family, health, friends and spirit is the glass ball and you’re keeping them both in the air. The rubber ball if you drop it, it will bounce back.
But the glass ball – family, health, friends and spirit if you drop it, will be irrevocably damaged. It will never be the same.
Keep your priorities straight. Taking care of your family, your health, your relationships and your spirit!”. I know is a leadership lesson that came as origin from John Maxwell, but you knew how to pass it, to an organisation of 3000 people.
And the last story, I would like to add it, totally, as exactly your words, is a special message to me and I want to share it, because made a difference for me and I am sure will make a difference for others too. Is about “the balance” of life.
Your words are as deep as correct.
I can tell you from my own life experience that I am fighting with the same issue since many years. But I stopped focusing on target “to be happy”. It is very volatile horizon and very hard (if not impossible) to assess. I understood something else: In our lives we should care about “the balance”. In sense of equilibrium in what we are doing. It is impossible to be correct and well all the time…..If we are bad we should try to compensate it soon by being good. If we make an error we should try to correct it soon, etc. We are only human beings thinking that time is passing by. Try to accept an opposite philosophy: time is constant and we are moving on. There is a big difference in such an approach meaning: “Time is not important. Only life counts.”
I am happy, Madalina, to know you and I wish you to reach balance in your life….and, then I am sure you will feel from time to time something close to “happiness”.
I love your stories. Please tell another story especially for readers of this blog!
Let me develop here what I used to say about “time”.
Well, TIME is very tricky and funny stuff. I used to say that time is matter of no importance – only life does… I always believed it was true but now, more than ever before, I start to understand the meaning of this saying. Actually I started to understand its meaning since I decided to leave CEZ….. Some of us keep complaining: “I don’t know where is time going?!” or “Time is passing so quickly!” and “Oh my God, there is no time left!”….. We are understanding “time” like something that is flowing around us, running from us and flying above us. Like we are kind of victims of cruelty of Universal laws punishing us with “time”.
But I have to insist: what if it is exactly opposite? What if Universe is not cruel at all but indifferently neutral and what if time is going nowhere, what if time remains still and not moving and only we are moving through the time with our life, with this most important thing that has been offered to us only as a gift? What if our life is the precious stone we are supposed to shape, to abrade to make it shine and glow? Because if this is the case then things start to make sense to me. Then there is no fear but hope and there is no death but life.
I am going with my life through the time and I keep being amazed almost every day how interesting thing “life” is and how relative and unimportant thing “time” is. I’ve decided to believe in life and I am proven right almost every day. Old Latin wise men used to say: “Hic et nunc” (here and now)…. I love it. It is a terrible help to me to finally realize how important is to stop running from the life and to start to shape it right in the place where I am standing and to do it right now. So I hanker to proceed to a more active life from this moment on and to approach it more seriously than ever.
You have a passion for strategy games. What other passions you have and you were able to practice or develop in Romania? Did you discovered any new hobby or passion during your staying here?
I still do love snooker. To watch it (it is easier part) and to play it (it is totally different story). I didn’t have much opportunities to do it in Romania mainly because of lack of time. I used to play it in Prague.
Lately I have returned to reading. I have so much to learn!
Which are the first words that come into your mind when you say:
People in CEZ Romania
Friends I have here
3. Romanian food
Ciorba de burta
4. Romanian culture
Theatres and concert halls, decent people, popular music, tradition
5. Romanian business culture
There are still some honest people swimming in the pool of corrupted environment
Is Romania a good place to invest? Should be Craiova an attractive location for foreign investors?
Indeed. I was always saying and I always will that Romania is country with huge potential. It is stable and developed country, it has functional governance system, it has laws, it has quality people with potential, it has purpose, Romania has fantastic geographical location…. I have to repeat here what I used to say many times before: If the market together with Romanian governance and legislation system present to the investors long term lasting priorities and if they secure law enforcement there will always be investors coming.
As to Craiova I never really understood how was ever possible that its geographical location kept being neglected in all long history of the country. It is to me a natural European connectivity point. I would focus on building long term strategy of interconnectivity: transportation including air connectivity, transmission grid, to develop here real business infrastructure centre (commercial and industrial) naturally polarizing adjacent region. I would focus on promotion of education system.
What do you think about this website / blog?
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