Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lack of career advice in International schools.

My 15 year old daughter goes to a very good school in Prague and unusually for a school taught in English they have a selection policy so only the brightest get in www.englishcollege.cz. Despite this I am amazed and upset that there seems to be no time allocated within the curricululm for further education or career advice. Not only this but there is nothing mentioned even about how the choice of subjects at A level or IB level will impact the eventual choice of University. Is this right? I know from living in the Czech Republic a long time that the whole educational system is woefully behind the times but things have to change. Bright Czech kids have always gone to University but due to the lack of language skills and financial restraints the majority still go to Czech universities. Very few have been educated abroad. Today this is not the case though and the world is their oyster but if nobody is educating them on their opportunities how can they make informed choices? Its maybe every parents wish to keep their child within arms reach for as long as possible but going away to University is a rite of passage and not just about getting a  degree. Without sending our kids off to fend for themselves in a controlled-ish environment how can we hope to turn out well rounded functioning individuals. What we get and what is still prevalent in the Czech Republic is a group of mummies boys and girls
Whilst I was in New York I deliberately looked in Barnes +Noble to see what sort of literature there was for sale about schooling and career choices and there were shelf loads to chose from. Everything from the more pragmatic list of Universities to how to write your admission essay! www.barnesandnoble.com Still, despite all these resources I still feel the schools should be providing this info in house. Last week in the UK the A level results were published. Finally all the students will now know their fate and what they need to do if they have not got into their first choice of University. A stressful time I am sure but at least they know what their options are. Even BBC Radio 1 had a slot for careers guidance during the day to advise students. I want the same opportunity for my child and her friends and I will be making it my mission this year to get this rectified. I have come up with a list of 10 basic questions about the whole University process which I shall be sending to every University graduate under 30 that I know in my immediate circle  of friends and beyond. Hopefully from the responses I will get a basic idea of the trials and tribulations and will publish all these survey results in a book for my child and her friends to use. If you know of anybody that has graduated from Uni in the last 8 years please contact me at kkah1967@gmail.com  so that I may enlist their help.
From the leaders of the future I would like to thank you for your cooperation.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

We all need goals.

Every year in January Jason Cahill, shopintheknow.blogspot.com and I write down 10 goals that we aim to achieve that year. We started writing goals as a result of seeing the American motivational speaker BRIAN TRACEY at a seminar in Poland.www.briantracey.com He said that if you want to be successful in life it is not enough just to wish it but you actually have to do something about it.Without goals you have no focus! Obvious when you think about it . By writing these goals down they become more real to you but even that isn't enough. You need to figure out how to go about achieving that goal and then work on it every day for at least 10 minutes. By dedicating this time you are more sure of achieving what you really want. Again this sounds logical because if we say that we want to lose 5kgs the chances of us achieving this are virtually zero if we do not diet or exercise. How many of us make New Year resolutions only to have broken them by the end of January?
Only 3% of people have clear,written, specific, measurable,time bounded goals and these people accomplish 10 x more than people who do not write goals! Bill Gates and Richard Branson both write goals like this and there is no disputing how successful they are.
If you want to become more successful in your life I recommend you do what the smart people do and learn this valuable life skill. Take the time out today to invest in your future. Who knows where it may lead you.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Getting the extra sale.

I could quite happily shop 24/7 anywhere in the world but I particularly like it in the USA. Yes the clothes are cheaper and there is a better choice but the big difference for me is the customer service by the sales associates ( shop assistants to you and me). Every single item you buy in their store as a result of them helping you is money in their pocket,because they get paid commissions. How much nicer would you be to people if you had a chance to get paid for every person you came into contact with?
A good sales person will make a point of telling you their name immediately when they come to you and will make a point of sticking with you until check out. The really good ones will give you their business card in the hope that next time you come to the store you will ask for her. The excellent sales people will also get your number and email address so that they can keep you informed about any sales, special events etc. If you had that sort of relationship going with the girl at your local beauty counter ( and these are usually the masters of customer service) and she knew what you had bought, what suited you, your size etc how much more likely are you to go back and see her? Pretty high I would say! Its all about going that extra mile and getting that extra sale.
I will never understand the attitude of shops in central Europe where it is very evident from the minute you step foot in the shop that nobody gives a jot wherever you stay and buy anything, steal a few  shirts or drop dead in front of them. With the recession still hurting the retail trade how much more product do you think stores could sell if the managers implemented the American commission system in their stores and sales people were actually trained to be nice and helpful? I know without shadow of a doubt that I could increase sales by a minimum of 40% in virtually any store you care to put me in and you would see the difference within the first couple of days! Would that make a difference to your business? You bet it would!
Salesmanship does need to be learned and developed on a daily basis and it does not come easy to everybody but the rewards can be huge. Not a day goes by when I do not read some sort of sales motivational article and in every shop/hotel/restaurant/ business I go to I check out the sales people and calculate how much money the business is losing just by having the wrong staff and not getting that extra sale.
The only way we will ever improve the standards of customer service in central Europe is by showing our displeasure by not going to these stores and not buying their products. How much it will change things is debatable but we all work hard for our money so we can chose how and to whom we give our money. Demand excellence in every part of your life - you deserve it!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I do not think there is any excuse in this day and age not to have Wifi in hotels and restaurants . Have been to many hotels where they have Wifi designated zones which was OK a couple of years ago but not now. When practically everybody has some sort of gadget or laptop that they do not want to be dictated to as to where they can sit or not to use it. I was even in a hotel in Luxembourg a few months ago where they had no Wifi connection at all! Needless to say I will not be going there again!
Same story should be for restaurants and coffee bars. Now I know its not terribly polite to be in company and surf the web but people do still go out to eat on their own and am sure they would welcome the distraction, I know I would. How long before people start making this a factor when they are deciding where to eat? Its not as if it costs a huge amount of money either, its a question of providing an extra service to your clients.
Whilst in Madrid last month I found myself in Starbucks and even their policy surprised me. Not only did I have to jump through hoops to find out the wifi code ( given in ticket form at the cash register if you're interested) but after 40 minutes this was cut off and I wasn't encouraged to stay any longer! Strange but true!
My message to anybody involved in the service industry is to get on board the technology boat. It might not lose you business today but you can bet your life it will tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vegetarian in Eastern Europe.

I have been a vegetarian now for nearly 22 years. I do not eat any meat or fish and I only eat diary because I have to. To say that it is hard living in Eastern Europe and being vegetarian is a huge understatement. It has got easier over time ( thank you Italien restaurants everywhere!) but the selection of food on offer is still woefully lacking. Tofu is available but not Quorn or any other meat replacement and consequently protein is a huge problem. Fried cheese and fried cauliflower used to be one of the few things on offer and even then you had to cut into it in case they had sneaked some ham into it. Ham, apparently, is not meat in this region!
Even the selection of fresh fruit and vegetables in the supermarkets is pretty lousy which I cannot fathom as everywhere you go in the country there are stalls selling fresh produce. I remember once stalking a woman through the streets of Prague because she had the most fabulous lettuce in her hand! Just this year the concept of the farmers market seems to have taken off with a vengeance so am hoping for a general up turn in vegetarian fortunes. Check out your local listings for these markets but to date I know of the one at Dejvicka in Prague 6, Pankrac in Prague 4 and even one in Ricany.
If you know of any more spread the word. Fresh fruit and veg rules!!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wine expert

One of my goals in life is to be able to understand wine. I enjoy going to dinner with my French colleagues as there is guaranteed to be a debate about the wine. They will discuss the relative merits of this or that grape and what will go best with their choices for each course. I sit there and nod sagely but its all Chinese to me. Coming from the North of England deciding on red,white, screw top or not is as far as it gets !
Over the years I have bought various books, been on numerous wine tastings ( no one ever learnt anything at one of these!!) attended wine festivals and have even bought cases of good wine based on what, I do not know. I am not by any means a stupid person but am just not able to retain any of this information. Am starting to think that this must be a cultural thing and that if you have not grown up in an atmosphere where wine is served with dinner from an early age then it is a goal that will forever remain out of your reach. Shame really because only this week I was reading how wine trading is a hugely profitable area. Apparently since the credit crunch the Liv-ex 100 index (which tracks trade in 100 of the worlds most celebrated vintages) has massively outperformed the FTSE 100 ( Independent July 4 2010). Guess thats another chance to become a millionaire out the window then!
What I have discovered though and what is keeping me hugely entertained on the internet is the world of wine according to Gary Vaynerchuck http://tv.winelibrary.com Through the medium of social media he has transformed his families small wine business to become one of the leading internet suppliers of wine and a foremost authority on wine in America if not the world. His daily internet shows are hugely entertaining and even I have learnt a thing or too! He does it all in a non elitest type format, spitting his wine out into a New York Jets bucket, using the same glass to try 3 types of wine but this is the beauty of the whole thing and the reason why he has become such a cult. If you have not seen him go check him out. Compulsive viewing!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I still hate gardening!

Finally got my garden tractor back yesterday.As you may remember it died on me 2 weeks ago for no apparent reason.The good news is that it is now fixed,the bad news is that I am officially a complete idiot! The reason it stopped working was that I had put diesel into the engine instead of petrol! I'd like to say that this is so not like me but sadly not In my professional life I am known to be pretty effective and even though I say so myself am extremely capable. This isn't the case in my personal life however in fact I would go so far as to say that I am a disaster on the domestic goddess front.  I digress though. The worse thing about the whole diesel/petrol debacle though is the fact that the canister I use for the tractor has also been used on another motor vehicle - my beloved Vespa. In my small pea size brain I am hoping that the two separated in the canister and that I only managed to pour the petrol into the engine. I realize that this cannot possibly be the case and am just waiting for the bike to konk out on me as I try to drive the bike home from the office !

For now I will have to settle for the fact that grass cutting duties can begin again in earnest. Am particularly excited because it will give me a chance to try out my latest addition to the useless garden equipment that I have bought. Yep, the lure of the garden centre was too much and an innocent trip to buy tractor oil resulted in the purchase of a rather large composter. Now am not really sure what a composter is but apparently it will revolutionize my life,said the nice man and I will never have to buy mulch again. Sold! Now, what the hell is mulch!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Oil painting collector.

I am now an art collector . This started 2 years ago when I attended a charity art auction for the Orco Foundation www.orco-foundation.com.  I never intended to buy anything I thought I would just go along to show support but as any dedicated shopper will testify it's not that simple. I came away with 4 large oil paintings.
I should say that I am not an art officienado, I like what I like and that is it. Being a pragmatic person I tend towards art that I can see instantly what it is without having to stand on my head!
As any novice when you get involved in a hobby its the little things that surprise you. The biggest surprise for me was the fact that the pictures were not framed. Duh, it's not Ikea Karen!
The second surprising thing says more about my personality than anything else and just goes to prove that we are creatures of habit. All the pictures, although different in theme and painted by different artists were all virtually identical in colour and style, lots of bold strong primary colours with a dominant central image
I have continued to buy art since that time , the art broker now knows what I like and at least twice a year he brings a selection of canvases to my office where I make my selection. Very civilized don't you think? I've even managed to get them framed if not quite hanging on a wall!
Not sure if ever any of these pictures will be worth anything, even though some of the artists are relatively well know in their field but that is not the issue. Art, like music brings people pleasure and we should all strive to surround ourselves with things we love and that give us pleasure.