He was born in a Romany family in an environment where it was basically impossible not to fall foul of the law. Vladimír Michalčík freely admits he was a criminal, but seven years behind bars completely transformed his life. When he was released from prison he started a business in the cosmetic industry and after three years his company is now making millions. Does this sound like a fairy tale? In an interview for Luxury Life Prague this thirty-seven year old businessman talked about the experience behind his success. And it is certainly no stroll through the park…..
What did you want to be as a small boy?
Whatever children around me said. As children we all inspired each other. A sailor and also a dustman etcetera.
Where did your first steps take you, what profession did you choose?
Well what about summer jobs?
I never had a job. Everyone knows I started out illegally. I was a bit of a delinquent, but with regard to business I filed for a trade licence when I was about nineteen and imported cars from Europe.
You say that everyone knows how you started out. But when I look at you I never have thought it of you. How does such a cute little boy, who wanted to be a sailor or a dustman, become a person dabbling in criminal activities, knowing that he would be punished for it?
I only look cute, but I grew up in a bad environment. We grew up in the nineteen nineties, we lived in a tough area and this affected us from all aspects. The environment had a great effect on us.
So you didn’t actually think that you were doing something wrong if everyone was doing it?
I think so. On the contrary, we liked it. We were young and restless.
Was it fun, a rush?
I would certainly call it a rush. At that time a lot of American films were being released, gangster films and such. I think this also had an influence on our activities.
Did you have any limits? Usually parents act as a restraint…
The only thing my parents placed importance on was school. We had to have good grades and go to school. Otherwise we had an unrestricted upbringing. Everyone could basically do what they wanted.
And what did you want to do?
I carried out illegal activities. I started gradually, first of all on the street, and then it grew to an international scale. I am not proud of what I did and I was also appropriately “rewarded” for my efforts.
How many years were you sentenced to?
I was sentenced to ten.
I served my sentence in several prisons, it works on a sort of rotation system. I served seven years and was discharged on probation for three years.
You served seven years in various prisons. What does this do to a young person? What goes on in his head when he is suddenly put in prison and is unable to do anything about it?
First of all they put remanded me in custody. Remand is worse than serving a sentence. You are locked up for 23 hours and are allowed out for one hour. The question is what do you do with your time? I had books sent to me. I was always spiritually inclined so I had books about Buddhism by the Dalai Lama sent to me. I must say that this was the beginning, it opened my eyes.
I started to meditate and I suddenly realised, after several months and particularly after I was sentenced, how simple it all is. I received a tough sentence and I thought to myself that since I was in prison, and I would remain there for some time, then I should use this time for to ace hive something. I should use it for something positive and not focus on negative issues. I started to study everything I was interested in. Business, economy and personal growth in general. This was what helped me most.
You’ve already said that the crime you committed was on an international scale, but only someone clever would be able to achieve something like that. You need an education and intelligence. What school did you study at before you were sentenced and what level of education did you achieve afterwards?
I was admitted to a secondary school of business management. But I didn’t finish it because I was sentenced to prison.
But it is possible to finish one’s education in prison…
It is, but it is complicated. So I have an unfinished secondary school education.
Still? Don’t you want to complete your education?
I plan on doing so. I don’t need to, but I want to.
Simply for the feeling. I don’t know if you have children…..
So when you do have them, you can set an example.
Exactly. I think I will finish my education. (laughter)
I’m interested in the criminal environment in general. Is there some sort of hierarchy? Did you have some sort of position when you committed an international crime?
There is a hierarchy and it is quite complicated. It is not enough to be strong, you also have to be smart. There are always two leaders of each section in prison, who are called “kapéčko” and barákovej”. And I usually assumed one of these positions wherever I was serving my sentence.
Does that mean you had advantages? Did you also provide advantages to others, for payment or for cigarettes?
No, I never took anything from anyone. Everyone else did, but not me. I didn’t need to.
Did you smoke in prison?
No I don’t smoke.
That means you’re practically a miracle. A Romany who doesn’t smoke!
Our whole family is probably a miracle then, because no one in our family smokes, we are non-smokers. The only exception is my sister, otherwise they are all – my grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts, brother – non-smokers. It’s probably genetic.
Do you have any good friends from that phase of your life?
Certainly. Very few, around two from the tens of people I knew. But they remained my friends.
Are they as successful as you?
They are doing OK. They are not involved in anything illegal any longer, they are also in business and they are now sensible people.
What is your experience of conducting business in the Czech Republic? What do you think about it?
It’s always about the person. He has to have the drive, he has to want to put all his effort into it and not admit any possibility of failure. Everyone will make mistakes, but they mustn’t keep repeating the same ones. They have to follow their dream and when they fail, they have to learn from their failure and do things differently next time and keep pushing forward. Until they achieve their goal. You have to be a pit-bull in business, grab on and not let go until you achieve your goals.
Do you arouse terror when you negotiate prices with clients and suppliers?
Of course not, I’m easy. I deal respectably and calmly, and I think that everyone is satisfied.
Are you not concerned that now that your past has come to light you will have problems with your business?
I don’t think so. If someone wants to do business with me they can, if they don’t then they don’t have to. I don’t like being dependant on anyone.
I know that when you were discharged from prison you collaborated with a company that makes cheaper types of perfume. How did you manage to establish your own company Gitano Cosmetics and make it so successful?
I managed to undergo a transformation while still in prison, that is where my “mind-set” was established. I knew even before they discharged me, that I would do things differently. I knew that I would be able to achieve my dream. I didn’t believe, I knew!
What was your first step towards establishing a business? You have to have some sort of capital….
I started with seventy thousand. I started really small, practically with nothing.
What was your turnover last year?
Over 60 million.
How do you achieve something like this? And within such a short period.
Its about hard work, drive and perseverance.
You had no one to advise you? You read how to do it in books?
No one advised me, but one keeps learning. I have made lots of mistakes during the five years I have been in business.
Like what for instance?
I didn’t read various contracts I concluded with some suppliers properly and suddenly I was under obligation for two years, even though this was disadvantageous for me. Those are the sort of things that meant I suffered, I had to pay for things, even though I didn’t need them. This was a burden on my business. Next time I was more cautious.
Didn’t you hire some experienced people who would provide advice?
The first thing you have to do is go to a tax consultant to find out what taxes apply to your sector of business and what your duties are. Then I found an accountant and that was the basis to make sure I didn’t have any problems with the authorities. Otherwise I had no particular advisors.
How many employees do you have? You employ practically your entire family don’t you?
Not my entire family. My sister, niece and now my father work for me. Otherwise we have over a hundred people in total. We also have a branch in Croatia in Zadar, where we employ thirty people.
And your company is located in Most?
Our headquarters are in Dubí, where our manufacturing plant and warehouses are located. Our offices are in Most
Don’t you want to move to Prague?
I plan on opening a branch in Prague, which will be in charge of marketing only.
That’s a lot of travelling.
It’s only 40 minutes to Prague from Teplice along the motorway.
What are you most proud of in your company?
I am most proud of my employees. They are people who were unable to find a job, we gave them a chance and now they are very successful. They make enough money to be well off. They are no longer registered with the unemployment office, they have paid of their debts and live a better life. That is the main thing I am proud of. Then I am also proud to have established my own brand, my own perfume.
What sort of perfume is it?
We have lady’s citrus perfume for example, which contains bergamot, which is a rare fruit that grows in the south of Italy, on Sicily. It has citrus tones and is fresh and light.
In your fast confession you said that you didn’t spend your first million, you invested it. However, with regard to the fact that you are evidently a wealthy person, is there something you enjoy spending your money on?
My brother Roman also has a business, in the fashion industry. He has his own brand called God Loves You, so I always have something to wear thanks to him. And I definitely love cars, I like them a lot. I love new technologies and a Tesla was an evident choice. It is a completely different car to all others.
Because it is environmentally friendly, it is electric, it requires minimum outlay. With regard to technology, it is unique.
Most millionaires carry out some charitable activities. What about you and charity?
We collaborate with the “Správný start” foundation, which is managed by Jonáš Motyčka. This is a foundation that helps children, or new adults, eighteen-year olds, who leave a children’s home. According to statistics most of these children end up badly, so Jonáš Motyčka helps them find a job. He explains what their duties are, what to do, he tells them about the crisis line they can call if they find themselves in difficulty. I believe this has a purpose so I support him financially.
What do you do apart from work? How come you don’t have a family at thirty-seven?
Because it’s logical. I had a long-term girlfriend, I was sent to prison when I was twenty-six, and I was released when I was thirty-three. I did have some relationships afterwards, but I am single right now. However, I definitely want a family. Otherwise, what do I enjoy doing…I certainly like doing sports, I visit a gym regularly and I enjoy boxing.
For entertainment, or because you will need it for self-defence?
No, to keep fit.
Where do you see yourself in five years? You said you are still looking for a home.
I said I am still looking for a home because I enjoy travelling, I love travelling. I have promised myself that when I find the country or place I feel best in I will settle there.
And that is where you will find a partner and have children?
Maybe, but that isn’t the way it has to be.
And the company?
The company in five years time….I assume we will be in another twenty countries at least and I want Gitano perfume to be a worldwide brand.