Has the term innovation become a meaningless buzzword, or are domestic businesses serious about it? At the gala evening for the best CEOs in the Czech Republic, Forbes looked for an answer in four fields that could not be more distant from each other.
One of them is the sale of luxury watches, where at first glance there is not much that can be modernized. In the Czech family company Carollinum, operator of the only branded Rolex boutique in the Czech Republic and three other boutiques in Prague’s Pařížská Street, the biggest innovation of recent times is a new customer relationship management system.
According to Martin Janna from Carollin, this means, among other things, that the documentation will no longer be “rolling around in files”. How is it possible that the most successful company of its kind on the Czech market has not yet had such a solution? “It was a bit ossified, so now we’ve moved it much further,” says Janna.
In addition to invoices, however, even the business itself with the most luxurious goods can be partially digitized. Customers will probably still want to physically touch the watch worth millions of crowns before buying it, but according to Janna, the journey of younger people to Patek Philippe or Breitling products begins in the online space. “We all live in an online world, we also have to work with social networks,” he adds.
Andrey Gontkovič, head of Philip Morris for the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, sitting next to him, start to hear words like revolution and transformation when mentioning innovations.
The largest tobacco company in the world made an ambitious New Year’s resolution to quit smoking in 2018. And it bet on a complete overhaul of its business towards the heated tobacco devices it first introduced just four years earlier.
“We teach adults to stop smoking. We either help them quit or we bring them products that are proven to be less harmful, which is heated tobacco or heated liquid,” Gontkovičová declares. However, the World Health Organization points out that the harmfulness of a whole range of components of aerosols from similar devices has not yet been properly evaluated.
According to her, the latest innovation in Philip Morris’ journey to a smoke-free future is the nicotine refill for Iqos, which she presents as another option to get consumers to quit traditional cigarettes.
“It’s hard to get people to quit smoking because they don’t want to. We have more than a hundred people out there explaining to them that it would be best to cut nicotine completely. Very few people will do it, it is very difficult to get them to these alternatives as well,” says Gontkovičová.
Another field under the innovation microscope of Forbes is the insurance industry. “Our biggest recent innovation is called Apollo. We are an insurance broker, our task is to choose the best offer for the client. Apollo helps us automate comparisons,” says Klára Kodua, Renomia’s operations director.
According to her, an inquisitive leader who is not afraid to take risks is needed to start innovation in the company. “We got to the stage where people in flip-flops suddenly appeared next to classic insurance men in suits,” he smiles.
Last but not least, there is the automotive industry, where innovations have picked up such a pace in recent years that many are not surprised. For example, traditional German car companies that are starting to be beaten by Chinese competition in electromobility.
The head of BMW for the Czech Republic, Maciej Galant, confirms that in a few years the car can be expected to be “completely digital, electric and sustainable”. And maybe even autonomous. In that case, will BMW’s motto “freude am fahren”, i.e. the joy of driving, still be relevant? “Freude am fahren is when you enjoy the car,” says Galant.