The story of ŠKODA: A simply clever example of leadership

Future Port Prague, the international festival of new technologies and Škoda Auto, the largest Czech private employer in the Czech Republic, combined forces at the beginning of last fall to create an educational and inspirational platform for hundreds of the company managers and experts.

Most firms have had the same experience. Once they reach a critical mass, they start launching various educational and inspirational initiatives like workshops, meetings, and training with external experts. All too often the well-meaning intention to educate employees to turn out to be an empty vessel.

What do you remember about your last training? Nothing? You’re not alone. Firms with conventional HR departments are sometimes too fond of simply collecting the final tests from training and then patting themselves on the backs for the good job they’re doing.

“We wanted to approach things differently and make an inspirational event,” Petr Ondráček from Škoda Auto explained at the end of November, only a few months after the curtain fell on this year’s Future Port Prague. He and his colleagues from the company’s innovation team are responsible for the fact that even in the Czech environment managed to combine innovative ideas and for Škoda Auto employees to carry out the biggest educational event so far. Incorporate into this process hundreds of car factory employees including its top management and gain new experiences while also helping define the ideas that could become part of the next generation of Škoda cars that will be cruising our roads in just a few short years.

“Our goal wasn’t to hold an event for its own sake; we wanted to do something with real benefits.”

Petr Ondráček, member of the innovation team at Škoda Auto in Mladá Boleslav

Future Port Prague founder Martin Holečko (who also co-founded Etnetera, a successful Czech IT firm) approached the project with similar expectations. “We offered the company the option of using our event’s proven platform to send their employees for training to us instead of an internal event. The idea was a success. Future Port Prague strives to be the chief futuristic event in the Central European region, which makes us relevant for large and technologically-advanced companies,” Holečko said of the beginning of cooperation between the festival and Škoda Auto.

Though the combination of a company that uses innovation to transform itself into a digital enterprise and a festival that brings the most promising start-ups and technological gurus from prestigious think tanks to Prague seems like a natural match, the idea needed approval from the powers that be. “We were able to convince the board of directors that this event has more benefits than just organizing ordinary internal training about innovations and new trends,” Ondráček said.

850 employees visited Future Port Prague

At the beginning of fall, Future Port Prague welcomed dozens of speakers from 15 countries, over 100 innovative ideas and start-ups, as well as thousands of visitors. Anyone interested in technology who happened to be in Prague attended FPP. A list of some of the most accomplished speakers included former NASA engineer and current Virgin Hyperloop One Vice President Anita Sengupta, Singularity University lecturer Yuri van Geest, and Philip Rosendale, the creator of the social virtual reality project High Fidelity, which has become the successor to Second Life. The festival sprawled throughout several pavilions, offering everything from a high-level business conference to a building entirely dedicated to virtual reality.

Cooperation between Škoda Auto and FPP was not just limited to 850 carmaker’s employees visiting the festival’s traditional location in the Prague Market. Škoda Auto also had its own pavilion at the event, as well as a recruiting zone, and the firm participated in the business conference. The festival also served as a hub for individual employees that paradoxically don’t have the time to speak to one another in Mladá Boleslav, because the number of employees is about the same as that of a small city.

Last but not least, Škoda Auto Digi Lab presented the HoppyGo car sharing project at the festival and introduced the concept of mobility as a service. The Škoda Vision X concept was seen – a vision of what they will look like and what Škoda Automodels will be able to do in the future.

Was it worth it?

The event provided real benefits as confirmed by a survey of participants undertaken by the automaker after the festival:

  • Over 800 Škoda Auto executives took part, including members of the company’s management and CEO Bernhard Maier
  • For 89 percent of respondents, participation in FPP meant the opportunity to literally bring inspirational technologies that will play a key role in the future
  • A majority of employees (97%) consider it is important to continuously increase their digital skills and knowledge about innovation and new technologies
  • Nearly ten specific technologies introduced at the festival will be analyzed for use within Škoda Auto
  • 8 follow-up workshops for more than 60 employees were carried out after the end of the festival

“Besides the positive feedback from employees and management, the participation on the festival had also other effects. There were specific ideas presented at the festival that have the potential for real use in the manufacturing process or directly in Škoda cars. We picked several ideas that deserved deeper examination and now they are in various stages of development.”

Petr Ondráček, member of the innovation team at Škoda Auto in Mladá Boleslav

The ideas that inspired Škoda at FPP include the use of nanomaterials for employee uniforms, implementing nano oil filters, or new battery technologies. Holečko also praised the arrangement where Škoda Auto’s innovation subsidiary DigiLab will be a strong and reliable partner for Future Port Prague.

Cooperation with ŠKODA AUTO is also commended by Holečko, who has gained thru cooperation with the Mladá Boleslav automobile company and its innovative laboratory ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab a strong and reliable partner for Future Port Prague.