Prague, Czech Republic – The roots of some of the most famous Czech brands and companies in the world are well-known. But you still might be surprised…
Got a computer, a laptop or a tablet? Chances are your electronic devices are using Czech-made antivirus software! Few people are aware that Avast, one of the world leaders in antivirus software and cyber-security, originates from communist Czechoslovakia. Founded as a communist cooperative under the name Alwil in the late 1980’s by Pavel Baudiš and Eduard Kucera, two computer prodigies studying in Prague, Avast became a private company in the 1990’s. Today, it’s one of the world’s leading cyber-security companies, protecting the electronic devices of nearly half a billion users around the world.
Last year, Avast filed an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange in one of the biggest technology listings in the U.K. in history. A striking symbol of the Czech Republic’s bustling tech culture and illustration of the home-grown, highly digitally-skilled workforce in electronics and security-related digital products.
Škoda might be the company most easily and commonly associated with the Czech Republic. One of the most iconic car-makers in Central and Eastern Europe, Škoda is the driving force of the Czech Republic’s flagship auto industry and one of the main reasons why Czechs rank among the biggest car producers per capita in the world (last year, Škoda alone produced nearly 1.4 million vehicles) – Slovaks beat them to it, though.
Part of the German Volkswagen Group since the early 1990’s, Škoda is something of an institution in the Czech Republic, the biggest private employer in the country and accounts for roughly 5% of total Czech GDP. It produces cars in three factories throughout the country, including in its historic stronghold of Mladá Boleslav, as well as in car plants abroad, including Russia and India. China has been Škoda’s first market for nearly a decade, dethroning the all-mighty German neighbour in 2010, and accounts for nearly one third of global sales.
PS: Did you know that in Czech, “škoda” means “damage” or “too bad”? Pretty odd choice of name for a car manufacturer…
Based in Prague’s district of Smichov, Zoot is a highly popular Czech clothing and fashion e-shop. Founded in 2007 under the name Ichtys Delta and renamed a few years later as Zoot, it was once one of the most successful Czech companies in recent decades: ranked second fastest Czech business in 2016, it also appeared in Deloitte’s top 50 fastest-growing companies last year and ranked among the fastest-growing companies in the world based on revenue growth, according to the Financial Times.
This Czech success story of the digital retail market has however turned into one of its most high-profile headaches. Facing financial turmoil, Zoot is highly indebted and undergoing a debt restructuring since last year, as investors jumped ship over the years and the company struggled with a high rate of return of goods bought on its platform. Currently present in most of the Czech major cities like Prague, Brno, Ostrava and Plzen, the company headed by its co-founder Ladislav Trpak was also considering expanding its reach throughout Central and Eastern European markets, including Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania. But its future has been thrown into doubt.
Founded in the Moravian city of Zlin in the late 19th century by the Baťa brothers Antonin and Tomas and their sister Anna, the Baťa Shoe Company grew from a small local shoemaker to one of the leading footwear companies in the world. The Moravian shoemakers rose to prominence with their first iconic model, the Batovka shoes, and quickly opened shops throughout the Czech Republic and neighbouring countries, including in Vienna. By the late 1930’s, Baťa was already employing over 60.000 people, but all its Central and Eastern European assets and facilities were nationalized during the communist rule.
Headquartered in Switzerland today, the Baťa shoe company has a retail presence in over 70 countries and more than 5.000 retail stores. It also has two dozen manufacturing facilities throughout the world, including in India, where it boasts a well-established, historic presence (the iconic Baťa Tennis were originally created for Indian school children). Worldwide, Baťa claims to serve no less than 1 million customers per day.
Founded at the end of the 19th century in the South-Bohemian city of České Budějovice, where all its beer is still brewed today, the Budweiser Budvar Brewery is one of the most famous and iconic Czech brewers, with a brewing tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. The last state-owned brewery in the Czech Republic and named after the German name of České Budějovice, Budweiser is particularly famous for its pale lager made out of Moravian barley, and is currently the fourth biggest beer producer in the country: last year, it produced 1.6 million hectolitres of beer (compared to 50.000 litres during its first year of activity, over a century ago), and exported more than 1 million of it to 80 countries around the world (Budweiser is particularly popular in neighbouring Central European countries, as well as in Germany or the U.K.).
Quick tip if you’re travelling to the Czech Republic: don’t ever tell someone Budweiser is an American beer! The Czech Budweiser has been engaged in a legal trademark dispute with U.S. brewer Anheuser-Bush over the name Budweiser since… 1907! In 2010, the top EU court ruled that Anheuser-Busch wasn’t allowed to use the “Budweiser” name as an EU-wide trademark, marking a big victory for the Czech brewer. While the American beer is sold as “Bud” in several European countries, where legal disputes continue to rage up until this day, the Czech beer has also been marketed as “Czechvar” in the United States.
In a further sign of the decade-old rivalry between Budweiser and Anheuser-Bush, the U.S. brewer (briefly) acquired SabMiller in 2016, becoming the owner of some of the most iconic Czech beers, including Gambrinus, Kozel… and Budweiser’s arch-enemy and local nemesis, Pilsner Urquell.
If you thought Pilsner was only a type of beer, think again. Now one of the most popular and widespread beers sold in the world, Pilsner beers take their name from the Czech city of Plzeň, located roughly one hour west of Prague, where the first ever blond lager of the type was brewed, back in 1842, by Bavarian beer-master Josef Groll. Since then, the iconic Pilsner Urquell has inspired many of the beers sold in the world today.
The Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery, which includes, apart from Pilsner Urquell, other iconic Czech-made beers like Gambrinus or Kozel, sold more than 11 million hectolitres of beer (including 4 million abroad, especially popular in Slovakia, Germany and South Korea), making it one of the biggest brewers in the country boasting the largest consumption of beer per capita in the world!
Plzeňský Prazdroj was for a long time owned by SabMiller, until the group merged in 2016 with Anheuser-Bush (see above), the arch-enemy of the Czech Budweiser brand. But the European Commission only authorized the massive merger on the condition SabMiller sold off some of its European assets, including the Plzen brewery. Which happened the following year, when Japan’s Asahi Breweries acquired the iconic Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery, thereby beating two of the country’s richest men to it (billionaires Petr Kellner and Pavel Tykač had teamed up to attempt to acquire the brewer).