Ivo Miksa, one of the three owners of GUARANT International, joined the company shortly after its establishment in 1992. He studied at the Faculty of Civil Engineering of the Czech Technical University and covers, among other things, business and IT activities. He organized congresses for IBM, meetings of the International Monetary Fund, worked on the team that managed to organize a congress after major floods. Anyone who reads the following lines will quickly understand that he is definitely not afraid of big challenges. Together with the other owners, they did not give up during the difficult situation of the past two years and they managed to get GUARANT through the pandemic without losing a flower. As he admits, he has experienced situations in the past where he felt gray hair growing. However, the crucial decisions always paid off for him in the end.
When did you first hear about GUARANT?
I heard about GUARANT thanks to acquaintances who were employed in Čedok. They decided they wanted to offer better services under a separate brand and were looking for collaborators. At that time I was still a student of the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the Czech Technical University and I found a message at the dormitory from Luďek Vocílka, who needed to translate one offer. I joined GUARANT when he was starting to have clients. It was a time of great opportunity thanks to the corporate clientele, which required the organization of congresses and corporate events. Fourteen days before I joined the company, the offices opened a short distance from our current headquarters at 21 Českomoravská Street in Prague.
So what was your first task in the new offices?
At first I helped to equip the offices with IT technology, I remember our discussions with Luďek about the first colour printer. We discussed that it would be good to send clients colour instead of ugly black and white offers. At that time, GUARANT consisted of five or six enthusiasts who started everything with enthusiasm, even though some things had to be learned as they marched. In those early years, the company was most characterized by the ability to bridge the ditch that was then between the Czech level of service and Czech supply practices on the one hand, and the Western quality standard expected by our clients on the other. We managed to manage that successfully and that is why we were able to grow.
When was the first turning point and when did it finally take off?
I personally felt it sometime in 1992. In the fall, I organized my first event for 110 mathematicians at the Forum Hotel. At the same time, my very big event for Cap Gemini Sogeti took place at the Hilton Hotel, where I managed transportation for 800 people, a total of 16 buses. It was a really big congress, which was also attended by French hostesses dressed in beautiful red costumes. We nicknamed them Little Red Riding Hoods. At the time, I thought I was doing something that I enjoyed, that somehow affected a lot of people, something that clients appreciated. There I thought the company was worth it. I was not a partner at that moment.
From a professional point of view, this turning point occurred in the second half of the 1990s. That’s when we decided to specialize in conferences and said we would support our clients’ candidacies. It was a bold decision in a way because it meant a big investment. The decision to invest in the candidacy in order for someone to win a congress in the Czech Republic means a lot of work, it also requires investment, and also a completely different way of acting. At that time, we began to be different. That’s when we became a conference specialist, one round ahead of the others. In 1996, we founded a free association called Destination Prague 2000. Together with us, CSA, Hotel Corinthia and KCP were in it. We created promotional materials, flyers and we went to exhibitions together. For example, ČAKT (Czech Congress Tourism Association) was founded a year later, in 1997. At that time, it broke and we gained an advantage, which then took advantage of the years 2000 to 2004, when we became a complete hegemon in the market.
Have you ever been worried that you took too much stock or too much investment? Do you remember a moment when you got a little stuck?
We have grown gray several times because we are basically responsible for everything, even the weather. The meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Prague was certainly one of those demanding events. It was an event for 17.5 thousand people, which was also exceptional in that we didn’t actually do it. Basically, we ran this event and taught the government people how to do it. We usually spend 20% of our time explaining to the client what we will do it for them and then devoting 80% of our time to doing so. In this case, we spent 80% of our time explaining why all the steps needed to be done, how they needed to be done, who could do them, and so on.
Another difficult situation occurred after the great floods in Prague. At that time, a month before the Dermatovenerological Congress, we found out that we did not have hotels or a metro systém for 3,500 people soon to arrive. As a result, we provided alternative transportation, alternative accommodation, etc.
Do you have a funny story to share?
I quite like to remember a few challenging events, for example for Schering Plow or for IBM. The clients had demanding requirements, such as securing a New York Times edition. Newspapers were available in Europe at the time, but they were two days old, so we agreed that they would send us the most important pages from New York by fax. This was at a time when the Internet did not exist. One time we had a fleet of thirty-five Mercedes and one Ford to transport the participants because one participant was a member of the Ford Board of Directors, and we simply were not allowed to put them in a Mercedes.
Another story is on the way to Konopiště, we provided carriages for about 40 people for one client. The carriage with the General Manager took a bad turn in the forest and went to Benešov instead of Konopiště. In the end, however, it turned out well. The carriage and the GM later drove through the crow, and everyone waved and applauded that he had found way.
At the beginning of GUARANT there was no Internet, now the time is opposite, moreover exacerbated by the pandemic. How do you perceive the past and the present in relation to virtual possibilities?
When I joined the company, the participants of the events wrote in big books in pencil so that they could be erased. I was already typing on computers. We communicated with clients by letters and later by e-mail, initially using a dial-up Internet. We made our first online registration in 1994. Time has changed in that everything is faster and more accessible. Everything is simplified, which brings the effect of immediate stress. In fact, they told us at school that we belonged to a generation that would have to learn all their lives. I enjoy learning new things. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new, so nowadays it is a challenge to keep our eyes open and stay alert.
How do you retrospectively perceive the way GUARANT handled the pandemic?
It can be said that the pandemic somehow illuminated the positive qualities and resilience of people. Although we can’t fully function yet, we don’t give up, we don’t pack it in. We have already endured what we certainly did not consider possible and manageable at the beginning. As an industry, we have been able to push together something that would not have been possible at all before. Together with our competitors, we were able to lobby and pull together. It has even happened that the individual participants in our lobbying have become modest in order to succeed in the common interest. That’s a nice testimonial for our entire industry. Despite the pandemic and fears of contact with other people, people need to meet, because emotions do not flow through e-mail or the screen. Everyone is looking forward to seeing each other live and in person, to return to standard conference operations. I think we will all appreciate them much more. Just like today, we appreciate that we can go out for coffee or a restaurant, or that we can have a beer somewhere. Unintentionally, we simply got into a state where we took things for granted.
How do you see the future of virtual events after the pandemic?
Compared to the situation before the pandemic, there will certainly be more virtual events. We have new tools and have learned to use them. We have found that they can be very fast and efficient in some cases. While preparing a normal conference for 300 people takes a month, a virtual webinar for 300 people can be set up in 2 to 3 days. As a result, some of the events will move to a virtual space forever. However, it will really only be a part because what arises in traditional immediate human communication cannot be replaced. Even if we had holograms that look like in Star Wars, it would still be a filtered, not an immediate fact. Face to face encounters with the ability to directly verify what one is saying, how one is smiling, whether one is smiling, or if one is shaking hands even revealing nervousness will continue to be necessary. Similar facts are not and will not be in virtual events. We need this non-verbal communication to fully understand the meaning of what we are talking to people about, what we are lecturing about, what we are trying to sell, or what we intend to buy. Without it, we are significantly impoverished.
What arises in traditional immediate human communication cannot be replaced. Even if we had holograms that look like in Star Wars, it would still be a filtered, not an immediate fact. Face to face encounters with the ability to directly verify what one is saying, how one is smiling, whether one is smiling, or if one is shaking hands even revealing nervousness will continue to be necessary. Similar facts are not and will not be in virtual events. We need this non-verbal communication to fully understand the meaning of what we are talking to people about, what we are lecturing about, what we are trying to sell, or what we intend to buy. Without it, we are significantly impoverished.
It can be said that the pandemic somehow illuminated the positive qualities and resilience of people. Although we can’t fully function yet, we don’t give up, we don’t pack it in. We have already endured what we certainly did not consider possible and manageable at the beginning.