In 2019, Tomáš Kaláb, the former director of the Kaláb construction firm, which is now part of Winning PS, decided to start focusing purely on the developer business. The tough decision on who would take over the construction division, with its tradition dating back almost thirty years, was made even harder by the fact that he refused to consider potential buyers that would not develop the firm any further.
Most people in Moravia are familiar with Kaláb; after all, it has constructed some five hundred buildings since 1993. When did you join the firm?
I can remember exactly, it was 15th September 2008, when the Lehman Brothers bank went bankrupt and the crisis started. I worked my way through all the departments and in 2013, when my father, who founded and built up the firm, retired and I became the director. I recently found the minutes from our regular family meeting from as long ago as 2004, in which my dad was planning to hand over the reins. It worked out perfectly for him.
Pretty much your whole family is involved in the Kaláb company. Did you see yourself taking over the firm back when you were studying?
No, not at all. Unlike my siblings, I didn’t study construction, but economics and law. I must say that I’m glad I have that general overview, and in the current situation, when we’re focusing more on development than construction, I see that as more of a benefit. Yet after those eight or nine years in the field I’m now more of a builder than a lawyer!
How did you come to decide that you’d sell the successful family construction firm, which you built up from scratch, to the Winning Group? It couldn’t have been an easy decision…
It was hard. Especially for my dad and my brother. Yet my view of business is extremely conservative. I set myself the goal of splitting the firm up into efficient units. I’d keep the one that would generate the most funds, and would offer the other to someone who could make better use of it than I could. I realized that I was spending 80 % of my time on a construction company, but that was making far less profit than the development firm. It was clear in my mind by then, and all I had to do was to make sure that our people would be well looked after in the future. I was afraid that some big construction firm could simply swallow them up, integrate them and then make them redundant, which I wouldn’t like to see.
And you opted for the Winning Group. Why?
The Winning Group had been supplying us with monolithic structures for some time, so we knew them. We really hit it off with Sebastian Wagner, both personally and professionally. I became sure that he would continue to develop our construction firm. I can say that he’s even managing to keep the atmosphere of a family firm, even though he runs the entire holding.
How did the sale process go?
The sale of large firms is never an easy discipline. What is interesting, however, is the fact that although the process naturally involves many third parties, from lawyers, accountants and consultants through to banks, the final agreement was remarkably similar to the one we concluded with Sebastian right at the start. That really is unusual when selling a firm. Sebastian is absolutely true to his word and I knew I could trust and rely on him. We met just at the right time.
The Kaláb construction firm is now the Winning PS construction firm. What has changed?
Definitely the CEO’s approach. I never used to go and visit production, that wasn’t my strong point; I used to focus on other things and leave that to my subordinates. Sebastian, in contrast, really enjoys these technical aspects of our branch, visits sites regularly and has reorganized processes the way he has deemed appropriate. On the other hand, some long-standing personal ties have left along with our family and name and contact with some customers has been lost by Winning PS, but that’s only natural. The firm’s position on the market will obviously still change a lot also because Winning PS targets bigger contracts than the ones we used to take on in the past. Sebastian is more of a ferocious warier in that respect.
How did the sale affect the employees?
When we ran the firm, we employed around fifty people; I think Winning PS has grown by a couple of dozen people. Naturally, every change brings a degree of uncertainty and concerns, but most of all this firm has received a new lease of life and that will certainly be a relief for everyone who works for it. And when I say works, I mean it literally, as the change in ownership has not resulted in any redundancies, which is also very rare. Moreover, it no longer operates as a solo project, but can rely on the strength of the entire group, which will likely create synergies.
Don’t you ever regret your decision? After all, that construction firm was rather like your family child.
Paradoxically I miss certain aspects that I really shouldn’t miss (laughs). Those stressful business negotiations, in which the construction margin is created, but also things such as making new friends. I don’t have that now in development, and have realized that I miss it. That enthusiasm and excitement before completing a deal which you and your colleagues have been working on until late in the evening. On the construction market there is also always a huge number of opportunities, and I guess I’ll miss discovering those. On the other hand, I’m happy that our people, including close friends of mine, are in good hands.
Would you say that the former Kaláb company, now Winning PS, has reached the top of its sector during almost 30 years on the market?
In many ways, yes. Our technicians are of the highest standard and Sebastian can draw on his energy to develop a great many innovative projects with them. But that high standard is generally true of Brno; I put this down to the quality of the local building faculty, which prepares some outstanding experts. In Brno there are also five or six construction firms of comparable quality working alongside one another. That is a healthy competitive environment, one that motivates us all. For customers, it’s a paradise.
Will your children be working for Kaláb?
I have three sons. The middle one, who is eight, wants to be the CEO, the ten-year-old wants to be a programmer, and the youngest hasn’t got the head for it yet. We’ll see about their cousins. I myself play around with various ideas, including something as crazy as founding a bank! On the other hand, slow, organic growth actually suits me. I have plenty of time for my family and have started swimming competitively again, which I would never find the time to do if I had a full workload.