One of our blog’s goals is to give you a behind-the-scenes look into life in Melvia. And the best place to start is, of course, our founder, Vitalie Štěpánková. We asked her several questions that will show you how she runs the company.
Where did you get the idea of the company and what made you start your own business?The idea came to me thanks to one of my part-time jobs. I worked as a hostess and translator for well-known company J4 (supplier of bakery tunnel ovens) and we were visiting bakery fairs where I was already gaining contacts in the industry. At the same time, I was studying international trades and wanted to try how it works in praxis.
Did you have any concerns before you started the business? Did the university prepare you well enough to run it?
I was born under the sign of Sagittarius so I usually don’t think before I do. That’s probably my weakness ;-). Thankfully I didn’t know much about running a business at the beginning so I had no idea of what I should be worried about. It was also the reason why I did many wrong decisions back in the days. Now I am taking “business opportunities” much more seriously. When I started, I was signing up for classes that were useful and covered what I was doing. It allowed me to distribute my time between studying and entrepreneurship, even though it was not easy. It is a shame that students who dare to start a business don’t get more support from their schools. At my alma mater, “I had important work duties” was never an option. But what is more beneficial for a student of economics than their own projects?
Why did you choose the bakery industry?
Food, and especially bakery, production is a socially important industry. That’s what I like about it. We all need to eat and I want to contribute to the quality of what we eat. Beginning of mass production helped us to ensure sufficiency, but many producers started focusing on profits and because of that lots of food lost their quality. They have a lack of nutrients and they contain unsuitable ingredients. I wish food processing industry went trough a little renaissance just like gastronomy did in the past few years. It is not a masterpiece to produce something, it is a masterpiece to produce something great for a reasonable price. Present sources and technologies would allow that in both handcrafted and industrial levels. So to answer the question – I want us to eat high-quality bread.
Can you bake? Do you enjoy baking?
I am not a baker and I can’t bake bread. It is an exacting process that I am happy to let baker masters take care of. I am good at appreciating their products and I have the courage to say that I can always recognize a bread of fine quality. But I enjoy baking confectionery, for example, a marble cake. The most demanding recipe I know is cream puff pastry.
What is your favourite baked good?
You won’t hear a bad word from me said against fresh rolls.
It is quite unusual to run a business in your age. How old were you when you established Melvia and do you feel like your age limited you in any way?
I established Melvia when I was 22 years old. I just realised that it will be 10 years ago next year. Unbelievable! I wouldn’t say the age limited me. It was difficult to make responsible decisions during that period. I was learning everything along the way which resulted in the business consuming more time and sometimes I got into a dead end. On the other hand, I have gained lots of experience by that.
Also, it is not usual to see a woman in the lead of a technology-oriented company. What do you think is Melvia’s advantage of having a woman leader?
I don’t think a gender determines what a person can do. It is all about character and skills.
Have you ever encountered discrimination because of that? I can imagine that some clients would be surprised by who is showing up at the meetings.
To be honest, yes I have. But I don’t worry about it too much. I am rather sorry for lack of trust which persists against women and/or young people. It is believed that they are not professional enough. I assume that as a business partner it is the best to be a white male in his 40s or 50s. I have learned not to judge people by the first impression and that is something I would recommend to everyone. Most people can do more than we would think, they just need to get the opportunity.
Despite that, I am sure that running a business is not easy. Where do you get energy from and what motivates you the most?
Fortunately, I have an amazing team that makes it much easier. I appreciate that very much. I gain energy from sleep and yoga. I am also trying to eat in set times, which might sound ridiculous, but there were times when this was an issue for me. My goal is to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. And what motivates me? I have to know that what I do has a meaning. Otherwise, I can’t force myself to work hard.
I have to ask about the philosophy that you use to run your business because it has absolutely enthralled and inspired me. Can you briefly tell us about it and describe how did you get to it? Who and what lead you to that?
That is a hard question because I have never described the “philosophy of mine,” but let me try to briefly yet sufficiently explain. :-) The basic is to be a good person. I believe that if I remain obliging and confident, the others will treat me the same way and possibly apply that to others too. I also believe that everyone has the ability to make rational decisions if they are given convenient conditions. Employees in Melvia have mostly freehand. We don’t force people to sit in the office from 9 to 5 and have to have every little thing approved by their superiors. On the other hand, we place high demands on responsibility – everyone has to keep an eye on their duties and think about what they can contribute to the company. In order to make this work, we all have to be open and trust each other on both vertical and horizontal work relationships. Basically, the more information people have the more likely they are to make the right decision. When it comes to problems, we always look for a solution, not guilt. We all are on the same boat and when there is a hole in it, it does not matter whose fault it is, we have to focus on fixing it. I have to admit that this system isn’t good for everyone. There are people who need strict rules and don’t enjoy improvisation. These ones are usually unhappy at Melvia. Everyone has to find a job where they fit in like a component in a machine. And my inspiration? I take over lots of Komensky’s thoughts. He was looking into how to raise a child into a good person. Other than that I have some ideas from Christianity and Buddhism, which might seem opposing, but I find it fascinating that moral principles are very similar in each religion. I like the Buddhist principle that a straight mind is a source of goodness and the opposite is a source of negativity. I am trying to work on that at the moment. I also like Christian commandment “Love your neighbour like you love yourself.” It is fascinating that people usually quote just the first part. Many people miss self-respect, self-love and self-esteem. It is a shame because these people are usually unhappy with their lives and don’t believe that they can change their circumstances. And the last but not least – the easiest thing is a smile and kindness. You can never go wrong with these and you can make the world at least a bit better. :-)
What do you consider Melvia’s biggest success?
As I have already indicated, it is our people. My colleagues. They are the carriers of the thoughts and they pass them on to our customers and suppliers. There is a warm and positive atmosphere in our office. I think people can feel it too and it is something we want to spread.
What is your main plan for the future?
We have the great team and at the moment we are working on creating a great place which will become our workplace. We need storages and offices. That’s why we started a construction of a new building in Milovice. We also keep looking for new suppliers to complete our offer. Yet we feel that we need to improve the services to our customers. The new space will help us do that. I, personally, wish my colleagues to be happy with their jobs and our customers with our work. That way I’ll be happy too. I don’t think it is necessary to want to entirely change the world. ;)
And what about your free time? What do you enjoy doing and what are your hobbies?
I like design, art and architecture. I enjoy visiting galleries and theatres. I practice yoga and take walks in nature with my dog Erika. I am part of a club that maps empty houses in the Czech Republic and try to find a use for them. Within the club, we arrange educational walks during which I take the position of a guide. I also love photography and reading, but there is not much time left for that. Mostly because I have gone back to school!