Zdenek Pelc is the chairman of the Board of Directors, owner and former CEO of GZ Media the world's biggest vinyl record producer. Pelc has worked for GZ Media for more than 32 years; he is the longest running CEO in the history of the Czech Republic. GZ Media has been featured by The New York Times, Bloomberg, the BBC, and the AFP. Pelc has been awarded the prestigious prize for Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 in the Czech Republic. He graduated from the Faculty of Economics in Prague. He also studied at the St. Galen University in Boston and at the Harvard Business School.
Who is your role model?
My role model is Kenneth D. Brody, who is the former chairman of the Export - Import Bank of the US and former partner at Goldman Sachs. He's the person I want to follow. Private American Capital joined our company in 1997 with Ken leading the investor group. That gave me the opportunity to work with him for many years. It was a huge change for me, transitioning from small Czech conditions to the large financial world. He was the person who really empowered me and gave me the opportunity to strike out on my own to lead and build the company.
What was a professional challenge you personally faced in your career?
When I joined the company in the 1980s, vinyl had already been losing ground to cassette tapes. By the early 1990s, the vinyl album was all but extinct, and the demand for vinyl records was close to zero. It was a tough period. We decided to keep the machines and never threw them out.
The decision not to throw out old vinyl pressing machines certainly paid off for us. Vinyl records rose from the ashes and made a return from near extension. There has been a mass resurgence of vinyl in recent years. Demand is growing by 50% year on year growth every year. It's a kind of back-to-basics movement now. Vinyl was an inevitable reaction to the rise of digital music, which offers little room for art and the kind of tangibility people were used to. Some people just like their music to be touchable. The growth for vinyl records won't last forever. It's possible that making vinyl is a fashion that will disappear in a few years. Through this experience, I've learned to trust my intuition. I take in all the information I can gather. I listen to ideas and advice. Then I go with my gut, what my heart feels most strongly.
Any other challenge?
Another challenge for me was that I started learning English when I was 40. I then enrolled at Harvard Business School over a three-year program at the age of 49. I was there between years 2000 and 2002. It was a tough period, because English was my second language, so I had difficulties learning all the materials. I spent lots of time learning, studying 'til 4 or 5 in the morning every day to be prepared for the lessons. In the beginning, I was reluctant to apply for studies because I was 49, but then I gave it a try. I wanted to show my children that it is necessary to learn for your whole life. Self-growth is key to living fulfilling lives and having successful careers. I want to be a good role model for my children.
What are some leadership lessons you've learned?
I've learned that a leader also has to work hard to be a good role model for other people in the company. I would not ask my employees to do something I wouldn't do. It's not easy to say, "you have to drink water," while you yourself drink wine. Secondly, knowledge is essential in a company. Without knowledge I don't believe we can be successful.
I've also learned that you can't expect people to change quickly. You need to have patience - don't be in a hurry for changes - because it takes time to convince people that what you are saying and doing is right and good for the future success of the company.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I am a collaborative leader and I want to empower the team. It's all about having the ability to listen and give people enough freedom and room to do a good job. I need to understand what motivates people. I use empathy to understand each person. You can be a better leader to your employees if you understand what they are going through. In every situation, I look at the other person and try to understand what they need and how I can address that. I try to offer my employees opportunities to learn and experience the things they want to learn about. I make sure they have opportunities and expose them to new things.
What is the key to your company's success?
The firm's success lies in hard work, the ability to adapt to market conditions, the comprehensiveness and flexibility of its range, employee motivation, and innovation. The bottom line is that everything we achieve is down to the team, and without each one of us we couldn't do what we're doing - that breeds a healthy respect for each others' skillsets and an acceptance of the need to listen to, learn from, and support each other.
How do you hire?
I want to know what kind of person my potential employee is, and to get a sense of their desire to come here. Firstly, I ask for their past achievements and relevant experiences. I look for patterns in their life showing they've conceived of a plan in the past and accomplished it. To get to your current level, was it a steep trajectory? Did it take five or ten years to get to that particular level of achievement? That's going to be predictive of what someone is going to do within our company.
What advice do you typically give college students?
Young people nowadays are looking for easy ways to accomplish things, how to make their lives balanced and easy. They expect to perform well only if their salary is high. And I think it should be the opposite way - they first need to show what they can do and work hard, and if they do, they can be successful as well. And there has to be persistence, because anything worth doing in life requires persistence.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
This post is part of "CEO Talk" series, which features leaders around the world speaking about their journeys. What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur or CEO? What is the path to success? What challenges did people face and how did they overcome them? Lan Anh and her guests answer all these questions and much more. To view the entire series, visit here.