Interview: Dana Hradecká

We speak with the co-founder of Botanicus shops & organic gardens

She may not be very well-known among expats, but her company’s shop at Ungelt is an expat and tourist favorite. Dana Hradecká is the co-founder of Botanicus, which sells herbal and botanically-based products, with an emphasis on tradition and organic raw materials. Established in 1992, Botanicus has grown steadily and is now expanding into Russia and China.

The firm is based in the Central Bohemian village of Ostrá, where it runs a 30-hectare complex including a series of organic gardens and a mock historic village. Both are open to the public (this year’s season opens April 28th). Plants and herbs grown in the gardens are used in Botanicus products, and at the village visitors can learn about learn about medieval life through trades represented there, such as candle making and woodcarving.

In this interview, Dana Hradecká talks, among other things, about how her interest began, her stint in the United Kingdom in the early 1990s, and her career path.

Can you describe where your interest in horticulture started?
It all goes back to my childhood. I grew up in a village and was surrounded by the countryside and nature, so my interest logically developed from that.

What inspired you to set up Botanicus?
It started in 1990, when I inherited my grandmother’s farm and wanted, somehow, to recreate a family tradition that was interrupted by 40 years of communism. After living in the UK for a year and a half, things took a slightly different direction.

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Who or what has inspired you throughout your career?
That varies, depending on the different stages of my life. From the botany and plant knowledge point of view, it was definitely Dr. Malcolm Stuart, whom I met when I worked in the UK. In terms of involvement with big business, it was Anita and Gordon Roddick. When it comes to personal strength and courage, the biggest influence on me is my friend Rosie Stancer, Of course, my husband, closest friends and family have always supported me through up and downs.

What do you regard as your most important achievement in your career?
My company has been in existence for 20 years, but the birth of my son was the most important thing for me.

How do you balance the need to do business and make a profit with the need to be in harmony with nature?
I believe that every business needs to be viable. Then you can look at other interests and issues. Of course, in the end what you choose to focus on is a personal decision.

How important are expats and tourists as a customer base? Are you actively involved in promoting your products to these groups? If yes, how do you this?
Our customers are mainly those who are interested in natural products as well as in nature itself. Therefore, we don’t have a typical customer base. We don’t put pressure on our customers and don’t use strong advertising with them. A lot of people come to see our gardens and historic village, and can see at first hand where and how our products are made.

You recently expanded into China and have outlets in Russia. What attracted you to these countries?
It was a coincidence that at that time we developed a good relationship with a potential business partner, and we decided to follow this path. It‘s basically about how you get on with people who have an interest in your business right from the beginning. It’s this first, instinctive feeling, the first moment, the first impression, etc. It’s something basic, which you cannot describe. It’s either there or it’s not.

What is the most important lesson you have learned in business?
Don’t give up when the situation gets tough. I believe that it’s more important to know what I don’t want rather than thinking about what I would like.

How easy do you think it’s for women in business in the Czech Republic?
I have never experienced any differences between women and men in business. Personally, I have always had better working relationships with men.

Is there any advice would you offer other women in business in the Czech Republic?
I think women have to honestly ask themselves what is most important to them – family or business – before they start. This is a very personal decision.

Are you involved in charitable activities? If yes, can you tell us more about this work?
We support some charities as a company as well as individuals. I feel it’s more important to do it rather than talk about it it.

How do you balance the needs of your business, family, and having time to yourself?
I have been running the business with my husband for a number of years. During this time, I’ve learned how to separate business, family, and personal time quite strictly.

You worked for in the United Kingdom in the early 1990s. Can you tell us a little about that?
It’s very hard to explain just in a few words. It was a jump from with a communist country to a multicultural country with a hundreds of years of democracy, and Cambridge was like a jewel in the crown. By pure chance, I was partly involved with a privately-owned botanic garden for a year and half. I worked in the garden, learned English and was involved with a subject I loved – herbs, medicinal plants and pharmaceutical botany. Of course, such experience helps you grow, professionally but above all personally. You become an adult. You can’t measure this personal experience against anything.

How did it compare with life in the Czech Republic?
It was like two very different sides of the same coin.

How has living abroad affected your outlook on life?
I strongly believe that traveling, living abroad, learning and understanding other languages gives every young person a chance to look at life from a different point of view. It allows you to meet different people and different cultures, and makes you more tolerant of many things. You learn to become self-sufficient and independent.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?
Life can change very quickly, but I hope in five years time I’ll still be here. I hope I’ll “keep walking…“

Away from business, how do you like to spend your free time?
I love to travel to different places. As I said before, it gives you the chance to look at life from different points of view. To leave the place where you live and work always brings new things into your life and enriches you in every possible way.

Note: Historic Village of Arts & Crafts & Organic Gardens Complex in Ostrá will be open from 28th April till 7th October 2012. You may look forward to special events, Saturday’s performances or smaller special events held by Botanicus shop in Ostra. Follow the event calendar here.

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