'Prague College showed me that working while studying is really the best solution'
Damien Kohut recently graduated with an MSc in International Management, and is currently pursuing a number of exciting opportunities in the world of finance. We spoke to him about his plans and vision, and started by asking about how he came to study at Prague College.
Damien, where are you from originally?
I come from Senlis, a medieval town with lots of heritage close to Paris, but I left my home town as soon as I could, to pursue my studies and international wishes. I ended up leaving France as soon as the opportunity presented itself: an internship in Prague. I soon fell in love with Prague and its dynamism, and decided to continue working and studying here. And that's how I came across Prague College.
What was it about the International Management programme at Prague College that appealed to you?
As a 'programme for working students', it was an obvious option because of its flexibility, since I was already working full-time. In addition, there was continuation with what I had studied in France, as well as teaching from a team of accessible and diverse teachers. There was little risk in giving up on my French studies to go to Prague College. Indeed, here I had a challenging job with responsibilities (which I could not have found in France) that would allow me to graduate with a Master's degree and have five years of professional experience behind me.
Since graduating, you've been working as a financial broker. In fact I believe you're the first French broker to be registered in Prague. Can you tell us a bit about the job and what it entails?
Well, in fact there were lots of 'firsts' before starting this activity! My experience in Prague was that financial services for individuals were run by Czechs for Czechs; that major employers in Prague concentrated on hiring rather than keeping employees; and that financial guidance and benefits were not a priority at best, leaving most foreigners clueless.
I decided to remedy the situation, which meant finding a brokerage company that works well, open a trade license, quit my job, go through multiple trainings in Czech, and pass the Czech National Bank exams to obtain the brokerage license. In other words, to enter a Czech world that had not yet been touched by a French expat.
I have collaborated with the company Profi poradenstvi ('professional consulting' in Czech). As many other brokerage companies, it is a network of brokers with their own methods of working and focus. In this case, a tailor-made approach to people, a professional and quality service, and a strong base in financial literacy principles. Profi helped me become a financial advisor / broker as well as an entrepreneur. Now we have formed 'Profi Expats', which is an international division of expats helping expats.
What are the most important skills for an entrepreneur?
I would say it takes five things:
- Guts, a lot. You want to start something new? Well then get ready for people not understanding what you do and why you do it, including state administration. In spite of this, learn and move on.
- Self-discipline. Luckily you're guided in this area at Prague College. Imagine that all the pieces of advice you're given on your paper, its organization, your timeline, came originally from you. That's what your business will ask you.
- Emotional stability. If you have personal issues, your business will be impacted in one way or another. It is crucial to solve these issues first. Then, as with life or financial markets, there are ups and downs in business; it's important to be able to react appropriately to either.
- Go out of your comfort zone. Every type of business will ask you to go out of your comfort zone. Your business will not grow as much as it could if you do not grow as well. Welcome discomfort, pushes and challenges then tackle them as hard as you can.
- Persistence. It is a big one. We live in a world of instant gratification in which we can get almost everything now. Need a computer? With Amazon, it's at your door tomorrow. But when you launch your business, while it is a great idea, it may not peak immediately. You will go through trials, obstacles, failures. If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again! The most respected and admired men never had it easy in the beginning, and as Winston Churchill said, 'Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.'
I know you are concerned with promoting financial literacy. If you could give one piece of financial advice to your eighteen-year-old self, what would it be, and why?
Get a temporary job, save as much money as possible and avoid the student loan if you can. While there is no better investment than yourself, the more you can get through your studies without debt at the end, the better. As Prague College shows, working while studying is really the best solution. Not only you can gradually pay your studies but you also can apply what you learn at school in your work and vice versa. Short-term debt, long term investment, minimal risk.
Financial literacy is something not taught at school. Talks and test programs just started recently in OECD countries and are yet to spread. It is to me the biggest lack in educational systems. Today consumerism is predominant and individuals' wealth is far lower than previous generations at the same age. Surveys have found young adults having lower and lower level of financial literacy resulting in a lack of interest of sound financial planning and an increase of living in debt.
People are taught how to become managers but not to manage their wealth and future from the starting point of their independence from parents. Therefore, I do my best at helping people understand basic principles of financial literacy and cope with mechanisms they may not reach otherwise just because they are ill informed or kept in the dark because they are foreigners (or even Czechs!).
It would be a pity if great innovations didn't reach the world because the person who had the original idea never accumulated enough savings to work on it.
Thanks for the interview, Damien, and good luck with all your future endeavours.
If you are a Prague College student and would like to hear more on the topic of financial literacy, Damien will be speaking at the Prague College Job fair on Thursday 12 April.