The British Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic has been active for just over fifteen years. Its members include more than 200 companies, ranging from multinationals to entrepreneurs. Some of the names on their roster include Marks and Spencer, Vodafone, and Prague College. The BCC is certainly not limited to British companies, but is open to anyone who does business with the United Kingdom.
The stated aim of the BCC is to promote business between the Czech Republic and the UK. However, through its many events it accomplishes much more.
The BCC is a solely independent member-based organization. It receives no state support, which means it has a greater degree of independence in pursuing its aims. Overseeing the chamber’s activities is an eleven-member board, comprised of a mix of local and British members. Members come from the banking, business and legal professions. The board is elected at an annual general meeting held in May.
The current chairperson is Lukáš Ševčík, Managing Director of the law firm Kinstellar, which has offices around Central and Eastern Europe. The Honorary Chairperson is the British Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Sian MacLeod.
Alongside the board is the Executive Team, who, in the words of Head of Communications Alex Went, “is responsible for delivering that vision in terms of our twin strategy – to provide business advantage to our members, and to inform and improve the business environment – through the twin channels of networking and communications.”
Mr. Went sees the Czech Republic as a favorable place for UK business people to operate. Two of the main attractions are both being members of the EU and the openness of the Czech economy. He did highlight some differences, though. The two countries have different approaches to contract law and labor regulation; oral legal contracts are enforceable in the UK, and their labor laws are more flexible.
“However, the similarities are much greater than the differences. Other than in the complexities of public procurement, the Czech Republic is a straightforward place to do business,” he said.
One of the most visible ways the BCC engages with the local business community is through its workshops and events. The calendar is quite full as they hold about four events per month. The tone of the events can range from serious briefings about addressing corruption in the Czech business environment and skill-based workshops in which people can learn about using social media or improving their English skills for business to more informal events. The BCC has put on wine-tasting evenings, polo courses, days at the races, golf events, and Christmas carols during the festive season. Mr. Went mentioned that the social events are often British themed, so the chamber appeals not only to people’s commercial concerns but cultural interests too.
From their fifteen years of experience, Mr. Went feels that the BCC has honed its events and have found what works, though they are still looking to innovate.
“This autumn will see our New Technologies Day and British Fashion Day. Last September, 120 of our members attended a superb event at the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, and we currently looking to expand our offering for the regions, with events planned in both Olomouc and southern Bohemia. We constantly monitor feedback in order to create events of genuine quality for our members,” Mr. Went said.
Even if you don’t belong to the chamber, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the events. Many of the activities are open to non-members.
“We see all non-members as potential members, and they are always welcome to attend the majority of our events,” Mr. Went said.
Role in Society
The role of the BCC extends beyond bringing business people together and promoting business with the UK. The chamber also tries to promote what Mr. Went described as traditional British values. These are: integrity, fairness, and business friendliness. The chamber achieves these aims through the aforementioned briefings but also through working groups one of which looks at the issue of diversity.
“In practice, the Chamber is always looking for ways to promote its members’ interests. We have a strong commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility, and in fact received the 2012 Best Small Chamber in Continental Europe award for our work in this area,” Mr. Went said.
One concrete program they have is called the Equilibrium Programme, which is running again in 2013. The program is a mentoring scheme for senior professional women. The idea is to foster women in junior positions with skills to take on senior positions. The mentor and mentee meet once a month for two hours, and the program is in English. The initiative is clearly worthwhile given that the senior management positions are mostly held by men.
The chamber has worked to increase public awareness of the UK Bribery Act and its effect here. The act makes bribery by British companies punishable even if outside the UK, so Czech companies with any British links would be affected. To make its members aware, the BCC held a seminar in conjunction with the Ministry of Industry and Trade to better inform its members.
“We continue to support initiatives that improve the transparency of the business environment and, we hope, of legislation,” Mr. Went said.
Information is crucial to the chamber’s activities. They produce a magazine called Focus which has features on the business environment. For example, the recent issue includes a feature on Moravia, the growing tech industry in East London, as well as an interview with David Černý. In addition, they have an e-newsletter called The Tube.
Overall, the chamber is slowly helping to shape the way business is done here and provide foreign business people with tools and networks to engage in local business, whether they are British or not.