Doing business the British way
Former conservation executive takes the helm at chamber
Posted: March 6, 2013
Marcela Roche says her background in nature conservation was focused on building consensus and that, in order to have a strong society, it is essential to balance its economic, social and environmental pillars.
The world of commerce can appear to be at odds with efforts to conserve nature, but Marcela Roche has managed to work in both fields even before reaching her 40s.
She has a decade as director at the Czech Otter Foundation Fund under her belt, know-how in the government sector and experience coping with everything from the threat of tropical illnesses to extreme weather during a stint in Haiti.
Things should be slightly less fraught in her new role heading the British Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic, a position she took up at the start of this year. Roche now heads an organization with about 220 members, not all of them British, in a variety of fields.
The Prague Post sat down with Roche to learn more about her priorities for the organization and how she hopes to strengthen Czech-British business links, which in 2011 amounted to bilateral trade worth 198 billion Kč.
Name: Marcela Roche
Current position: Managing director, British Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic
Previous roles: 2011-12, deputy head of mission and logistics manager, mission to Haiti, Caritas Czech Republic; 2007-11, head of department for strategic management, ministry of regional development; 1997-2007, director, Czech Otter Foundation Fund
Education: Ing. Landscape engineering and applied ecology, Czech University of Agriculture
The Prague Post: Your career has been very diverse so far. What has it been like working for an environmental organization and now being employed in a business-related role?
Marcela Roche: All positions include management, leadership, responsibility and creativity. I was never some sort of eco-terrorist. My approach to nature conservation was more about consensus. I do believe you can balance all the pillars of society - the economic one, the social one and the environmental one as well. I believe you can have sensitive and sensible environmental legislation that will not damage the economy or business activities.
TPP: And what do you feel about the current situation in nature conservation?
MR: The environment has rapidly improved compared with 20 or 25 years ago. What is important is to improve the perception of the environment and conservation across society, so you don't have to have hundreds of legislative documents. Most of them will be inbuilt whether in terms of society, business or government. But you have some individual cases where you can say nature conservation did not succeed, or maybe succeeded too much and lowered the potential for business.
TPP: Turning now to your new position with the chamber, what sort of companies does the organization represent?
MR: It's a very varied group of members, from big banks and retail companies like supermarkets to small businesses and NGOs. While many of them have British connections, others see the British Chamber of Commerce as a good platform for networking and receiving information. Some are purely Czech companies, and sometimes the organization is Czech, but the management is British.
TPP: How can business ties between the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom be strengthened?
MR: The world of innovation is a great opportunity for British companies. There are many young and progressive [Czech] companies and lots of well-qualified experts. But there is also significant potential for them to expand to the United Kingdom. We hope to help explain to them the whole process. They come up with an idea, and we show them the next steps and how to bring it to life.
TPP: Companies from West European countries such as the United Kingdom might be concerned about the perceived high level of corruption in the Czech Republic. What is your message to them?
MR: In public procurement, when it comes to transparency or nontransparency, it's an issue. The discussions have been going on for several years now. In some ways, it became a fashionable topic. I think there are some trends that may indicate an improvement in the situation. But generally for investment or business in the country, the situation is quite stable. I don't think it's a huge obstacle or constraint for starting business activities here. The British Chamber wants to be involved in the preparation of legislation, and in transferring aspects of the business environment as experienced in the United Kingdom to the Czech Republic.
TPP: You have visited the United Kingdom before. What do you like about the country and which is your favorite area?
MR: I very much respect British values, the traditional sense for democracy, the sense for fair play and the sense of tradition. I really like the countryside. One of the most beautiful places I visited was the Isle of Skye [off northwest Scotland]; the people there are really nice. It's one of the places I wouldn't mind living.
TPP: On a different subject, do you see much change in the status of women in the workplace in the Czech Republic?
MR: I think in the past 10 or 20 years, the situation has improved, but I still see the same mental blocks or mental patterns that make it more difficult for women to get into [senior] positions. But it's also a practical situation: If a woman leaves for two or three years for maternity, it's much more difficult to return to top management positions. We have a joint program with Česká spořitelna called Equilibrium, whose intention is to help women already in management to achieve top positions, for example on the board, through a series of meetings and workshops between mentees and mentors.
TPP: What do you feel about quotas for women in senior management positions?
MR: I would prefer there be measures and maybe incentives that would help women reach their possibilities without having quotas. For example, making it easier for them to return from maternity leave or helping them to take care of their family.
Daniel Bardsley can be reached at