Michal Strnad has been working for Czechoslovak Group for over 15 years, which sounds about right for a CEO. Then you learn that Michal is only in his early 30s.
“My father founded the business in 1998, and so I started helping out when I was 12 years old. I would spend my summer holidays working in the warehouse and then, step by step, I worked my way through all departments. At the time, the company was a lot smaller – 30 employees – which made it a lot easier,” Michal says.
“My father ran the business for 20 years, and everything I know, I learned from him. Since taking over in early 2018, I’m putting everything he taught me into action.”
"My father founded the business in 1998, and so I started helping out when I was 12 years old."
Taking over a family business brings with it a unique set of challenges, and Michal talks about his with openness and honesty. “The main challenge I had when I took over as CEO was to get the respect of the people who had started out with my father. These people had been with him since the beginning and had seen how he did things. Throw in the fact that I’m a lot younger than most of them and it was a challenge I had to quickly learn to overcome.”
He continues, “I made the decision early on to spend time on building relationships, to take things one step at a time. I learned to listen to other people before making any decisions, to always respect other points of view and to instil a sense of confidence and responsibility into everyone who works in the business. There are many people in Czechoslovak Group with a great deal of knowledge and experience, and I’m very grateful for that.”
Moving into different territories and finding the right partners are huge focuses for Michal and his team. It’s how he sees the future of the Czechoslovak Group evolving. “The market in the Czech Republic is very small, so we’re always looking at ways to expand both the business and our products,” he says.
“We’re doing some interesting business in Indonesia at the moment, which is helping us to expand into foreign markets. We believe that the success of the business will always depend on the same principle wherever we go in the world – search for opportunities and satisfy the customer. It’s how we plan on expanding our partnership networks and moving into other markets.”
The ability to move into other markets is one on which Czechoslovak Group prides itself. While it began as a company in the field of civil and defence industrial production, it now has a vast and varied portfolio that mixes the manufacturing of machinery products for the automotive, railway and aerospace industries with watches, specialised vehicles and off-road trucks.
Today, the group is growing fast, with the total annual revenues of all the companies under it adding up to €1 billion in 2018. “The limitations of the past are lifting and our country now has a lot of opportunities. Finding skilled people to work with, particularly those in the fields of engineering and R&D, is something we’re continually inspired by. It’s what encourages us, as a business, to keep diversifying our offering.”
Michal considers the diverse nature of the group’s portfolio as a way to utilise those aforementioned talented Czechoslovakians. “From my point of view, we want to capitalise on the country’s talent and use it to help us look towards the future,” he says. “This means employing people to assist us in our innovations, which we’re already doing.
"We want to capitalise on the country’s talent and use it to help us look towards the future."
“This year, for example, the business has developed a UAV (drone) called CANTAS. It’s exceptional because it has the capacity to fly both horizontally and vertically – it can take off and land vertically but fly horizontally, which makes it a very flexible system.”
Partnerships are also a crucial part of the business’s success and an area that Michal works hard to nurture. “We have a dynamic foreign partnership with the Madrid-based land defence vehicle manufacturer General Dynamics European Land Systems. We have its licence for the production of Pandur II 8×8 CZ wheeled armoured vehicles,” he says.
“We also work closely with a leading French producer of military land equipment called Nexter Systems where, together, we’ve developed a 6×6 MRAP wheeled vehicle called Titus.”
Alongside these partnerships, Czechoslovak Group is moving into new territory and beginning to develop its own product offerings from the ground up. “In the beginning, we were a company that would overhaul existing equipment. These days, we’re developing our own,” Michal says.
One of the most renowned brands in the company’s portfolio is Tatra, a manufacturer of high-performance off-road trucks designed for use by miners, foresters, firefighters and the military. He shares: “We’ve recently developed a 4×4 vehicle called Patriot on a Tatra chassis, which we’re incredibly proud of.”
Michal’s plan for taking the company forward lies less in its diversification and more in investing in other likeminded businesses. “I’d like to see us grow within the aerospace industry and we have plans to invest in some products and companies in that area,” he says. “We’ve also got some acquisitions in mind so we can start to create a product portfolio where we can offer complete solutions to our customers’ problems.”