Lessons from Pavel Řehák of Česká Pojišťovna: How a CEO Can Make a Real Difference

Lying back in my chair at the 2012 Czech PR Summit, I am trying to relax. The morning started on the wrong foot. I hit the fence upon arrival: at the theoretically most important one-day conference for Czech communicators, where the entrance fee amounts to 475 EUR (11 880 CZK) alone, no free wireless Internet is provided.

I complain, and the organizers try to convince the hotel to get me a password. Presentations start; I know the first keynote speaker. He is an outstanding communication manager with global experience; in less than two years he led his company through an initial public offering (IPO) and turned around challenging communication mechanisms within the company no one would have thought possible.

Despite his insights, the speaker is faced with a mass of I-hadn’t-had-my-coffee-yet faces. The second presentation gets so technical and out of the scope of PR that no one bothers to listen anymore. The first coffee break is announced; my hopes for the day are restored only by the perspective of seeing a few good friends and chat.

After the break, a discussion panel focuses on change management. Speakers are already better, but nothing can prepare me for the surprise I am about to experience.

The last speaker, a young man seemingly in his 30s, is introduced. He stands up and comes off the podium into the audience. He moves among people and asks them questions. Some sitting PR people panic when faced with the microphone and point him to somebody else.

The young man moves forward, speaking vividly about the public perception on his company. “You deal with us only when you’re in trouble. That occurs each second or third year. But when you do, you want great services. Not boring, not confusing, not annoying assistants – you want an outstanding experience,” says Pavel Řehák, CEO of Česká pojišťovna. “Do you know how many people come in touch with us every day?” A few people try their chance and say a few hundreds. “30 thousand people,” he says. “30 thousand people have a chance to create their image on us every day. Now, how do we make sure they leave our office not with a good feeling, but with a great feeling? With the feeling they’re just lived their best customer experience in years? How do you create the best ever solved insurance claim?” On and on he goes on how we cannot achieve anything if people in a company don’t understand why they come to work every day.

By this time I have forgotten my live Tweets; I am gulping his every word. Řehák speaks of change; more, he is the living example that change is possible. He walks his talk. Now, how often do we have the chance to see this in our homeland? Bravo, monsieur, I say. Now I can allow myself to sink in my chair and relax. There is hope for the communication of Czech companies.

Change starts from the CEO 

When I decided to move from journalism into corporate advisory and training, and to develop a unique module of media coaching for managers, my initial vision was to share my journalistic skills with people in charge. I was hoping my efforts would guide them into how to prepare themselves better prior to media encounters, and thus save some time to all fellow overworked and poorly paid reporters who simply need a story if they want to get the newspaper out the next day.

In time, I learned that there is much more that can be done. Be opening the eyes of people in charge on the potential of communication, a whole world is transformed: their world, when their companies build something that stands the promise from their marketing claims, and our world, the world of simple consumers of their creation. When one understands his mission and walks in his full potential, when one finds the courage to stand up and share his vision with the others, a whole world can change.

Pavel Řehák of Česká pojišťovna is the living example of that. In less than two years, customer satisfaction at Česká pojišťovna grew from 27 to 39%. Open communication and employee engagement obviously pay off.

So, what lessons can we learn from Mr. Řehák? 

  1. Dare to be yourself. It’s only then when you find the unique combination of knowledge, values and skills that can transform your world. But, if you don’t look for it into yourself and trust that you are unique and valuable, no one else will.
  2. Dare to stand up. Dare to go among the people and, with a bit of humor, listen to what they say, do and need.
  3. Dare to have a vision. Your vision doesn’t need to meet the expectations of everyone else. Yet, when you have a clear vision and allow yourself to share it with the others, you may be surprised how many other people would be willing to follow you.
  4. Dare to be different. “A few years ago such communication wouldn’t have been possible. We were a serious company; we didn’t know how to laugh at ourselves. Something like this wasn’t for us,” Řehák described one of the advertising spots he used to illustrate his speech. Doing things differently always pays off because it surprises and astonishes people. To many, it shows the way back to themselves and gives them courage to be different. All of a sudden, we live in a more energetic, creative and authentic world.
  5. Dare to be passionate. Dare to share your energy with your surroundings. Even on a market that may sometimes feel slow, stiff and in love with its comfort zone, it pays off to be energetic. It’s the way of the leaders, and we do have leaders on this market. Only that, if you look really carefully at the real leaders, they all share one attribute: they are passionate about what they do.

One last lesson I took while leaving the PR Summit is that us, PR people and communicators, still have a long way to go to become examples for our management. The moment I will see more PR people eager after, and not afraid of a microphone, it will be the moment when I will know the legacy of the past is behind us, and we learnt to walk in our full potential.

Lots of work to do in the years to come. Yet, exciting work that always pays off.

THIS TEXT HAS FIRST BEEN PUBLISHED IN THE COLUMN MEDIAPOWER BY LEADERS MAGAZINE ON NOVEMBER 7, 2012

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The best way to gain, retain, and restore your critical distance as a woman CEO is to have a faithful guide, thought partner, and inspiring challenger by your side. This is what I am for women CEOs. If you are facing major developments in your business or in your career this year, we should talk. Please book or have your assistant book a no-strings-attached free 30-minute CEO exploration call with me; we will get to know each other and I will be thrilled to spot how I could be of your service in 2024 and beyond.
Cristina Muntean
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Let's Talk

The best way to gain, retain, and restore your critical distance as a woman CEO is to have a faithful guide, thought partner, and inspiring challenger by your side. This is what I am for women CEOs. If you are facing major developments in your business or in your career this year, we should talk. Please book or have your assistant book a no-strings-attached free 30-minute CEO exploration call with me; we will get to know each other and I will be thrilled to spot how I could be of your service in 2024 and beyond.