Giving one’s home phone number out live on Canadian Broadcast Corporation radio probably isn’t the brightest thing to do, especially if you haven’t told your family. But because of it, and the person who did it, Tony Hasek came to the Czech Republic 16 years ago, and hasn’t looked back.
The Hasek family’s roots run deep in this country. Tony’s great-grandfather hailed from North Bohemia. His grandfather, Vladmir, earned a university degree in forest management, married a Jewish woman named Eva Pollertova and had three sons. Because of Vladmir’s background, the German army “recruited” him to go work on a project in a Polish work camp. Tony’s grandmother, father and 2 uncles meanwhile ended up being smuggled to England via Austria and Switzerland. They remained there, while Vladmir worked in Poland. After the war ended, they all reunited in Czechoslovakia.
But they knew what lay ahead for them under Communism. So Vladmir took a job with the Singer Corporation in Canada, and the family emigrated.
Tony’s father, John, was about 20 years old at the time. He went to university, earned a degree in psychology and joined the army. Because of his background in psychology, John was selected to work in psychological warfare and strategic planning, and became an expert in those areas and on Eastern European affairs.
In 1988, John took an early retirement from the army, but was still a well-known Eastern European affairs expert and lecturer. And things were changing dramatically in Central and Eastern Europe. “No one knew exactly why these things were happening,” says Tony. “But they wanted more information and they wanted to know how to keep the changes going.”
Several American groups, like Accuracy in Media and the Heritage Foundation, as well as two Canadian broadcasting companies, CBC and CTV, asked John to go to Europe and find out what he could.
In November 1989, Tony’s father returned to Prague. He met with the dissidents, including VaclAv Havel, and talked with them about what was happening. But he soon realized the moral momentum was coming from the students; the dissidents were just the spokespeople. He went to the Student’s Union and offered to help organize. They were shocked, because they didn’t know anyone outside the country knew or cared about what they were doing. But John did, and furthermore he knew that no one coming in to the country, especially journalists, would be able to speak with the students. That realization set Tony’s future in motion.
John came home from Czechoslovakia, got on the CBC and announced he was recruiting volunteers to go to Czechoslovakia and teach English. He gave out his home phone number to call for more information.
Meanwhile, Tony was about to graduate from university. He was an officer and paratrooper in the army, but knew that wasn’t where his future lay. He was studying for a final when the phone rang.
“I answered it and the person on the other end said ‘is this the number you call to go teach English in Czechoslovakia?’” he recalls. “I said ‘no’ and hung up. Then the phone rang again.” He finally found out what his father had done – created an organization and named it Education for Democracy. Volunteers had to supply their own plane ticket, but were guaranteed a job and a Czech salary once they arrived. His father needed someone to run his new venture, and Tony was tapped for the job. He arrived here in February 1990.
“It was a hugely emotional time,” Hasek recalls. “The students didn’t know what would happen, if the Russians would come back with their tanks, they just knew they didn’t want to live like their parents had.”
Hasek believes the education program had a huge effect on the country. “Teachers weren’t just brought to Prague,” he says. “They were placed in small towns all over Czechoslovakia.”
Suddenly, all these little villages had a Canadian, or an American or a Brit. “It was a brilliant idea, because these small towns knew something was changing,” Hasek says. And he believes it has changed Prague and the Czech Republic to this day. “I believe it affected Prague in a positive way, compared to Warsaw or Budapest, to have this asteroid injection of outsiders,” Hasek says. “The teachers brought a breath of fresh air to the country.”
Major John Hasek died tragically in a horrendous car crash in 1994, while reporting on the war in Yugoslavia for the CBC and other news agencies. The Czech government flew him back to Prague, and he died here after being in a coma for six months.
Tony regrets that the country has not honored his father for the work he did here. “The country has never recognized his efforts,” Hasek says. “Someday I wish they’d do something to recognize him for his work.”
Tony ran Education for Democracy for about a year, and then left to pursue other business interests. “I had an entrepreneurial bent,” he says. “And at this time, you needed very little capital to open a business here.” He got together with some friends who had come over with Education for Democracy, and they started a few companies. “Whichever ones made money, we would stick with,” Hasek says
Their first company was called Source Associates, as they had thought they would be a resource for Canadians and Americans coming to do business here. In 1991, they changed the name to Mac Source, when they discovered the main thrust of the business would be computers. “Most orders were only for three or four computers,” Hasek recalls. “However from a $1000 investment, this year we will get back $10.5 million and have 30 employees.”
The year 1996 brought new challenges, but an even better opportunity. Apple as a company was having problems. “I lost my distributor, and began importing products myself from Canada and the U.S.” Hasek says. He knew he had to alter his company, and so began selling PC’s and doing system integration. “That is still 80% of our business,” says Hasek.
With these changes, he wanted to change the company’s name as well to better reflect its new mission. The name change to Kinetik happened in November 2005, which was a busy month all around for the company. They opened the world’s first Lenovo store and the country’s first Apple store.
Tony is married to Gabriela, a Slovak realtor and real estate lawyer with whom he has a 4-year-old daughter, Nicole. Tony also has a 12-year-old son, Jakub from his first marriage.
“We don’t make our lives, they make us,” Hasek believes. And it seems whatever life has had in store for Tony, he has used it, enjoyed it and made it a little better.