Interview with Josef Sestak – LIGS tutor
Josef Sestak - tutor of LIGS University recently gave an interview to Gastro jobs newspaper
How did you get into tourism and air transportation?
After graduating from the School of Economics in Znojmo, I left to study at Karlovy Vary at the time, which was the only school of tourism and spa at the time. After graduating from this school, I went to Prague to apply for a job at the former Czechoslovak Airlines. To my great joy, I was accepted. At CSA, I went through a variety of functions – stow officer, catering trade officer, along with being the deputy head of The Americas region and booking systems. While working at CSA, I graduated from the Faculty of Law at Charles University. I was lucky that I knew several languages including Spanish, so at the age of 29, I was sent to Cuba as a CSA representative. It was an amazing experience in a beautiful country with a good school that taught self-reliance in management. I was also a CSA representative in Greece and Germany.
In 1992 I got an offer I couldn't refuse. A travel agency interested in opening an office in Prague approached me. It was Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT). After some hesitation, I accepted the offer – I knew that I could make good use of the knowledge I acquired from my studies and experience at CSA. With a great joy and a sense of a job well done, I worked at CWT until I retired in 2007. However, that was not the end of my working life. Coincidentally, at the time, I was approached by the then vice-rector of The University College of Business in Prague to use my knowledge as a lecturer and experience in the field of Air Transport and Tourism Economics courses. As for now, I am a school employee currently working in the position of deputy head of the aviation department.
From the above, it is evident that you have an incredible business experience. Which job was most memorable?
I have been thinking about the answer to this question for a long time. I liked my job at both the CSA and CWT very much – it is tough to decide between the two. CSA was where my heart was, my compatriots and I were proud to be working at such a prestigious airline, and our work was not only a responsibility but also a great joy. I visited fascinating countries and interesting people, and I had the opportunity to become familiar with their mentality, and expand on my language knowledge base of English, Spanish, German, Russian and partially Greek. Moreover, I was lucky to have excellent colleagues with whom I was connected by love not only for the profession but also by a sincere friendship.
Leaving CSA: even though at CWT I was offered a salary that was six times higher than I was getting at the time, it was very hard for me to leave, when I tendered my resignation to the former general manager, I was quite embarrassed. CWT was another important chapter of my life. Initially, I worked with a very professional management team in France, later on, I would go on to work in the US and Germany. They had an entirely different system of administration and planning than I was accustomed to at CSA. In the Czech Republic, we became one of the largest travel agencies that focused on business trips, and our annual turnover was reaching more than half a billion CZK. For me it was a challenge and responsibility – I was alone in the Czech Republic, and I was responsible for the team's results. Everything went well, and we had a great success. For this work, I was awarded the Manager of the Year in small business in the Czech Republic in 2006 and the Best Company Employee in Europe by CWT in 2007.
Do employees have a different approach to work in the destinations where you have been employed?
Yes, the approach is very different. In Latin America, life flows at a slow pace. People do not get nervous because of little things and when they get too tough to deal with, they are just postponed to the next day 'mañana.' This suited me well at my very young age. In Greece, the work was already at full pace, however still with “Balkan“ time reserves. In Germany, everything has its order. People were working very responsibly, both work and personal meetings were attended precisely on time, and in many cases, only a handshake was enough to close a deal. I integrated a little bit of each in my personal approach to life – although I got the most from my German experience. Nowadays, I emphasize to students the importance of meeting deadlines, having stable behavior and a professional approach to any issue. I also teach the importance of assertiveness, because everyone who is working in the service industry – whether they are working in air transport or tourism must show a maximum interest to the client. This means that one must be a good psychologist.
Based on your experience, what do Czechs lack the most regarding work?
Czech people are very capable workers; they can often do the impossible – unfortunately, their approach to clients and dealing with them sometimes lacks tact. What do I miss about Czechs? It’s the smile, the willingness to meet client’s needs and the ability to establish a relaxing mood. I have a high regard for Czechs and their work abilities – however, we not know how to market these skills successfully.
There has been a problem with unpunctuality and sometimes even unfairness and unnecessary suspiciousness before an actual negotiation with a client even takes place and especially before closing a deal.
You were elected the Manager of the Year, and your students evaluated you as an excellent teacher. What do you think is the main reason?
Certainly, the main reason is that I am doing my job with love and enthusiasm. I was appointed the Manager of the Year because we started from nothing and achieved maximal sales and an excellent name in the Czech market. I demonstrated that I was able to make immediate management decisions without the possibility of consulting with my superiors and under a maximum workload regardless of working hours. At The University College of Business, it is a pleasure to work with young people, to be receptive to their opinions and wholesome perspective. I like to listen to these young people and pass on my practical experience – especially from air transport and tourism.
What kind of student group do you focus on at The University College of Business?
I do not have a particular group of students that I would be more focused on. Naturally, I love to work with students who have a genuine interest in the topics that I teach and they are not just interested in getting a good grade, but I am also trying to spark interest in students who are in the process of deciding what their specialization should be, particularly at the beginning of their studies. I also try to use my contacts and bring the directors of foreign airlines operating in the CR as guests to the school. These people explain to students their missions in our country, the fight for every single client and they enjoy responding to students‘ questions. Likewise, my friends – directors of travel agencies and sometimes also hotels bring their latest "know how“ to our school. And if it helps just a few skillful students find an exciting job at these companies, I have a satisfying feeling that my good intentions were fulfilled.
Outside of The University College of Business, I partially work at LIGS London International Graduate School, where I am a member of the Academic Council and a tutor. The focus here is slightly different – the students have either finished their postgraduate studies and have university degrees, or they are professionals in practice. All of them after graduation will obtain either a BBA, MBA, MSc., or DBA (Ph.D.) degree. Teaching is done through either an executive or online interactive form. I like e-learning education, and I firmly believe this, because of that I am doing a good job at LIGS. I am teaching the tourism major, and it's partly in connection with air transport.
Where do the students at The University College of Business find employment?
The University College of Business provides education in the field of Tourism and Aviation Services. You can tell from that name that students usually find a job in these areas. The University College of Business provides education on a full-time and part-time basis. Students who already have jobs in their respective fields and are interested in improving their qualifications either to maintain their current employment or regarding career promotion attend lectors on weekends. Our graduates find attractive jobs in tourism enterprises and travel agencies and hotels along with public services managing tourism in the CR. The department of air transport educates professionals who find exciting and challenging employment in aviation enterprises management or operations in these companies. Many of our graduates and students work at CSA, Air Traffic Control and state authorities who are tasked with managing Czech civil aviation of a group of foreign airlines – many graduates can be found in offices or as flight attendants at CSA, Emirates, Travel Service and many others. Several of our graduates actively operate as airline transport pilots. The full range of employment of our graduates would take a whole page to list. Thus I am mentioning only the most notable.
Can you list some of your other current activities?
I am a member of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute, a member of the "Board of Advisors“ at Leader's Magazine and a member and partial founder of SKOL Club whose members are directors of travel agencies, hotels and airlines, which operate in the Czech Republic. I like to participate in Tourism League events; I cooperate with airlines in solving their issues in the Czech Republic, etc.
How do you have such energy and enthusiasm?
It is partly due to that influence that Latin America has had on me. I try not to obsess over trivial problems; I follow the motto "Keeping yourself merry and cheerful is a key for staying healthy." Sometimes it can be a bit of a challenge. I make sure that I don't neglect to exercise. I sometimes play tennis, other times I take long walks in the countryside and do other relaxing activities on a regular basis. It wouldn't be possible any other way.
What life motto would you recommend to others who want to be as successful as you?
I am not that good at coming up with mottos, but I like and believe that this one is instructive for people who want to study and succeed in life:
“We are all pilgrims on the same journey. But some pilgrims have better road maps.“ N. DeMille
And it is our responsibility to provide road maps to young people.