Life Is Better in the World than in Czechia

There are only three corners of the world where Josef Hušek's trading company Inekon Group has not yet reached. These are Australia, New Zealand and the Antarctic. „What could make me go to the Antarctic? I am no hunter,“ says Hušek with a bit of exaggeration. His company exports trams and locomotives, builds cement plants and hospitals and since recently floods Europe with waste water treatment plants.
Yearly turnover of Inekon is between one and one and a half billion Czech crowns. Hušek owns 70 percent of the company while the rest was acquired by the Swiss financial company TPLUS.

„Recently, we signed contracts for so large deliveries that ensure total turnover in the amount of 20 billion crowns a year in the course of the next three years,“ says the manager sitting at an office desk with no computer on it. He does not like computers. The biggest deal is the construction of a cement plant in Iraq for 9.5 billion crowns. Three weeks ago, the company signed a second contract for the construction of a cement plant in Tadjikistan for 2.3 billion crowns.

Hušek created Inekon Group shortly after the revolution in 1990. In fact, he continued in what was his work in the 70s and 80s in the state-owned companies Pragoinvest and Transakta. At that time, he exported the production of ČKD. It was in 1991 that he made a big deal in former Soviet Union thanks to his old contacts in there. He exported locomotives to Russia for 200 million dollars, which is approximately five billion crowns in current exchange rate and it represented the biggest deal in the history of former Czechoslovakia. Moreover, Russia brought him another deal at the beginning in the early nineties.

Inekon was charged by the Czech Ministry of Finance to lead a consortium of companies ensuring the unblocking of the Russian debt reaching billions of Czech crown.

Repeatedly, Hušek showed his interest in ČKD acquisition. „I planned to buy ČKD in 1994 but I lost against Impro of Jiří Maroušek by one vote in the government voting on this issue,“ recalls Hušek the beginnings of his way to tram production. Although he did not acquire the company itself he hired the team of key workers around trams including designers from ČKD Tatra. „I went to Soudek who worked in Pilsen's Škoda and we agreed to create a joint venture, each having one half, and start tram production in Škoda plant. We succeeded. One year and a half later, we had a tram which won all calls for tenders in our country and in 1999 also in America,“ says Hušek.

Ten trams from Pilsen serve in American Portland and Tacoma. The cooperation of Inekon and Škoda eventually collapsed. Hušek sees the reason in Soudek's retirement and in hiring Martin Roman (currently head of ČEZ) instead of him. „Delivery terms were not maintained, there were conflicts and we failed to come on terms with one another. Škoda wanted us to According to Hušek, Roman had little experience in managing a big company. Roman denies this. „The relations of Inekon with the former company management were not transparent and also they were unbalanced. The contract for trams in the USA represented a loss for Škoda in the amount of more than 50 million crowns,“ explains Roman the withdrawal from agreements with Inekon.

Immediately, Hušek contracted for trams from another partner. „We agreed with Dopravní podnik Ostrava to create a joint venture,“ says Hušek. He brought Americans to the new company and they again decided for Hušek's trams. Inekon signe contracts worth three quarters billion crowns - additional deliveries to Portland, Washington and, shortly before Christmas last year, to Seattle. „Trams for the Americans are different. They have to be air-conditioned, they have to meet higher safety standards. If something happens, they go by themselves. And they are twice as expensive as our trams,“ says Hušek. American trams are paid by private companies. „For instance, in Portland there is a company created by storekeepers and retailers who have their shops on the line. Stops are situated near their shops,“ he says. In the Czech Republic, Inekon will deliver trams after long disputes with authorities in Olomouc. Besides the production of trams, Inekon cooperates with ČMKS company and exports their locomotives. Besides Russia, the locomotives are in operation in Germany, Switzerland, Cambodia and Vietnam.

New Trend: Bacteria

A new discovery of Inekon is water treatment. The way to the world was opened by the Brno-based company Ekofluid that came with a technology of special bacterial culture which removes dirt from water by devouring it. „Our solution does not sell on the home market but we are doing very well on the international level. We have already built water treatment plants in Jordania, Ireland and now in the Netherlands. We are contesting for getting contracts in Russia,“ says Hušek. In the Czech Republic, the lobby of concrete producers lobby is controlling the market and even if bacteria are cheaper they are neglected. But Hušek is not a man to surrender. „We want to have the technology approve on the EU level and this would mean that EU prescribe the treatment plants for other countries,“ he plans.

Recently, Inekon became active in the modern field of information technology. „The idea is not mine. My son worked in a company that did not provide sufficient support to them. And so, the whole team of eight engineers came over to us,“ said Hušek. The managerial program developed and sold by the subsidiary company Inekon Systems provides on-line overview of production, sales, costs and other conditions of a company. Users of the program are companies like Kofola, Drinks Union an Metrostav.

The Inekon Group also includes the chemical producer Druchema. Inekon is now on the search for a strategic partner for Druchema. Inekon expects an extension of its production capacity. Hušek would like to see Pilsen's Škoda Transportation or Škoda Power to be part of the group. Their owners say they are not on sale. „Everything is on sale, it is only a matter of price,“ says Hušek.

Source: Mladá fronta Dnes Newspaper
Date: 26 April 2006