Seznamzpravy.cz: Kellner’s record-breaking gift: We are combating a virus that will change the world
PPF Group, owned by Petr Kellner, the wealthiest Czech, has purchased healthcare materials worth CZK 100 million, which the Czech Republic needs to combat the coronavirus, in China. He plans to donate surgical masks, respirators and testers to the Czech government. The government has to arrange the export from China.
“The material is in China at this point; it is being shipped to storage in Shanghai and all the paperwork required for the export is being taken care of,” says Vladimír Mlynář, PPF’s Chief of Public and Government Relations.
“Such a quantity cannot be exported from China without a permit these days. We agreed with the Czech government that the government would arrange the transport and the export permit,” he adds.
Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch complained that face masks and respirators are now in short supply even in China. How did PPF manage to procure them?
China is currently producing a huge amount of aids, but you have to know how to navigate the local market to get them. The market situation is complicated; the whole world is currently buying from China and there is a huge demand overhang. In addition, there are fraudsters there adding to complexities.
What is PPF’s advantage?
PPF has an opportunity to use around fifty people from Home Credit China’s sourcing team who know how to navigate the Chinese market and check suppliers. Thanks to that, we now have contracts in place for the materials that we informed about in our earlier press release on Sunday. We are buying and paying for that step by step. However, it’s a race against time. The reality is such that you need to pay upfront, and if you hesitate for a moment, someone else will jump in and the goods will be gone. This is why the Czech government is having problems. Making a payment from the Czech Republic to China already takes one to two days under standard conditions. You need to pay immediately to succeed. We had to simplify decision-making processes at the company, which bears a substantial risk.
PPF includes Sotio, a medical company that uses healthcare material on a normal basis. Did you get the goods thanks to Sotio’s contacts?
Sotio has contacts all over the world, and thanks to that we were able to bring ‘first aid’ from the US last week in the form of 20,000 face masks, which are now being distributed to general practitioners. Sotio is also helping to verify the credibility of the suppliers. The sourcing in China, however, rests on Home Credit. If it had not conducted business in China for years, it would not be able to react as flexibly. We are a global business, and that helps us of course. Everybody wants respirators and testers; there are many various models on the market, and availability is constantly changing. We are consulting with Professor Prymula [ed. note: Roman Prymula, Deputy Minister of Health] and the Ministry of Health on what is to be procured.
When will the equipment reach Czech healthcare workers?
The batch for the first air shipment is already prepared and in storage in Shanghai. The Czech government has to move it to the Czech Republic and we are waiting for the Czech government to obtain the shipping and export permits, which is not easy. Then we will sign the donation agreement and the material can be flown to the Czech Republic. However, it will no doubt take a few days before everything is arranged.
Are you leaving the official process up to the government? Would it be better if you took care of it too, now that you have contacts in China and experience with the local official processes?
As agreed, the Czech government is arranging the shipping. The Czech government currently needs to obtain the export licence and a permission for the airplanes to land. This is not very easy, but we hope it will be a matter of days. I know that people are desperately waiting for respirators; many people call and write to us at PPF, but to be realistic, I don’t think we can expect the equipment to reach medical professionals within days. At this point, unfortunately, we do not even have protective equipment for our own employees at PPF.
Can the deteriorating Czech-Chinese relations make the export more complicated?
They can. More than anywhere in the world, the notion of “friends helping each other” holds true in China. However, I cannot comment on how much those who grant the permits keep up with the developments in international politics.
We are not doing this for the sake of PR
How did the idea to purchase healthcare material for charity purposes originate at PPF?
The decision to purchase help for the Czech Republic worth a hundred million crowns was made by Mr Kellner personally when he read about the difficulties with respirator supplies. PPF is a Czech firm; almost all top PPF executives live in the Czech Republic, so, logically, we care about what is happening here. The coronavirus outbreak is a situation where everybody needs to help; the government cannot handle it alone. In addition, we are used to helping in all the countries where we operate: we helped in the Czech Republic after the floods, in Indonesia after the volcano eruption, in Philippines after the earthquake, in China during the initial peak of the coronavirus outbreak…
Did the monetary value of your help ever come close to a hundred million crowns?
No, not by far. We usually help with projects worth millions. This, however, is out of the ordinary and it is happening in our home country.
Isn’t this donation a welcome opportunity for you to improve your reputation after the scandal involving the C&B Reputation Management agency, which was paid by PPF to secretly influence the media and politicians to be less critical about China?
Forgive me, but that is not what happened: we did not secretly pay for anything and the agency did not influence anyone “to be less critical about China”. That’s complete nonsense. And if you think we are helping now to boost our PR, that’s really not the case. The people who hate us and accuse us of whatever regardless of facts will obviously keep on portraying us as the dark side of power. Sadly, such is the reality of the postmodern world. Helping in a critical situation, which is what our country is currently experiencing, is just a normal human reaction in my opinion. It truly has nothing to do with PPF’s reputation…
When did Mr Kellner – or others at the helm at PPF – realise that the coronavirus is an extraordinary problem with a huge impact?
It was obvious that this would be a global problem that would change the business, and not only in China but all over the world, in January at the latest – as China started taking those drastic measures to stop the spread of the infection. Today the world is so tightly interwoven with China in terms of business,that it was clear this would affect the whole world.
A difficult period
How did the epidemic affect Home Credit’s business in China?
Thousands of our employees were quarantined in the affected regions. It has been a difficult period. It will certainly affect the business, but it is too early to say how much. With that said, we have been through several crises, the last of them being the crisis in Russia. We will manage.
Has PPF got any estimates of the losses that the coronavirus will cause to the global economy?
I don’t think that anyone can say at this point how big the impact will be. If you want to know my personal opinion, I think the world will never be the same once this is over: it will change economically as well as politically. I’m afraid the West will not be the winner. In fact, I am afraid this will make China stronger because the West will have a harder time tackling the coronavirus and the panic that we see all around us. It will ultimately weaken Western democracies. That’s not good news.
The coronavirus will change the world
What do you mean by saying that this will change the world and that the West will not be the winner? Do you think the specific Chinese political culture will prevail over the western liberal democracy?
I don’t think that it will be quite as bad; the Asian model of society is not transferable to Europe and to the West in general. The Confucianism, which is what China builds on, is unlike our Christianity. Our traditions, experience and values are radically different from China’s. But if you look at history, it is apparent that societies always change in one way or another in the wake of shock events. Sadly, they rarely change towards freedom.
So what change do you think we can expect?
I don’t want to be pessimistic, but ultimately, there will be greater demand for a “more efficient government” that would tackle problems such as the coronavirus “better”. Extremists will certainly grow stronger – leftist activism, anti-capitalism, nationalism and populism of all sorts. Opinions that refuse globalisation, both on the left and on the right wing, will grow stronger too.
In addition, the European Union is currently showing its utter incapability facing the crisis ‘live on TV’ so to speak, so disintegration tendencies will likely strengthen as well. Of course, chances are that something positive could arise from this, but I don’t see much of that as yet. A lot of interesting books about the topic will surely be published soon and they may prove me wrong. However, let’s not focus on that at this moment – we have to stop the infection now to restore normal life. This is what we are fighting for now.
Author | Zuzana Kubátová
Source | www.seznamzpravy.cz/clanek/rekordni-kellneruv-dar-bojujeme-s-virem-ktery-zmeni-svet-93566