Who is behind Up Česká republika and how did it all start?
About a year ago, a new brand, Up Česká republika, emerged and joined the field of employee benefits in the Czech Republic. Although it may seem like a newcomer to the market, it is built on a solid foundation and more than 20 years of experience of its predecessor Le Cheque Déjeuner. Along with a new name and a number of innovations, Up Česká republika also got a new boss, although he is definitely not new to the company. Quite the contrary. No one knows it like Stéphane Nicoletti, a native Alsatian…
Man proposes, God disposes
It was 1996 and Stéphane was 24. He had just completed his national service in France, serving in the police. “I like rules and order. My dream was to become a gendarme,” he says. But fate willed it otherwise. He was approached by a friend of his, who was coincidentally the director of a local company planning to expand internationally. He asked Stéphane whether he was interested in helping set up the Le Cheque Déjeuner branch in the Czech Republic.
Difficult beginnings in the heart of Europe
And so it happened that he and his three colleagues, also French, found themselves in Prague. None of them knew Czech; no one had money to spare, and the environment of the Butovice housing estate where they all shared a flat was not entirely friendly at that time. “But we didn't mind. We wanted to learn Czech and to fit in as quickly as possible. We didn't look for a French community in Prague; we wanted to live like Czechs. Drinking beer, eating beef in cream sauce and getting to know local people and habits,” says Stéphane about his beginnings.
He spent his days in a company that had ten employees, five customers and twenty Prague restaurants at that time. In the evenings he counted and sorted the meal vouchers and at weekends he distributed them. The first year he lived on pasta only. “Just at the weekend I always set out on the metro to give myself a treat at the McDonald's in Wenceslas Square,” he adds with a smile on his lips. But his tenacity paid off. The company started to flourish after the first year and nowadays it is one of the biggest players on the Czech market, with 300,000 people using its 32,000 acceptance network sites in our country.
Life à la a Czech
In more than 20 years of the company’s operation and living in the Czech Republic, Stéphane found his resolve and integrated more than well. And not only that. “It feels like home here, and I like the Czech character. Maybe because Czechs are similar to Alsatians. The first impression is they are rather cold but when they open up, it's real,” he explains.
He speaks Czech, has many friends and married a Czech with whom he started a family. He loves Czech meals – fillets fried in breadcrumbs, roast pork with dumplings and cabbage, or stuffed beef rolls (španělské ptáčky). He never misses a visit to a Moravian cellar with live cimbalom music every year. “The Czech Republic is a great place and I am grateful that I can live here. Although the Czech Republic is relatively small, there is absolutely everything available. It is clean and safe. There is a high quality of services. The level of infrastructure and technology, such as our IT developments, can be in the envy of many places. I dare say that the Czech Republic surpasses my native France in many ways,” Stéphane said, listing the strengths of our country.
The art of listening
During his life in the Czech Republic, Stéphane has had enough time to get to know the Czech nature and habits but not only that. He has gained tremendous experience in business, especially in trade. Since he started from scratch and went through all the positions – from a sales representative to a regional director, sales director, managing director to the current CEO position, he knows all the areas of “his” business.
Fieldwork also taught him to listen, not only to employees but also to customers. “This experience has been particularly useful in recent years when we’ve been changing from a meal voucher provider into a consulting firm for companies, employees and business partners. We must therefore know their needs and be able to prepare tailor-made solutions to everyone's satisfaction. Of course, you need to be able to listen and know the whole business from top to bottom. That's why I think starting from scratch was the best school I could’ve wanted,” adds Stéphane Nicoletti, a native Alsatian and the CEO of Up Česká republika, with a smile.