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Vladimír Mlynář: The future of Kellner's business empire

PPF Group

30/3/2021 | 8 minutes to read

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The media´s image of Kellner is different than the reality. Wheryone who met him left saying: He is completely normal! He lived a rather normal life considering how wealthy he was. He had normal friends. He had hobbies. He loved his family, work, sports, and the Czech Republic.

Q: What information do you have from the site?

We don’t have any extra information. We had other things to deal with. The pilot was exchanged at the last minute. Someone caught COVID. We don’t know exactly what happened. Hopefully we’ll learn something from Horváth.

Q: I heard Kellner travelled to the resort often.

Yes. He would frequent another place, I think. Freeride snowboarding is an adrenaline sport. People who have been there say that what the helicopter does with the airflows is very dangerous. Kellner was a person who loved adrenalin. He also loved kiting. He was an active sportsman.

Q: How did you explain that adrenalin? He was in big business doing deals worth billions. He needed to get his adrenalin elsewhere?

The media’s image of Kellner is different than the reality. Everyone who met him left saying: He’s completely normal! He lived a rather normal life considering how wealthy he was. He had normal friends. He had hobbies. He loved his family, work, sports, and the Czech Republic.

Q: Did he need to excitement; to go his boundaries?

I would occasionally ask him why he went to work. He really managed PPF on a daily basis. It wasn’t that he enjoyed the money while executives took care of everything. It wasn’t about money anymore. A normal person would say it’s not about the money. Kellner used to say that he won’t buy a bigger jet. It was about the adrenalin. Thinking. He liked to think about business. If you asked him what he liked to do best, he would say thinking.

Q: You’ve met the top Czech businesspeople. What made Kellner different? What did he have that the others didn’t?

He had monumental charisma. The public didn’t see that. He protected his private life because of his family. He loved his kids and his wife. That made him outwardly different. When you worked with him, he could always think differently than others. That’s a cliché, but I worked with him for 11 years. I saw it up close. It’s similar to what’s described in Steve Jobs’ biography: the ability to see things differently. And he had the immense courage to make decisions. Today, (Ivo) Lukačovič wrote a moving piece on Seznam. He’s the owner of Seznam. He emphasised an important thing: Kellner left to do business outside the Czech Republic, to the east as well. At the beginning, 25 years ago. Still today, many businesspeople stay in Czechia. There aren’t many of them that go global. Baťa... Now maybe it will be Avast. PPF is a global company. He was one of the greatest Czechs.

Q: Did he consider the criticism that often comes from Czechia? PPF doesn’t have a purely positive name in the Czech Republic. Did that bother him? Did he think about it?

It bothered him. It was the subject of our debates. I told him that he has to speak. But the decision was to preserve his family’s privacy. I understood and admired that. It was one of the reasons I worked for him. He put his family first. He was bothered by the criticism. It was based on falsehoods and half-truths. The most denunciations came from people who knew nothing about PPF. Everyone who met him, Lukačovič, Čupr (the owner of Rohlík), they all remember him with admiration. It’s different than what the media built.

Q: He was different from his image in the media. His family was the reason he stayed out of the limelight? Why are there only a few photos?

Yes. He would say you can’t do something halfway. When I joined PPF, I was convinced we should update that famous old photo. We did it. Then it started to appear on magazine covers. It was a big selling point. I understood he was right. There were no compromises. He lived in Prague. He would go to well-known places. People still recognize me after all these years, but they didn’t recognize he was standing next to me. That’s the way it had to be. There was no other way. I don’t want to say we didn’t make mistakes. We definitely made lots of mistakes in communication. But the chasm between his media image and how he really was huge. I will try to contribute to making his image more of the real.

Q: Did you deal with the ethical side of business. Loans? Human rights?

He viewed it, and I see things the same way, as there is politics and there is business. Business creates value, employs people. You’re probably talking about China where Elon Musk and thousands of Western companies do business. Why not a Czech business? PPF did not do anything different from other countries doing business on the same markets. We never did business in the Arab world nor dealt in the weapons trade. Those were certain ethical boundaries. But finance is a normal business. It’s regulated in some way. We always did business within the rules and boundaries. It did bother him, however. A year ago, he decided for an amnesty by Home Credit on the basis of controversial arbitration proceedings.

Q: According to you, they are two worlds: business and politics. PPF knows how to connect them. How did he view this idea?

It’s not that we never made mistakes.

Q: What were the mistakes?

PPF will soon be 30 years old. I’d be happy to come then, but it’s not the subject for this evening. Let’s leave that for another time. I would be happy to come back then.

Q: Did he ever discuss his mistakes?

Yes. I found he was a hard-working, intelligent, charismatic person. Anyone like that thinks about what they do. He felt a responsibility for his companies and employees; the responsibility of a capitalist in the best way possible. We employ 90,000 people. There were times before COVID when this was 160,000 people. That is responsibility. He loved to go kiting and snowboarding, but he also went to work every day.

Q: What was he for PPF? He was the founder, but was he the engine? Did he make strategic decisions?

Yes. He was the founder and owned 99% of the shares. It was his responsibility. He loved his work and mulled over it. He wasn’t like other wealthy individuals that enjoy life and don’t work as much. He constantly worked very hard. He was 56 years old. Everyone knows that we’re not immortal. The company is built as a system. It will operate without Kellner, but it will be different, harder. It will also be more complicated, but I believe the company will manage the situation.

Q: What was it like recently? Was there life outside work? Was Kellner at the top of the pyramid like Steve Jobs?

A person can push things forward from the top. Executives are responsible for individual projects. And it was he who pushed them forward.

Q: PPF said nothing is changing, the principles continue. What about medium-term plans? The sale of Cetin? Moneta?

Officially, the Moneta project is continuing. Speculation about other projects has appeared in the media. We don’t comment on speculation. The firm is built as a system. Since we’re talking about Jobs: Just like Apple survived the death of its founder, I’m convinced PPF will manage as well, though I freely admit it will be difficult. Right now, it’s difficult for us personally. The relationship at the closest level was not just an employee-employer relationship. We loved him.

Q: You mentioned Apple. But 99% of that company did not belong to one person or family. Will the family make decisions? Will there be another regime?

I don’t know how to answer. There are processes underway and just starting. It’s still too early for that. We will do our utmost so the Kellner family has the widest possible options to make decisions, but it’s still too early for that.

Q: Another thing: Will there be a PPF without Kellner? The individual businesses will survive.

I think there will be.

Q: Does that make sense?

Yes. Mr. Bartoníček, who has taken the reins, was with Kellner for 30 years. They were basically twins, at least in terms of thinking. He has all the prerequisites to manage the situation. It will be difficult, but Kellner led us to believe that obstacles have to be overcome. He wouldn’t want us to give up.

Q: Is Mr. Bartoníček a temporary solution?


Q: What will PPF be like without Kellner?

No one knows the answer to that right now. It will be different, but we believe the house stands on strong foundations. I’ve been in the top management for 11 years now and I’m still the newest member. Everyone has been around for 25 or 30 years. We learned from Kellner how he thought and worked. We believe we can handle it.

-Please give my deepest sympathies to the family. 


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