What expats say: Middle management can learn a lot here
Tony Achmat, originally from Australia, lived and worked in many countries around the globe. Professional communications became a maxim for him in the early 1970’s after winning an international speech contest. He focused on Soft Skills Training and Management Coaching around the world – delivering coaching and motivational speeches to firms for kickoffs and competing in speech contests. Tony has been living in the Czech Republic for over twenty years and eight years in Southern Moravia. Besides his profession, Tony mentors Brno Toastmasters club.
What brought you to Brno?
I’ve been in this country now for twenty-two years. I came to Prague first. About nine years ago I met my lady and she lives in southern Moravia, down in Břeclav. We moved down there and renovated the family house. Through one way or another I met a couple of clients here in Brno so it saved me going all the way back to Prague to do business. I have clients in Prague and Bratislava, so Brno is quite half way. And to one of my clients I go to Ostrava.
What do you do in Brno?
I’m a coach, an executive coach. I work with people and develop managers. That’s really what I do. I help young people who want to be managers to become managers. I generally work with companies. There are a couple of people I work with who are private clients. But individuals can’t afford me. It’s pretty expensive for them. But companies of course are interested in tomorrow and developing their staff.
Is it more often international companies rather than Czech companies?
In actual fact I only have two Czech companies. One of them is here in Brno and one of them in Prague. The others are all international companies like Alcatel, Dell, Honeywell.
You said you first lived in Prague. How do you compare your life in Prague to Brno?
I lived in Prague for nearly fourteen years, the last eight years in southern Moravia. Brno is quite quiet compared to Prague. In Prague you can go out every night in the week, you have somewhere to go, something to do. Down here in Brno it’s quiet and we’re still trying to find our way around to find places. There’re still not as many places here. But we’re finding places and enjoying it.
What’s the positive side about Brno?
I like the quietness, the size of it. I like the people here. They’re much more friendly than they are in Prague. Surprisingly, I find more people here in Brno speak English than they do in Prague. There are definitely more people willing to try to speak English. The number of students speaking English here is fantastic. Not just students, it’s right across the board.
Shopping here is easier. The services that are provided in Brno, especially customer services, are better quality than in Prague. I could name a couple of large shops here in Brno actually that I frequent. And as a matter of fact, I don’t do my clothes shopping in Prague, I buy here in Brno. Why? Because the places that I go to, the people are very friendly, if they don’t have it they’ll see if they can get it. I deal with T-mobile here in Olympia, very friendly nice people, Apple shop too. I find people here are not as cold and indifferent as they are in Prague.
You find your way around in Brno, you don’t need much help?
I’m not one of those sorts of people who run to an expat organization or any kind of organization saying hey, I need this and that. I always find my way around myself. I’ve lived in several countries in my life and I’ve always been like that. But I do understand there would be a number of people around who are not like me and who need help. And I would think that an expat organization like yours and other organizations must be very good for them. Besides, I’m involved with Toastmasters.
Toastmasters are a community of people who you connect with?
It’s not a community of people. It’s just anybody who wants to learn to speak better and speak with more confidence. They can come along and join the meeting. When they join the club, through specific programmes they learn to be far more effective speakers. And of course there’s a bit of fellowship there, networking, especially for young people here in Brno. The local club, which I mentor, they’re fantastic. One of THE clubs in the world. Because I travel a lot, visit lots of clubs and I know it’s a fantastic club.
What was your position within Toastmasters? How did the Brno club get started?
I’ve been involved with Toastmasters nearly fifty years. I held all sort of positions around the world. Now I’m a mentor for clubs. I see what they are doing and whether they need help. Brno Toastmasters club has taken some of my suggestions and is doing really really well.
You’re in touch with a good number of business managers here in Brno. Can you say whether a position in Brno is interesting internationally?
I don’t think there are enough positions here for international-quality business managers. There aren’t a lot of top-flight positions in companies like GE or Alcatel in the Czech Republic. Number one, there’s a language barrier. Number two, there’s also a culture barrier. Once you start getting up to corporate levels you don’t really have a lot of time to worry and sort out the cultural problems. You need to get the job done. And if we’re talking about international companies who have big portfolios, they don’t have time to care a lot. These top managers are not really interested in coming here.
What about middle management?
It would be good if middle management did come here. You could attract middle management here because they can learn a lot. They can learn a lot culturally, how to work cross-culturally. They can also learn how to work cross-generation. Because some of the companies here have three or four generations working in the same company. And that’s quite a problem for most managers. So middle management people can grow stronger here. And they can also contribute a lot here.
How would you encourage people from middle management to come here?
I think housing would have to be better. Because unless you’re in a position where you can buy your own house or flat, the quality of rentals is not really what we’re used to. For the same sort of money you can rent a house in Australia. For example for 2,000 Australian dollars [about 40,000 Kč – editor] you can rent a house with three or four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a swimming pool and all the other trimmings that go with it. I understand it’s a different culture here. But for many, it’s coming several levels down.
Schooling is another thing. Schooling is getting better here in Brno, I see it. You’re starting to get some good quality schools. The schools are good but the system is bad. I know one Indian family who just arrived, they were going to locate in Brno because he’s the company director of a large company here. But they located in Prague, because the schooling was just not good enough here. I’m talking about middle schools (gymnazium type). Teachers are very hesitant to make any change happen. They’re frightened. They don’t teach children to ask questions. You go one generation back from you and they never ask questions because they were told in schools not to.
Do you feel foreign managers are happy to stay in Brno?
I met a mid manager who was told to stay another year here. He didn’t mind staying. But I met a couple other managers who were looking forward to leaving. They didn’t necessarily make any statements about “wow, it’s been great, I wish I could stay.” Which is a shame.
Could you name a couple of things that would make living in Brno better for mid-management?
I think, quite honestly, better quality restaurants. You have some good quality restaurants here but for the quality they provide they’re outrageously expensive. They seem to have the attitude that if they charge a lot people will think the quality is good. But that’s not true. Yes, I would like to see some better restaurants. Another thing I’m concerned about is the train station. I would like to see the government doing the main station up. Renovate it or move it or something. Now it’s a den of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. It’s a terrible place to be. And the only time in Brno I took a taxi I was horrified. In Prague I had excellent service.
You’re from Australia. Do you still prefer Australian wine over Moravian?
No, I don’t. We send Moravian wine to Australia to my son. He serves it in his restaurant. I think his is the only restaurant in his part of Australia to serve Moravian wine. I think Moravian wine is much better than Australian. Australian wine is very heavy. Especially reds. I like light whites. There’s nothing wrong with Moravian wine. My goodness – we spend good times in wine cellars and in vineyards.