Business Lead at Czech Google
From the online.muni.cz.
Initially, Jan Vraný graduated from the Faculty of Economics and Administration and, almost as a fresh graduate, left to join the Central European headquarters of Procter & Gamble in Budapest. And, later, after taking a high position in Raiffeisenbank, he managed to leave it and come back to where it all began – he enrolled in the London Business School. A graduate from the Faculty of Economics and Administration, Masaryk University, is not afraid of changing environments and, as a result, he is now a Business Lead at Czech Google.
The company you work for offers an enormous amount of web services and technologies to its clients. Do you know them all?
I certainly do not know all of them; my job is to have the substantial knowledge about the tools Google offers for internet advertising. It is because for more and more companies, the internet is becoming the place not only for advertising but also for selling. For example, if you consider technological companies developing software, they no longer sell physical versions, the overwhelming majority is downloaded. These companies can monitor the purchasing behaviour of consumers in detail, and offer them their product at the right moment. And my task is to understand the tool than can do that. Moreover, there are many others which I encounter only marginally. For example, Google has many tools for Android application developers, but I could not provide you with many details about those.
To what extent did you have to prove your knowledge about them at the job interview? Or how does the process of hiring someone for your position look like?
In general, there are two ways of getting to Google. You can either apply after your graduation, when you primarily show your study results, the school you studied at, your ability to accept frequent changes positively, your ability to use “common sense” and find practical solutions, as well as your interest in the world around you, by working in non-profits or through interesting hobbies. It is simply more about the potential of the relevant candidate. If you apply for more senior positions, the potential is considered too, but it depends more on your previous job experience. In general, the attitude to technologies and knowledge of the company’s products were important, but not from the expert point of view, I am still learning some things in this respect. It applies here as well that if someone wants to be a light, they must be ready to burn, so you simply must believe that the open system of Google and the opportunity for all developers to co-create the ecosystem is ultimately better than the closed system of some of our competitors, where everything is controlled but I think it slows down the development. But the most important thing in my role is the ability to think strategically, lead the team and discuss with our clients’ senior management.
These discussions must be interesting, as there still must be companies, which promote their products in a classic way and fear online promotion. Or am I wrong?
I would divide it into three groups. The first group are those companies we call digital natives, companies whose management has grown up on the internet. They are usually younger, but not necessarily, typically e.g. software companies or e-shops, for whom the internet is nothing new and surprising. The discussion with them is about what new tools we can offer, how they work and how they could test it as much as possible. In the digital age, it is an extremely important principle many people do not realise. It is necessary to try and test new things at all times. For over one hundred years, there has been a widespread saying among marketers that one half of the money spent for advertising is wasted, but no one knows which half it is. The same risk still exists; online advertising just enables to reduce the wasted money more efficiently. In order to find out, you need to compare various options and watch which strategy is more efficient because consumer behaviour is constantly changing. And this is hard for many top managers: they try to think up an optimum strategy in advance and not to “waste” more money by continuous testing of alternatives. We try to explain that it is not possible. Nobody knows in advance what will catch people’s interest on the internet.
And those two other groups?
The second group sort of understands that the internet may be important, but does not know how to tackle it. We work a lot with them and they form a great part of our clientele. We focus on the development of skills in their team or establishing a connection with agencies, which operate in the market and specialise in digital media. The third group is formed by companies, which say the internet means nothing to them. We even met a director, who had declared the company would not spend a crown on the internet as long as he was in the company. In such cases, you usually only have to wait a year, two or three. With this attitude, hardly any company can stand up to the competition.
What was your assignment when you took the new position?
My task was to help start another growth phase in Czech Google, which had been here for eight years. At the beginning, we had to compete with Seznam, which had dominated the Czech search engine industry. Today, with more than 130 localised services, we are a natural integral part of the Czech internet and number one in search results. However, Google in the Czech Republic has not been just a search engine for a long time – it is also e.g. a video platform of YouTube, Android mobile operating system or Chrome web browser. Nevertheless, internet penetration in the Czech Republic has already been relatively high and it is more and more difficult to achieve significant growth in the domestic market. Therefore, we rest our hopes on Czech companies, which promote their products abroad through us. The possibilities are almost unlimited there.
Is the strong position of the domestic search engine against you as a global giant specific in the Czech Republic?
The Czech situation is specific, but not extraordinary. Yandex is even a bigger search engine in Russia; it is used also in Belarus or Kazakhstan. The Chinese Baidoo is bigger than us too. And Yahoo still has a strong position in the United States.
You have gained qualifications for your job gradually in working for various employers, but initially at Masaryk University. You are nearly one of its first graduates, aren’t you?
I am not the first one, there were about four or five years before me. We started in the building on Zelný trh, and I think I was in my second year when they moved us to Antonínská, and then, at the end of my studies, to the new building at Lipová.
Did you choose financial business because the economy had been attractive at that time?
I commenced my studies in 1995, when there was lack of people who understood economics and business, and I found business very attractive. Although one year before that, before I enrolled at the Faculty of Economics and Administration, I had thought I would study medicine, because my mum is a doctor and I had perceived it as a very noble and important profession. But as the times had been changing, one could see the then situation in health care.... Moreover, I wanted to be free, but health care professionals are much too dependent on the system, and there are many people of the old generation. I felt that they would not welcome someone with his own opinions. So business won.
Had you really planned you would tackle international business too?
I enrolled in financial business, so I had expected from the very beginning that I would work in financial markets. Then I had realised that there was practically no financial market in the Czech Republic at that time and changed my decision a little. I wrote my bachelor’s thesis about the efficiency of pricing in the Prague Stock Exchange and found out that I could not speak of any efficiency in this case, so I decided I would not want to spend my time like that. I was lucky; Procter & Gamble was touring Czech and Slovak universities and was looking for people for their case study seminar in Prague. They selected 25 students from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and about five people out of those 25 were offered a working stay. I liked both of these opportunities, the work was interesting, people were great. So when I had been offered a permanent employment contract in the end, I did not think about it too long and accepted the offer. It was one of those companies, where one really could learn how to do business in the true sense of the word. Actually, there was no difference between economy and business in the Czech Republic at that time. And even today, Czech schools still teach economics rather than business.
Explain the difference in more detail please.
Economics is more theoretical, it examines how companies and the national economy work. Business is about how to make money, create a particular value and manage a company. How to satisfy the needs of particular people. This was what I had always wanted to do, not economics. But at that time, I had no other option than to study economics. However, it has some advantages, I learnt many things.
Wasn’t it provocative to say in 1996 or 1997 that you wanted to do really big business which might have had a poor reputation then?
I don’t think anybody thought about it this way. If you wanted to have at least a slightly relevant education at that time, you had to study at an economics school, and I think there were two schools which were meaningful, i.e. the Faculty of Economics and Administration in Brno or the University of Economics in Prague. I chose Brno, where I had had many interests and friends, and I thought there was no need to move away. It also paid off because I found great friends. I regularly meet my schoolmates and memories of them are some of the best memories from the time of my studies.
By the way, was there a big difference between studying in Prague and Brno?
I did not see any at that time, but I perceive it a bit differently today, especially in business. It is very important to be where the action is. Students of schools located outside the capital city must make much greater efforts to get in touch with companies seated in Prague. However, what worries me much more today is that companies in our field have to face the lack of university talents in the Czech Republic. In the past three to five years, only a few out of the most talented students have completed their studies at a Czech university. In a better case, they complete their bachelor’s studies here and then move and study in London, Amsterdam, United States. For companies, it means that if they really want the best Czech graduates, they do not hire them in the Czech Republic, but e.g. in London.
But you did something similar too, didn’t you?
Yes, I studied at the London Business School for two years and it was great. In the second year, I already had a part-time job and then remained in London, I spent three years there. I wanted to study at a school, where the best world-famous professors teach, at a school, which will connect me with potential employers and create a network of contacts with schoolmates from all over the world. I experienced an absolutely different system of study there. For example, they are officially permitted to take a crib for an exam, one sheet of paper used on both sides, where, of course, you use the font of about five points so that it contains as much information as possible. But it really works at that school that if you cannot use the formulas on the crib, they are of no use to you. I remember an exam, where we had just learnt the new subject matter on the spot. We were staring at the assignment, but the purpose of the exam had been to test if we were able to derive the procedure.
Did you work in Budapest thanks to the school in London?
No, no, I got there thanks to my working stay at the time of studying in Brno. We moved to Budapest with my company from Prague, where I had been working for three months. It was due to the centralisation of the Central European management, which settled in Hungary. I was there for over one year and I did beautiful marketing there – we worked on the transformation process of Azurit to Lenor. It may seem funny for someone who wanted to work in financial markets, but this was really pure business where you can learn what consumers really want, how you can offer it to them, and how you can communicate it.
So it was you who took the popular blue rabbit from the TV spot away from people?
Yes, that was me, I’m sorry (laughing). Shareholders justifiably want the company management to maximise long-term profits, so it was more efficient to have the same brand throughout the whole region. Finally, it is always numbers that matter. The blue rabbit Azurit was very popular, but his share in the market had been decreasing in the long-term. Nostalgists were buying it, but many, especially younger, customers tend to say they did not want Azurit, but world brands instead. At that time, people simply wanted things, which were available in the United States or Britain; in our case, it was Lenor, not Azurit. After we changed the brand, we managed to reverse the trend of decreasing sales that had lasted for about four years. As for numbers, it made sense.
After your studies, you lived in Budapest, then in London, and you travelled a lot. What is it like to constantly get used to a new environment?
Moving to Budapest was easy. The company merged the whole region then; there were about fifty Czechs and Slovaks moving from Prague. These are the times I like to remember. There was a great group of people, we played in-line hockey on the main Budapest square with my friends, we were travelling around e.g. to discover the wine regions of Hungary.
So are you one of those people who can adapt easily?
If you like what you do, you will adapt somehow. I returned to Prague, but I felt I was not learning as quickly and needed a new impulse. I had always wanted to study at a large global school, so I enrolled in one. I had several colleagues around me, who had made a similar step and enrolled at top schools in the U.S. or Britain. They inspired me and when I visited London, it was clear. But not simple.
In what sense?
I had already had a certain position, earning quite a lot of money, being used to my standard. And suddenly I had to sell my car because it was of no use for me in the Czech Republic, I moved to a flat shared with someone else, where I had only one room. Imagine for instance that you stop receiving a regular income, you are running out of your savings until you get to minus numbers and you need to take a loan, because the studies are not funded by your company and you have no other means to pay for it. It is hard to get used to, but one needs to learn to live with it because if I had not taken out the loan, it would have tied me up and I would have lost many things London offers and would not have make friends with my schoolmates. The loan would have been sufficient for buying a flat in Prague at that time, so you need to decide between that and investing in your studies.
Have you ever regretted the investment?
Yet you returned to Prague. Why?
It was autumn 2009, and my wife and I decided to return. There was an economic crisis in Britain and it was hard to find a reasonable job there, although I had one. I did fusions and acquisitions in the Morgan Stanley investment bank, which is probably the most demanding job in the world as for the number of hours spent at work. I wasn’t there for about four weekends during the year. You then start to think about if it’s worth doing. We agreed we did not want to stay in Britain for the rest of our lives, and I also met my friend from the London Business School, who asked me if I wanted to try it as a consultant at McKinsey&Company. Suddenly, there was an opportunity to live a beautiful life in Prague, working for the best company in the world in my field. I was home, but still travelling the neighbouring countries as well as the United Arab Emirates or Australia. Wonderful times.
But still, isn’t the Czech Republic too small for a man with your experience?
I am lucky that I can work for a global company, doing things which change the world and as well as global business. Thanks to the internet, you can do those things from various places, and even if you work with Czech clients – companies located in the Czech Republic, you operate on world markets, selling their products abroad. Because if you have a client who sells in the U.S., you need to optimise its campaign so that it works in the U.S., not here. This is beautiful about this work and it is something in which I can see a great part of my mission in the company. We also want to help Czech companies and business succeed abroad, making use of all of the options provided by the digital market. It is very important because it will move us even further towards the knowledge economy and towards creating really big things here. So that people who want to do them would not have to leave the Czech Republic. Because too many of them are actually leaving us.
The interview was published in November 2014 in the Absolvent magazine.
Ing. Jan Vraný, MBA (* 1976)
A native South Moravian had to decide between medicine and economics, and the latter won. He studied financial business at the Faculty of Economics and Administration, Masaryk University, where he had enrolled in 1995, five years after it had been founded. Thanks to his working stays he had undergone during his studies, he commenced his career in Procter&Gamble, which had also led him to move to Budapest. After being employed at Raiffeisenbank, where he had held, among others, the position of the head of personal banking, he decided to start fresh, and commenced his MBA studies at the London Business School. Following graduation, he stayed in London and worked in the Morgan Stanley investment bank, which he left in September 2009 to start working in the Prague branch of the McKinsey & Company consultancy company. From February 2014, he is a Business Lead of Czech Google.