Series FGSD: A Manager a Week. Today: Ivan Blažek

Ivan Blažek: Quality relationships are the key to lasting growth

From the beginning of his career, he knew that creativity and lasting partnerships were the foundations on which he wanted to build his life. At the beginning of this year, the Foxconn Global Services Division (FGSD) has undergone many changes. Ivan Blažek, Director of New Business Development (NBD), has thus obtained unlimited space to show in practice that visions and long-term partnerships are what really moves the business into the future.

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He started working when studying the Faculty of Economics and Administration of the University of Pardubice. “I worked in the warehouse of the Canadian company Furnier, which traded with wood and was located near the town where I lived. I was in charge of shipping from Asia, Canada or America to the Czech Republic and I also managed a part of the export. There I learned how an international business works, how to appraise goods, order shipping, or purchase supplies. The company had its headquarters in Germany. I started working there during the summer. I organized German transport, business or invoicing. That’s how I learned German,” Blažek remembers his beginnings. He returned from Germany, and soon his efforts paid off. He became responsible for the accounting of the Czech branch, the whole invoicing process, appraisals and organization of the trade. “I was the communication link between the Czech branch and the German headquarters for Europe. Then the person who worked as a manager for the Czech branch went to another German firm and took me with him.” 

It started with the construction of a telecommunication network

“While attending college, I started working for RAFESA, a company that built mobile phone networks for companies such as T-Mobile and Vodafone. Meanwhile I was often staying in Germany for various work internships. Later I was approached by the company representatives with a proposition of founding a branch office in the Czech Republic, where I would become the executive director.” This is how the young student quickly obtained a managerial post in the company. Still, he continued his studies. He even received a merit scholarship. “I founded the branch while I was attending the 4th year of college. The branch expanded, we recruited 25 people who worked for Vodafone and T-Mobile. While I was figuring out how the company worked, I also discovered what I really enjoy – developing new businesses,” Blažek adds. Negotiations with companies such as T-Mobile or Vodafone have been challenging. Then came turbulences, and due to the problems that the parent company had in Germany, the Czech branch had to close. 

Next step: auditing large businesses

At that point, Ivan was contacted by a former classmate who offered him a job at Ernst & Young (E & Y), an international consultancy company. “I started as an assistant auditor. However, I worked on a project where they recruited experienced workers. Even though I was at the beginning of my career, I worked on major projects such as listing companies on the stock exchange, mergers, acquisitions, or corporate audits.” He worked in E & Y for nearly two years. “My life had changed a lot during that period. At that time we had a one-year-old with my wife and I was away practically from Monday to Friday. I traveled a lot, which was untenable for family life. We were trying to decide whether to move to Prague or choose a regional city. Neither I, nor my wife grew up in a city, so we decided not to live in Prague. That’s why I decided to leave E & Y.” Ivan comes from Nasavrky, a small town located 26km from Pardubice. “Both me and my wife would miss the freedom and the nature in Prague. We love sports, so easy access to nature was more suitable for us in this respect.” 

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Employee number six

At the time Ivan was experiencing these great life changes, a new project started in Pardubice: the Foxconn after-sales service division, the future Foxconn Global Services Division (FGSD). “I met with Jan van der Hoeven, who told me that they were preparing something new – a service center, where new projects would take place, and that would have the form of a start-up. It was a big project that would bring important customers and I decided to go for it. We started to work on big projects and I was the employee no.6. I first joined the FGSD as a cost controller and a senior finance specialist. I set up controlling and reporting of new projects. I was doing that for two years. But I found out that I preferred to work on more creative things than controlling and reporting. That’s why I left the FGSD after two years. Controlling and reporting is once set and then it runs and you only control the deviations. It is definitely necessary, but I missed creativity and meeting new people.” 

Finance world is good, but creativity is above all

Ivan joined an investment firm, where he had the opportunity to work on creative things, to travel and to meet new people. He worked there for a year and a quarter. “I was still in touch with the then director of the FGSD who offered me to return to FGSD and do business development and business finance. It was something that suited me more than controlling and reporting, so I decided to return to the FGSD. It’s been nearly ten years now that I work for the FGSD as the director of new business development.” 

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Lessons from the crisis

At the beginning of June 2007, when Ivan returned to the FGSD, he could not have guessed that the Czech Republic was about to be hit by the global economic crisis. “We were under great pressure from the exchange rate. At the same time, the volume of production went down, so we had to optimize the costs and unfortunately also lay off. Apart from that, one big project was coming to an end. The changes were huge. However, we succeeded in expanding our existing projects, which is why we managed to overcome the crisis relatively well. Subsequently we started new projects that began to grow together with our company.” But the economic crisis taught him a priceless lesson. “I learned that business depends on the relationship with a customer. The contract is important, but it is something that can be terminated, changed. What is very important, however, is to maintain relationships with those who have to trust us. At the stage of business development it means that one does not promise what is not real, and tries to build a sincere relationship. Then, when the business comes, it is important to keep the relationship between the customer and the supplier balanced. For business to work on both sides, there must be a long-standing partnership where it is important to help each other. I am convinced that customer care is the key component of the business development. The business is mainly about trust, which takes a long time to build,” Blažek says. 

A good place

In Foxconn he is currently in charge of developing new business. “It’s very important for me that we are able to offer the customers an end-to-end solution – from product design, manufacturing, forward and reverse logistics, and including all after-sales activities. We also have a strategy to collaborate with new segments, such as the automotive or healthcare industry or smart technology. At the same time we face challenges because the European market is very dynamic and there is strong competition not only from European but also from Asian companies. We need to be effective and quickly adapt to changes. It is important that we show our customers that we are the right partner who can flexibly respond to their needs. Our advantage is that the European market is stable and strong, and that we are in the middle of Europe. I think the potential in Eastern Europe will go up and the sales force will grow. Now Germany is the economic center of Europe, but in the future it will move further east. That’s why I think the Czech Republic is a good place for the production, sales and service activities of technology companies,” he adds.

Head in new directions, build on good old foundations

The key to success, according to Ivan, is to work on new knowledge. Support for the automotive industry will require a new team of people who have knowledge of the sector. “We must certainly reinforce IT support, both software and hardware. That’s why we have a data center. We need to improve our software development to be able to offer both high-quality and affordable IT solutions to ourselves and to our customers. We also must not neglect marketing and communication. We need to tell our customers that we have strong position on the market and that we are professionals. Only then we can built a good reputation.”

Ivan has three children, aged seven to fifteen. “It is still important to find the right balance between private life and work. We have a lot of fun with the family, I’m an enthusiastic sportsman and I can’t function without sport. I run, I ride a mountain bike, and so do the kids. Sport connects us, thanks to it we spend a lot of time together surrounded by nature where we cycle. These are the things that are important to me. I like to travel and invest time in the development of business and business relations, but time with my family is also extremely important to me,” sums his priorities Ivan Blažek.

Author: Cristina Muntean, Interim Integrated Communications Manager, FGSD

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