We confirmed all these points during a personal meeting with Mr. Jahn that took place at the University of Economics in Prague, where the Youth Time Movement and the iKnow Club organised an open lecture with Martin Jahn as speaker. At present Martin Jahn serves as chairman of the Czech Automotive Industry Association while holding a full-time job as head of “World Corporate Sales” at the Volkswagen Group. Prior to that our interlocutor held a top leadership post at the Škoda Group, where he was also engaged in foreign investment.
Your successful career impresses and inspires many young people. How did you solve the problem of values, dreams and competence in your youth when you were choosing your way and your profession?
I started my education during the old regime, and at that time if you wanted to do something significant in business, especially on the international level, you had to join the party or go through the Czech KGB. That’s why I was faced with a dilemma, and when the revolution came, it was a big relief to me. At that moment I was given a choice, and I was able to choose the occupation that I really liked. Nowadays this seems absolutely normal, but at that time it was difficult. I still value the opportunity to exercise one’s own choice. I always wanted to do something useful for the Czech Republic, because it was held back during the communist period, and I wanted to help my country through my work. That is why I’ve become who I am. The fact that I am considered a successful person nowadays has happened, I think, only due to one thing – I’ve always done only what I liked to do.
When the Czech Republic regained its independence and later joined the European Union, what became better and what became worse in the economy in your opinion?
For the Czech Republic the situation is different than for Ukraine, because we’ve always been in Europe. Geographically the Czech Republic is the heart of Europe, and Prague is only 200 kilometres away from Vienna. In the 14th century Europe was ruled from the Czech Republic. Has anything changed with our joining the EU? I see nothing bad, only positive results. The economy has improved given that 60% of GDP is export. Living standards are constantly rising and improving. I see nothing negative – we can easily travel, work abroad, and export inside and outside the EU. I believe that also for Ukraine a relationship with Europe will be quite helpful, because Ukrainians will be able to work and study abroad.
And what about small- and medium-sized businesses in the Czech Republic?
The EU certainly supports the development of these businesses. It has a positive effect on the travel industry and other sectors. Business in the Czech Republic is organised in such a way that small firms are connected to the big ones and all of them get mutual benefits from EU membership. As for Czech exports, today the major sectors are the engineering, building and chemical industries.
The Czech Republic transferred the shares of Škoda to the Volkswagen Group. What is the outlook for the engineering industry in the country today?
It is wonderful. At the time of the transfer to Volkswagen, Škoda produced 10 thousand cars per year. Today it is one million. We are going to increase this number to one and a half million. Besides, in the Czech Republic there is a huge base for the manufacture of components.
Suppose that the European Union collapses just like the USSR, what will happen to the Czech Republic?
I don’t believe that it will happen, because, unlike the USSR, the EU is a voluntary association of countries. Otherwise the Czech Republic would remain the Czech Republic. As for the government-owned enterprises and companies, they exist to provide services to the state and to support the private sector. Most of the big companies in the Czech Republic are foreign and there is nothing wrong with that. It is normal for the economy. It is important that there is still some manufacturing in the Czech Republic, that there is something Czech in the production process. The economy would be the same – dependent on manufacturing, on exports. If the EU collapses, investing would probably become more complicated. The Czech economy has actually become dependent on the EU, but the fact that now exports are high is quite positive.
If you began to manage the Czech economy again, would you insist on export diversification and on exports outside the EU?
It depends on individual companies. I think it would be reasonable to increase exports outside the European Union, but the Czech Republic would not cease being dependent on the EU. Of course, there are some companies nowadays that export also to non-European countries. As the head of the government, I would support expanding to new markets. But in the end it depends on the manufacturers, whether they would be interested in that. Politicians can only plan and outline the policy, but they won’t succeed in determining by force the countries of exportation and the amount of exports. Managing the economy can be only acceptable as support for big business and economic diplomacy.
What kind of policy does the Volkswagen group have towards young people?
We have a lot of trainees who are interning with us for 6-12 months. They are writing final papers or practising to gain experience working in one field or another. Later many of them will get permanent jobs with us. I alone have about 10-15 postgraduate trainees. We are collaborating with universities and besides we already have a well-developed system of recruiting young professionals from educational institutions. We are trying to keep a substantial number of young people among our employees, because we know that the young come with a desire to improve things and to share their ideas with us. We are trying to give ample leeway to their activity in order to aid both their self-realisation and our company’s improvement. The generation that is coming now has a different way of thinking than we do. They live differently, think differently, use and consume things differently. We want these new approaches to have a voice at our company.
And how do you provide employment opportunities for young professionals?
Generational change is a very important thing. At our Group the number of persons employed is growing together with the growth of the world population. We are one of those companies where staff numbers have risen considerably in recent years. Due to the international activity and orientation of the Group, young people have a chance to work abroad. Our employees get early retirement opportunities. But considering the predicted growth of the world population and the labour pool, soon it will become a problem that every big company in the world has to solve.
How would you evaluate the policy of the EU and the Czech Republic towards young people?
I am not sure whether it makes sense to evaluate the policy. I believe that above all the government should become concerned about the growth in competitiveness that has an economic impact also on the younger generation. Youth unemployment in Italy and Spain among people younger than 25 is about 50%. This gives birth to a so-called lost generation that after some years of university studies finds no job and gets no experience, because they have no practical training. It is one of the most serious problems in the Czech Republic as well as in other countries in the EU.
Who can be considered a real man in your opinion?
For me it is someone who knows his job, tries to live not only for his own benefit, but also does something for the benefit of other people, someone who fulfils his potential. I am lazy, for example, and that is not exactly an appropriate quality for a real man. A man should be courteous to women; he should be a good listener and be able to understand. It is quite a difficult task, but a man should at least try to do his best. I know what I am talking about because I have a wife and four daughters.
Photo: From the archive of Martin Jahn