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"We give new people a chance right from the start, and then it's up to them. As long as the consultants work as they should, I don't care if they work from home, Tenerife, or at the client's place. I want to see results - that's a completed project and a satisfied client," says Mirek Kolář, who runs Adastra Business Consulting (ABC), part of the global Adastra Group, which handles projects mainly in the banking sector, from Central Europe to Southeast Asia and Central America.
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Ivana Karhanová: Mirek Kolář leads Adastra Business Consulting (ABC), part of the global Adastra Group, and handles projects primarily in the banking sector. Currently, he also works for Avast and Ahold. Adastra Business Consulting is spread from Central Europe to Southeast Asia and Central America. Mirek, hi.
Mirek Kolář: Hi.
Ivana Karhanová: What kind of projects do you most often handle for clients at Adastra Business Consulting?
Mirek Kolář: Most often, it is various optimization projects where we analyze the client’s situation, propose the best solution and then support the implementation.
Ivana Karhanová: Can you mention specific projects?
Mirek Kolář: For example, these are different processes in the bank – loan approval, where we suggest how the loan or the client should be onboarded, ideally digitally, how we get data about the client, evaluate the risk criteria and calculate the model that will offer the right product or the correct limit for a particular client. And then describe those processes, prepare a business requirement document (BRD), and help the client implement that. Either the client implements it with their IT in-house and with their vendor, or we do it together with our colleagues at Adastra, who can develop frontends, integrate into the backend, and implement or integrate with us. For example, a decision engine and so on.
Ivana Karhanová: I mentioned that Adastra Business Consulting is spread out quite a lot, from Europe to Asia to America. Let’s talk about a couple of specific countries where you operate and what projects you’re working on.
Mirek Kolář: I counted recently, and it’s around 50. We’ve done clouds in every country, but we started with Central and Eastern Europe almost fifteen years ago. We’ve done several projects in the West, in Germany and Spain, and now we have one project in Finland. We are building a digital bank together with Adastra for a client in Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden. The other projects where we are most active right now are in Uzbekistan and Georgia. Uzbekistan opened up a couple of years ago, they want everything there, and historically, we have been operating in Asia for many years. With covid, it’s tapered off a little bit, but we still have projects running, currently in Cambodia and the Philippines, for example.
Ivana Karhanová: You mention a lot of countries, but you are based in the Czech Republic. Do you deliver those projects remotely, or do your people travel or fly to those countries?
Mirek Kolář: Before covid, we were one hundred percent with those clients, and most consultants flew from Prague. Some consultants live elsewhere, outside of Prague, typically more senior people we can trust to deliver a perfect result when they are not with us. During the covid, a lot of projects were done remotely. Until recently, we did, for example, a Filipino client entirely remotely. It’s pretty challenging for consultants to get up early in the morning for video calls. Now we’re kind of getting back to normal. Still, I would say post-call normal, which means kind of a hybrid model: we fly in, we’re there for a week or two, we get to know the client, the environment, we analyze, and then pretty much the delivery is done remotely, we fly in only from time to time.
Ivana Karhanová: From your point of view, what was the most curious job you did?
Mirek Kolář: There are a lot of them. I would probably mention a project we did a year and a half ago in Iraq in Kurdistan. We designed the IT architecture for an oil pipeline together with our colleagues from Adastra. It’s an exciting country, but when I announced to my wife at home that I was going to Iraq for a project, or at that time, more like a pre-sell, she was not very understanding. But I was allowed to do it in the end, and it was fine. Many people were working on that project for over a year – it was an exciting client and exciting people.
Ivana Karhanová: What are the IT issues in the pipeline? I keep picturing a pipe with oil flowing through it, but what’s the data or IT architecture around that?
Mirek Kolář: There’s a lot of it. One thing is the behavior of oil in the pipeline in general. Many things are measured there, for example, viscosity, how the oil flows, what the pressures are, the quality, and so on. The oil itself is transported to the pipeline from the production fields by truck, and everything runs there on paper and at most in Excel. There is no digitization at all. However, all activities generate some data, so we need to address a data warehouse where all the data is brought together and made into reporting.
Ivana Karhanová: What kind of boss are you?
Mirek Kolář: What kind of boss am I? Well, I would like to be strict. I think I’m partly succeeding. Partly not, because we are such a family. We all know each other. I regularly invite the company to my garden every year. We do it as a garden party, so I think I’m pretty friendly.
But on the other hand, I want to see results. The outcome is to make the client happy and give us more business. So yes, sometimes we work long hours, and I demand it.
Ivana Karhanová: So what are the working hours like? Do you have it fixed, or is the goal to get the project done?
Mirek Kolář: The goal is a completed project. Our consultants often work more than eight hours, ten or twelve hours. Sometimes we have to prepare a presentation for a client by three or four in the morning. Sometimes we work on weekends. When we need to, by flying around the world a lot, we don’t observe so many national holidays. If it’s a public holiday in our country, but in the Philippines, it’s not a public holiday there, so we work. But then again, consultants can pick and choose.
Ivana Karhanová: What are all the nationalities you can meet in the ABC – Adastra Business Consulting team?
Mirek Kolář: Of course, there are Czechs and Slovaks. And we have colleagues from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, and India. So different nationalities – we don’t differentiate.
Ivana Karhanová: But your communication language at the moment is English?
Mirek Kolář: Yes, English.
Ivana Karhanová: How much are you in the office, and how much can people be in the home office?
Mirek Kolář: We don’t say it strictly, somehow. The important thing is if they can deliver the result, be on call and work for the client. Of course, it depends on whether the client allows it or not. We even have an extensive client in Prague who still doesn’t want us to come to their office. The perception of people in companies has changed a lot with covid. So as long as we deliver the result and as long as the consultants work as they should, I don’t care if they work from home, from Tenerife, or at the client’s place.
Ivana Karhanová: Can you take on and work with an entirely remote person?
Mirek Kolář: We have a couple of those. I’m not saying it’s ideal. It’s good to see that person from time to time so that he or she feels that he or she is part of the team, and on the other hand, because we often do the projects at the client’s place, the team member, even if he or she lives somewhere else, gets to the project and is there with the colleagues at least for some time. Now actually, with the situation in Ukraine, we have consultants who are from Russia and Kazakhstan from Ukraine. We don’t see each other very regularly, but they go to Uzbekistan for projects. There they meet with the Prague team.
Ivana Karhanová: When a person joins you, how long is it before he or she can work independently, and what is the next step for them?
Mirek Kolář: We give people a chance right from the beginning. Of course, if he is a graduate, he has to learn some things first. We often give it to clients for free. I prefer on-the-job training. Of course, we offer some training, but the best way is to throw the person in the water to learn how to swim. If somebody has some experience, we’ll take them on, for example, in a more junior position, but can promote them to a more senior role within six months.
Ivana Karhanová: And if it’s a very senior person?
Mirek Kolář: A top senior can, for example, bring a new competence, or he can help us with sales or project management. There are possibilities. It depends on him.
Ivana Karhanová: What do you tolerate, and what do you hate?
Mirek Kolář: I can’t tolerate laziness when someone lies to me or when they promise something and then don’t do it. I mean these concerning clients. When we promise something to a client, we just do it. Yes, sometimes that may mean going until 4 am. I’ve had a couple of projects where I’ve had to stay up late into the morning, and then we’ve presented. I’m not saying it happens regularly, but it can happen.
Ivana Karhanová: Do you expect the same from yourself?
Mirek Kolář: Sure. That was what I didn’t like. I like it when people communicate with each other when they meet, even on a friendly level. So for us, it’s very much about friendship. There’s a lot of goodwill between consultants, and let’s encourage that with the company culture.
Ivana Karhanová: Now, if someone has concluded from your talk that Adastra Business Consulting might be a friendly company for them to work for, what should they do at this point? Should he write to you directly?
Mirek Kolář: He can write to me on LinkedIn. He can look at our website. We have the positions there. They are relatively general. The title is International Business Consultant. Have him apply there, and we’ll send him a short – let’s say – IQ test and then a light data exercise. Followed by various interview rounds with our consultants.
Ivana Karhanová: Mirek Kolar, the director of Adastra Business Consulting. Thanks for coming to the studio.
Mirek Kolář: Thank you for having me.