These days, it’s almost impossible to avoid the business empire of Radim Jančura, one of the Czech Republic’s most high-profile entrepreneurs. The yellow buses of his Student Agency company are a familiar sight on local roads, and now his fleet of equally brightly coloured RegioJet trains are competing with state-funded rail operator České dráhy. Jančura started off by founding an au pair agency in the early 1990s, and then established Student Agency in 1996. As well as road and rail interests, he is a player in the air sector through his Orbix firm, which sells air tickets to corporate clients. In this interview, he talks among others about RegioJet, and doing business and the current economic climate.
Student Agency is one of the most successful companies in the Czech Republic. What do you attribute the success to?
Our business has always involved identifying gaps in the market, and as a result we managed to introduce quality services. Whether it was our fleet of yellow buses, the RegioJet trains, or the sale of air tickets or trips, what we did was a breakthrough. We have introduced many new features over the years that our customers never thought possible. Until the arrival of the yellow buses, it did not occur to anyone that you could have stewardesses aboard buses, and the same applies to our trains. Our level of service has often inspired other transport companies. Yet another factor leading to our success are our company policies, which are customer-focused, and lead to smiles and positive emotions. These are all reasons why our customers choose us.
Could you, through your eyes, describe the story of Student Agency? What lead you to create Student Agency?
I was curious about why I should accept that some services simply do not work well. Why should I accept all the old clichés as excuses for the fact that things shouldn’t be different. Such ideas also motivated me at the start, when I began organizing au-pair trips abroad, and it they also apply to our buses, trains, or selling holidays online on dovolena.cz.
What is your business philosophy?
Our business philosophy is to sell services on a large scale while minimizing margins, to the benefit of the end customer in terms of quality and price. That is our business philosophy. We do not want to sell expensive or low-quality services with the view of short-term profits. That is not something that one can succeed in with the customer in mind.
How hard (easy) is it to do business in the Czech Republic? How did the local business environment benefit or harm your businesses?
For me as a businessman, the important thing is not whether I have to overcome barriers such as bureaucracy, official procedures, or administrative complications. The real obstacle is the lack of a level playing field and equal conditions for individual businesses. Due to corruption, one business can be favored over another and thus enjoy better conditions. It is very hard to deal with that.
Who or what (ideas, thoughts, events, etc.) influences you most as a businessman?
I pay a lot of attention to my common sense and intuition. On the other hand, I can associate with the ideas, procedures and methods of british magnate Richard Branson – the founder and owner of the Virgin group. We do business in similar fields, believe in a similar approach, and both like the same creative ideas that capture the hearts of our clients.
The lack of crude oil is a global problem, and one of the key media themes concerning the travel industry. How do you deal with this uncertainty?
The price of crude oil and its development surely has an impact on the costs of the products that we offer. This includes the air tickets, bus transport – this is where the price of fuel shows itself. Unfortunately, there is very little we can do there – we have to take these costs as a fact. Of course, we aim at ensuring the least impact possible for our clients, but we are on the same ship as other travel and transport companies.
Have you ever considered entering the low-cost airline carrier business market?
No. We operate buses and trains, and while we run the largest sales channel of air tickets in the Czech Republic, we leave the business of actually operating and flying planes to others. We will gladly sell air tickets, and we will continue cooperating with air carriers on large projects, thanks to which we can consistently offer better prices. However, we will leave the flying to others.
Economic forecasts are rather negative. Some analysts predict further dips. How do you view this issue and how do you think it will affect your business?
We believe that even negative predictions can be translated into new opportunities. People will want to buy quality services at more affordable prices, and that is precisely our strong point. Over the first three months of this year we have noted positive developments in our business – for example, the number of excursions and vacations has increased by 60%, and we are doing equally well in other aspects, too. I therefore believe that even this year will be a good one for us.
How is the situation developing between your business and České dráhy?
The situation is no longer as fraught as it was at first, when ČD reacted with a series of confusing and hysterical steps, which were in many cases unnecessary. Even they are getting used to the fact that they are not the only player on the market, and that competition is on the rise. What we are concerned about most is ČD’s unfair monopoly pratices, such as when it abused its position to dump prices in an attempt to squeeze us out of the market. This is currently being investigated by the Úřad pro ochranu hospodářské soutěže (Office for the Protection of Economic Competition), and I am confident that ČD will be punished for trying, at the beginning, to harm its first competitor. We also intend to take over all connections that ČD chooses to abandon because they cannot afford the costs. Because we can afford the costs.
Are you planning on attracting further clients with new services?
We are constantly trying to offer innovations and new services to our clients. For example, in our trains, you will see internet cafes showing up. These will show up first on the Prague–Havířov connection, as well as other heavy-traffic connections. Our customers will be able to study or work at normal tables with enough space around them. We are also preparing further moves, which we will gradually announce throughout the year.
Is RegioJet planning new destinations? For example, Poland or Austria?
We are currently negotiating with the German railways to partner on the Prague-Berlin-Hamburg line. If the German railways choose us as their partner, we will extend our services to also include this link to Germany. We are also planning on expanding in Slovakia in terms of long-distance travel, and the same is planned for the Czech Republic.
Do you employ expats (foreigners)?
Yes, this is particulary the case for the onboard personnel and drivers on our buses and trains. They are primarily Slovaks, who have found jobs with Czech Student Agency.
How do you see the future of the travel sector in the Czech Republic?
We expect to see more diversification in the public railway network. Customers can see the new levels of service quality that we have introduced to the market, and they can see that competition is good since it leads to better services for all; to the modernization of trains, and better prices. We have already achieved that in Slovakia through our regional trains on the Bratislava-Dunajská Streda-Komárno link.