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An Interview with Helena Horská, a head of economic research and a chief macroeconomist of Raiffeisenbank

  I have been thinking about the aspects of regional cooperation and the role of the Czech Republic both within the Visegrad Four and the Central and Eastern European context for a long time.  I decided to approach the issue from the economical point of view, rather than political one.  The reason is the oscillating perception with regards to the Czech economy ranging from “the best pupil in the class overrated attitude” to pessimistic mood that “everything is lost”.  

I chose to discuss the issue of Czech economic competitiveness with Helena Horská, a head of economic research and a chief macroeconomist of Raiffeisenbank.  Helena Horská also teaches at the University of Economics and ŠKODA AUTO Vysoká škola, so the second issue to be discussed was the tertiary education in the Czech Republic and Helena´s experience with students and conditions from both private and public university.  Diversity and women leadership was the last but not least issue, since we met at the ATAIRU Odyssey Leadership workshop.

Helena Horská is a University of Economics graduate, she also holds PhD.  She attended one year post graduade program at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy in Germany.  She received many awards, such as the Young Economist of the Year.  Her working experience includes Česká spořitelna a.s. and Raiffeisenbanks.  Besides lecturing at ŠKODA AUTO and University of Economics University, Helena is a member of executive council of Prague Economic Papers and cooperates with Bank Association.  She likes relaxing with her family, gardening and also preparing Montessori learning devices.

The first traditional question – how do you perceive today´s world?

It is hard question for the beginning!  Generally, I perceive the world as very challenging. Big issues are pending in geopolitics (such as current Russia-Ukraine conflict), in economics (such as a threat of deflation in Europe) and finally in our personal life (an ambition to be superman/superwomen). I see the tendency to get lost in information hurricane and in daily workflow and have no time to stop to think about our life journey – about its meaning and goals.  That is a pity. While geopolitics or economic performance is beyond our control, we have our lives in our own hands.  I learned how to divide my day for work, family and our hobbies.

The second question – how do you perceive the position of the Czech Republic?

The Czech Republic is a small country with a big potential. We are able to compete with technologically advanced products in the world but we still do not use all our capabilities.  Instead of following rules, Czechs tend to seek exceptions.   As a nation, we are very judgmental.  We judge everybody and everything, not only politicians and politics but also friends, neighbors and children. We do not like to stand out from the crowd.  As a consequence, we are afraid to fail. But it is wrong. We have a chance to learn from own mistakes! We need more confidence. Just look at toddlers as they serve as an example how to be brave in getting to know the world.

When you compare the economic performance of the Czech Republic to Visegrad Four countries from the macroeconomic point of view - is the glass half empty of half full?

The Czech economy has recently recovered due to the unexpectedly improved performance of small-and-medium enterprises. Higher foreign demand hand in hand with weaker currency supported Czech export and household demand revived as well.  That indicated a limited impact of weaker currency on household budgets. Unemployment has started to decline. The Czech economy is likely to overcome the recession. Unfortunately, the pace of the economic growth (according the preliminary figures, the economy increased by 2.7% annually in the second quarter 2014) trails behind the neighboring countries Poland and Hungary, Slovakia being the only exception.  

Though the Czechs are still the richest nation in Visegrad Four (based on gross domestic output per capita in purchasing power parity), the Czech Republic has exhausted foreign direct investment as a fuel of growth.  Foreign investments still keeps flowing into the country but in considerably smaller amount. Moreover, the opportunity to utilize the EU funds available to support investment and consumption in our country was missed also and the Czech Republic has the reputation as the worst performer in using of EU funds.

Do you think that Czech general population understands and behaves accordingly to the macroeconomic trends?  What is your main recommendation?

Generally speaking, the Czech population at large is conservative. Czechs wait till there is a higher chance to get a new job or higher salary on their paycheck. Than they feel more save and happier.  As it was mentioned above, Czechs tend to be risk-averse. On the other side, they do not look much around the corner.  If somebody offers exceptionally good price of a good or extremely high interest rate on deposits, one should first ask: Is it a confident person/institution? Or what is behind the extra-favorable offer? We should learn to accept the risks of our decisions and do not expect that somebody (e.g. the government) rescue us like the handsome prince in the Snow White fairy tale.

The reform of university education is a topic of heated debates under both government coalitions either left wing or right wing.  You have teaching experience from both the public and private university.  What is your opinion?

I face gradually declining knowledge of students in math in my role as a university lecturer, for example. While students have improved their language knowledge, they are less competent in mathematics and logics. So, the education should be more balanced to provide good skills in both languages and scientific subjects. Foreign languages are the gateway for education but cannot be the only goal.  Financing of education is a big challenge since it has not only economic but also social consequences. Distribution of funding based on number of students is road to hell. Neither the number of published articles and nor books reflects the quality of education at university.

The university lecturers need to have time to prepare for their lectures and to work individually with students more. Measuring the quality of education is not an easy task but it is feasible (via hard and soft data). We need to apply multi criteria evaluation to funding university education.

Women in the economy – do you have some hard data for those who are still reluctant to support any diversity measures?

The notion that “Women Matter” and the diversity in our teams and in management improve atmosphere and performance of the company is supported by a couple of studies, including that of McKinsey from 2010. This study concludes that companies with higher share of women in management report better financial results. Moreover, such companies tend to follow some long-term strategy rather than be constantly muddling their way through.

Unfortunately, the Czech Republic lacks behind many European countries in women employment. While in Nordic countries like Finland, Lithuania and Latvia, the difference between employment of males and females is negligible (below 5 percentage points in 2012, according to Eurostat), in the Czech Republic the difference is more than 15 percentage points - the fourth highest gap in Europe. Only Malta, Italy and Greece display the higher difference.

Situation might get much worse since the aging Europe including Czech Republic will cause a gradual reduction of working-age population and higher participation of women might slowdown this drop.  Under current pay-as-you-go pension system in the Czech Republic less workers equals to smaller bundle of money that might be redistributed to the pensioners. So, the state pensions would have to be lowered or social insurance contribution rates (or/and another taxes) would have to be raised.

You have experienced ATAIRU Leadership program for women leaders.  What is your approach to leadership?

I like approach “respect and to be respected”.  Our talents and nature has to be respected and we have to respect talents of our family members (including children), colleagues and others.  Much like the garden is nice when it is colorful; life is beautiful when it is diverse. “People always saying yes” are less conflicting and less likely provoke a progress. The team is working as a complex organism. Each of cellules of the organism is important and carries a unique role. The right functioning of each cellule ensures that the organism performs well.

More interesting interviews on
An Interview with Bohuslav Sobotka, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
An Interview with Věra Jourová, Minister for Local Development

An interview with Andrej Babiš
An interview with JUDr. Hana Machačová, Deputy General Director of Kooperativa insurance
An Interview with Pepper de Callier, international leadership coach

Source: Prague Leaders Magazine   


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