When you sit at one table with the head of one of the most famous Czech companies called Zásilkovna, you can be sure that after talking to her you will leave feeling bright like the sun. You'll be charged with energy and in a good mood. Simona Kijonková is a strong woman with a sense of business, but also of the soul. No topic is unknown to her and she is very open to everything and everyone. It's almost unbelievable how she can manage several companies with 1,700 employees, a husband, three children, a house and a dog. In an interview for LP-life.com, this businesswoman talked not only about the company, business, coronavirus, but also about being able to relax and enjoy life.
How are you doing? It's summer, everyone's on vacation, and I'm desperate because no one's answering my calls. Are you desperate as well?
I'm not desperate, I was looking forward to the summer. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been experiencing a very challenging period, not only in Zásilkovna but in the entire business segment where I operate. I see it not only in my colleagues, but also in my businessmen and businesswomen friends. It's not just about the management of the company itself, but above all about the constant changes that we have to face. Stable and predictable development is very important for entrepreneurs, unfortunately, it's been missing for over a year. That's why I perceive the current period, when we have the opportunity to take a break on a vacation, to be with our families and friends, as important and beneficial. I also asked my colleagues in Zásilkovna to focus on resting and to regain strength for the upcoming rest of the year, which is unfortunately still uncertain.
Yes, I see the stories of businesses going bankrupt in the covid era. Unfortunately, in a year and a half, about eight percent of our cooperating point-of-sale partners have closed their businesses. These are very sad stories for me. During the pandemic, we tried to help them. Thanks to our direct connection to the government, we tried to provide them with information about the measures and their impact on business, and we also helped materially, with masks or disinfection. Unfortunately, it wasn't always enough.
You know what it's like to lose something when it comes to business. What advice would you give to people who got into a difficult situation in business, and how to encourage them?
Never give up. Business is not just about everything being perfect and having a happy ending. Entrepreneurship is a constant struggle, constant work on yourself, it's about taking a huge risk. It's about responsibility, good ideas, about turning amazing ideas and visions into reality. It's not easy and not for everyone, but once you decide to do it, despite the difficulties and pitfalls, persevere in it. There will always be doubters, it's important not to let yourself be pulled down by the words "I told you so", to learn from your mistakes and to move on. If we get stuck in a cycle of our own self-pity, mental discomfort or negativism, it won't bring us any good. To your body and soul. And if a problem arises, it's very important that we can adapt. So my next piece of advice is - become a business chameleon.
When talking to you, I feel a flow of words and energy pouring out of you. How do your colleagues perceive it? What style of people management do you believe in?
I believe in positivity and that my energy charges them. I think that the colleagues I work with somehow complement me in energy, or have the same amount of it. It's important to have diversified people in the team. Our entire executive committee would probably be able to run the current super-fast race without me. Nevertheless, it's good to have a person in the company who sets the direction and vision and helps to move things forward with their energy. That's who I'm trying to be.
I prefer a management style that doesn't give people tasks, but goals. I'll direct them a little, but when I see that they're not doing well, I'll leave them for a while. It costs the company something, but it strengthens and moves the person on his own. We all constantly need to learn, which is best done on our own mistakes. If a manager makes a mistake, it's right and not wrong. Ultimately, they're reinforced by a new experience. I also make mistakes, and that's good, I learn from them and move on.
I think I was born with it, it's genes from my mom and dad. Both are very energetic people, my mom is a lioness, my father is also very energetic, if he were sitting here now, he would lead a monologue and he wouldn't give you space to speak at all. It's also given by my birthday, I am a Gemini, born on June 2nd. The June Gemini are very sociable, energetic. I know a lot of Gemini who have similar character traits to mine.
How do men see you? After all, in the Czech Republic, men are often occupying high positions. Aren't they afraid of you? How do you view the gender area?
I am a woman who works with men a lot, because in the field of IT and in digital technologies, where I work, men are mostly in leadership positions, and I no longer really think of the differences between men and women.
I view people around me according to what impression they give off and what they can do, I don't think of any stereotypes for a man or a woman at all. We have both men and women in leadership positions in the Zásilkovna. What matters are the personal and work qualities and how they fit into the team. I believe that each person is unique and can in some way enrich and complement the team.
I am a very informal person, I'm primarily on a first-name basis with everyone, if I have a common topic with someone, I'm able to talk to them for hours and I have no problems with anyone. I can communicate with people of different nationalities, religions, genders, education. I don't think anyone is scared of me, rather I think they respect me and see me as a team member. Also, after some of my appearances at conferences or in the media, men often contact me and evaluate my opinions positively.
However, it's true that when I give a lecture on a topic at conferences, I'm often the only woman present on the subject. But I enjoy it because I think it shows women the way. And if I can motivate even one girl to decide to work in technology or to study technology, I'd be very happy.
As far as relaxation is concerned, I think that in our manager positions, the ability to find time for yourself, for family, for friends is very important. I try to lead by example when it comes to my colleagues. It's not the most important thing for me to be a top manager or businesswoman, but a mother and a partner. Family comes first for me, and when I'm with them, I limit my cell phone and computer time. Holidays have a very important place in my life. We spend our free time without technology and during summer I have sort of a summer sabbatical as I like to call it. I take a month or two off and we go abroad, play sports, do various types of trips together.
I'm someone who loves to travel, which is why we tried to travel even during the coronavirus. When the airports were closed and overall tourism was reduced, I was very sad about it. We went to Mallorca this year. We rented a house there, the whole family including the dog went, relatives and friends came to visit as well. We were there like a large Greek family, we had grill parties, at one point, there were as many as up to thirty people in the house. But all of them were our relatives and friends, that's how I like it.
I take those more as a uniform. I appear a lot in the media, I take a lot of photos, I'm really the frontman of the whole holding with 1,700 employees, which currently includes fourteen companies, so I have to pay attention to my appearance. I also often come out and talk to employees, not only in the Czech Republic, but also in other countries where we operate, and therefore I spend a lot of time on a plane.
I don't think I've yet reached the level where I need to own a private jet. I think I'm a humble, normal person. I may still get there at some point, but for now, I use commercial flights. But I'm actually thinking about getting a car with a driver, because I'm still driving by myself everywhere. I drive long distances by myself, to places like Warsaw or Budapest. But even while driving, I need to work, which is very complicated and impractical in a situation where I drive by myself, even if I use a hands-free mode. That's when I thought I'd probably indulge in luxury and get a driver for my car.
Charity has always been a part of the company Zásilkovna, we started helping from the first moment when our financial situation allowed us to do so. We support projects aimed at improving and developing the quality of life of children, young people and single parents and disadvantaged groups and individuals. We support, among others, the Happy Hearts Endowment Fund, the Zdenka Žádníková Foundation, the DEBRA organization, the Nedoklubko Association and Indigo Děčín, or the Pomozte dětem (Help the Children) project. Packeta is a technology company, so an important pillar of our charitable activities is the support of technologies that help people better manage their disabilities. Here I can name the project Silou hlasu (The Power of Voice), which aims to teach people with impaired fine motor skills of the upper limbs to control the computer by voice, so that they can comprehensively integrate into everyday life without the help of others.
We are currently preparing the launch of the Simona Kijonková Endowment Fund. In addition to our own funds, we would like to gradually raise external money from other donors to the fund.
Yes, they do. Unfortunately, I can't help everyone, even if I'm not indifferent to anyone's fate. We evaluate all applications carefully and help where we can. But it's not just about finances, we also help with the transport of goods or with communication of various beneficial activities so that as many people as possible know about them.
Life with a pandemic was certainly the most difficult period in the ten-year history of Zásilkovna, we faced a continuous unstable situation for more than a year. The costs of implementing various government anti-epidemic measures are still in the order of millions of CZK.
My dream is for Packeta, a Czech company founded by an ordinary girl from Karlovy Vary, to become a global brand known and popular all over the world.