Archive for January, 2018

Martin Margala: How do you perceive today’s world?

Dr. Martin Margala is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts and a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Electrical Engineering. He was born in Bratislava where he also completed his first university degree in engineering.

After the Velvet Revolution, he earned his PhD at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, where later he became a professor. After living in Canada for about ten years, he moved to the Unites States. Since 2006, he has been living in Massachusetts, fulfilling his dream to live in a state where education is the main “industry” and focus.

Professor Martin Margala, UMass Lowell, source: Czech & Slovak Leaders

I met with Martin and his wife Miriam two years ago. Our meeting immediately confirmed the saying that great minds and kindred souls think alike. Right away, we started to discuss how to change the approach towards education in the Czech Republic.

Out first meeting took place at the US Embassy, where Martin was chairing a panel on innovation and entrepreneurship with other three leading education specialists from the US. I was the only panel participant representing the Czech side. While the event attracted a lot of attention from the private sphere, academics, NGO representatives, and officials from the public sphere were missing. There is still a lot to be done! I admire Martin’s experience, drive and his ability to connect the Old and the New world. Having grown up in Europe and becoming very familiar with the “old continent’s” attitudes does not prevent him from challenging the status quo and bringing fresh and innovative ideas. And he definitely wants to see results sooner rather than later.

So, how do you perceive today’s world?

I am a great optimist. Even though today’s world might be perceived by some people as too challenging and some may even have a rather defeatist attitude, I see it as a world full of new opportunities. In fact, to me, these are exciting times to be living in. The advancements of technology are penetrating all areas of our society and will help increase markedly the standard of living everywhere. New significant discoveries will become more and more frequent. Major diseases will be eliminated, many discoveries will help fight poverty and close the inequality gap in the world. It may sound too idealistic – but there is so much happening, so many people do work with one large goal – to make a difference and make life better. If you work in research and education, if you are surrounded by people with a positive mind set – preferably in a very international and global context – then I think you can only be optimistic and driven to work every day on positive things.

How do you perceive today’s Czech and Slovak Republics?

Both countries are still very young. I see both countries undergoing a generational shift. You can observe a push and pull dynamic between the old thinking and the new thinking; the past and the future. Young men and women that were either children or not even born at the time of the Velvet Revolution are becoming more involved, more interested in what’s going on around them and more liberated from old traditions. Again – I can only repeat myself, I am an optimist. I do see exciting times ahead – but it is a long process; it is not easy and not at all smooth. There are and will be many challenges, many failures – but I do believe that in both countries, there are people who are able and ready to take risks and contribute to positive changes. In my work, especially through my international collaborations, I interact a lot with young people from both countries – there are many dedicated, excited, hard working young people and every day, their goal is to move ahead, whatever challenges they have to face.

When we come to the topic of the US-EU scientific co-operation and its potential, is the glass half empty or half full?

It is definitely half empty. I am not turning into a pessimist here – but the status quo is really not suited and efficient for today’s global world. The funding systems setup in the US and in Europe have always been inward looking. There has been a very limited support for truly international collaborations in research and education and virtually no funding mechanism that would connect willing global partners. However, many national governments have recently started to realize that there is an untapped potential with many benefits for all involved partners. These efforts are growing and new programs are being set up. It is important that people interested in true international collaborations and global partnerships do not give up and simply charge ahead. From my own experience, I have to say that it has been frequently an uphill battle but a battle that one can – and should – fight because the results are really worth it. One has to be very vocal – I have been talking incessantly for very many years to anybody who would listen: researchers from universities all around the world, funding institutions/managers, government representatives, diplomats, attaches, ambassadors – any opportunity, I just take it and use it. Of course, you actually have to show results – once you have concrete examples of successful collaborations, it becomes easier. There are many exciting opportunities and I have been fortunate to be part of, or in charge of, many endeavors. The Czech and Slovak Republics have been trying to launch such efforts – and again, they have to persevere. Just because there will be ideas that may fail does not mean they should give up. Any failure or mistake is a learning opportunity – and will help you to fine tune your efforts, formulate better plans and forge better, successful collaborations.

You have been very active in the sphere of higher education, bridging various spheres together – municipalities, corporations, NGOs and universities. While such approach is common in the US, the Czech Republic still has a long way to go. What do you suggest to start with to bring about a change?

As I mentioned previously, it is the drive of likeminded people that get behind a mutual goal: setup a new program, new activity, new project, whatever it is, and go after it until you see results. The problem in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is that the societies have been built as sets of silos, a sum of entities that co-exist, but were never built to network/interact with each other. What I mean by that is a local municipality was never setup to collaborate on new innovations with the local university or high school to solve everyday problems and improve services for its citizens. No programs exist that would support such collaborations and if they do, nobody knows about them or how to go about taking advantage of them. Another example is that there is no mechanism where municipalities – large and small, NGOs, companies and the education sector can interact to bring new innovation ideas to practical implementation.

To bring about a change in such a system, one has to work from bottom-up and seek supporters/likeminded men and women to get behind one project at a time and use any medium possible to publicize all the sucess stories that there are. We have been cooperating on the new project of Youth Startup Festival in May 2018 in Brno.

Can you tell us more about this unique and truly revolutionary project?

The Youth Startup Festival aims to combine several elements that I mentioned previously. It links innovative ideas and projects with the next generation of young men and women, the millennials, and will try to demonstrate how to become a transformative individual in the modern society. There are many programs around the globe that try to invest in the education at the elementary, middle and high school level to teach young students to become comfortable expressing new ideas that support innovation and change, especially ideas that are high risk/ high reward so that young people become comfortable with and learn from failures. Plus, this festival will be located in Brno for a good reason. This region has been at the forefront of the innovation revolution and is an example from which many other regions are trying to learn how to navigate the world of innovation, research and collaboration in a silo-based society and how to find an effective way to implement changes and innovation; bring innovations to practice as fast as possible.

Your final words and a New Year’s wish or message for Czech and Slovak Leaders Magazine readers?

Let the year 2018 be even better than 2017.


The interview was published in Czech & Slovak Leaders magazine.

Andrea Vadkerti: My life-long talk show

I have a lot in common with my friend and colleague Andrea: coaching and writing, interviews with wellknown personalities and the desire to support women in their careers. Andrea herself has presented not just many hundreds of Slovak news reports, but also major interviews, including with such personalities as Placido Domingo and Niki Lauda. She left television suddenly in order to prioritise her marriage. She left not just her job, but also her native Slovakia, following her husband to France. She currently lives and works in Singapore. She has moved from the highest levels of journalism to the highest levels of business. As Executive Coach, she focuses on neurobehavioral modelling and accessing the emerging business development.

Does this all sound like a story from a pulp author? Well you shouldn’t be surprised, as all famous writers agree that the best plots arise from life itself.

Andrea Vadkerti: When ego shuts down to silence, your heart starts singing. Source: archive

Some may remember Andrea Vadkerti as a presenter on Markíza Television, which she joined in 1995 after winning an audition of over 5000 candidates. During her television career, she also managed to study International Finance and European Law at Faculty of Management Comenius University in Bratislava. She presented the main news on Markíza until 2000. Despite her heavy workload, she missed the opportunity to be creative in her role as presenter, and so in addition to the news she also presented a radio talk show. She left Markíza in 2000 when her then-fiancé was starting the rival TA3 television station. She helped him to create this new television channel, which was described as Central Europe’s CNN, but did not join the channel because she could not imagine working for her partner and for her boss and manager in one person. She then penetrated the world of business, taking on the post of Head of Communications and PR in Slavia Capital between 2000 and 2003. She penetrated the world of mergers, acquisitions and trading while also meeting her current husband.

In 2003, she accepted an offer to return to the television studio, this time for Slovak public television RTVS. This marked the start of the risky, but she says most interesting, “Vadkerti talk show” format, in which RTL journalists were also involved. She broadcast her final talk show during her eighth month of pregnancy, something which involved an in-depth interview with three female murderers and an 80-member audience made up of other prisoners. The fact that Andrea does everything to the full also applied for her career break, when she focused on her children and family, with her son Raphael joining her daughter Sophie within 13 months. Again, she was missing creativity and continued writing scripts. In 2007, she returned to the media, with another offer from Slovak Television. Once again, just one career was not enough and at this time Andrea began to work in coaching, receiving her first international certification. In 2010, she returned to TA3 to launch her new interview show, Portret. She received the Journalism Prize for Best Interview in Electronic Media two years in a row for her in-depth interviews with the rescuer of Jewish children, Sir Nicholas Winton, and legendary CNN host, Larry King. Next year, French television channel Arte will be broadcasting her interview with Pierre Richard as part of a jubilee documentary on this unforgettable comic.

2018 marks not just 100 years since the founding of Czechoslovakia, but also 25 years since the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Republic.  Andrea, you were born in Czechoslovakia, and then you became a citizen of the Slovak Republic, you’ve lived in France and now you work in Singapore. What is your identity? Czechoslovak, Slovak, European, or do you see yourself as a citizen of the world?

As Adriana Sklenaříková has said, I was born in a country which no longer exists. In a Hungarian family in the south of Slovakia. My mother tongue is Hungarian, and I was taught Slovak at school. English has become my language at work, and French is a language I have worked on through my heart and life in Nice. I am a citizen of the world with the blood of old Europe coursing through my veins.

Imagine looking at your biography in the introduction as a journalist. What would the first question you ask be? And what would your response be?

I would probably be interested in each new beginning. What it’s like to keep pulling the rug out from under yourself and try to do something you’ve never done before. The first commercial television news, the first daytime talk show, the first non-dubbed interview with a foreign figure, the first neurobehavioral modelling coaching in a land which does not even have a professional term for this speciality. And the response? It is incredibly exciting to be an experimenter and adventurer in your profession. To believe in something and go for it. Your belief drives you, you play your cards on luck and talent. There’s no waiting, only doing and success is not guaranteed.

Okay so now to my questions. While they say cherchez la femme, from your experience up to now, it seems that you have often instead responded to your partners’ situations. At the same time, you have managed to keep your own identity. What has been your underlying mission?

I’ve never lost my head because of my career or relationship. Whether I’m doing something or believe in something, I go for it. But not to extremes. When one thing got the better of me I have moved on to something else. And that has always helped me stay unsinkable.

I get the impression you have missed the space for creativity in the roles you have held, whether as a presenter or even mother. What brought you from writing to coaching?

Coaching and presenting have a lot in common. You pose open questions, you seek various perspectives. You are driven by curiosity and you are constantly finding out more. Except that coaching takes place in complete intimacy; in a television interview you try to induce intimacy, but the whole world is watching you. Writing is a highly intimate affair. For me, when I’m in complete concentration it has always been a kind of meditation. Creativity is my escape from everyday reality.

How do you see yourself as a coach?

I see myself as a consultant who knows when to call upon coaching as the best tool to achieve an objective. With my client, we might be focused pragmatically, dealing with a problem resourcefully. Complexity and finding a solution is our platform. As I’m coming from background in neuropsychology, this is an opportunity for me to literally change the client’s paradigm of thinking. To open up new worlds to them. I am witnessing my clients becoming more humans every single day.

How do your clients describe you?

An open minded, pragmatic, someone who can hit the nail on the head, unravel a problem. Holistic, disciplined, understanding. These are the kind of characteristics I see most in my reviews.

They say the media is addictive. Do you miss the shine and fame of the television studio?

I don’t miss the television studio so much as the opportunity to spread valuable ideas through the media. Many times I come across someone and I tell myself what a great interview we could do, how many people could get a really meaningful message …

In your experience, is a double-career marriage possible?

Yes, but both of you have to be willing to sometimes sacrifice your career for the good of others. Your career is not a dictator.

Three years ago, you moved from France to Singapore. What other chapters in your life are you planning to write?

I’m literally writing one now. I’m writing a book on the power of the ego and how to live with it. It is a compilation of my own true stories and those of my clients and neuroscience. In Singapore, I have everything I need to complete it. My ten-month old third child Philip is slowing me down a little right now. I’m trying to enjoy all the times I have with him. We’ve also begun Atairu leadership training for women and the Odyssey mentoring programme.

Your final message for Czech and Slovak Leaders readers?

When ego shuts down to silence, your heart starts singing.


The interview was published in Czech & Slovak Leaders magazine.

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