das magazin das magazin / 2021-12-21

“We want to help. We NEED to help.”

Storms, destruction, chaos, and a great deal of human suffering - as well as an enormous amount of (spontaneous) solidarity - marked the summer in parts of Europe, including the Czech Republic. During the evening of 24 June, a tornado raged 60 km away from our site at Slavkov. Six people lost their lives, 200 were injured. And the livelihoods of hundreds of people were wiped out in an instant by the destruction of large parts of the infrastructure in several villages.

Eva Havlíčková and the mayor of Moravská Nová Ves

The editorial teamof  “das magazin” met Eva Havlíčková, Authorised Officer of L&R Czech Republic and Head of HR & Finances, and asked her about the difficult days at the end of June and L&R's response.

Ms Havlíčková, can you tell us about your personal experiences on 24 June and the days that followed?

If you look at the images now, after a few months have passed, it looks like a Hollywood blockbuster. I don’t live in the affected area, but I saw it on the television. When you see pictures of the tornado, at first you can hardly believe that it actually happened. At the same time, you feel fear, worry, anxiety. You think about the people who live in these villages, you go through your family, friends and colleagues in your head. The extent of the destruction only became really clear the next morning. As regional governor Jan Grolich said, for the worst affected villages and people it was “hell on earth”.

Were any of our L&R colleagues affected?

That was the crucial question the next day. Because of the large staff numbers in Slavkov (ed.: over 700 people work at the site), and the shift system, and the fact that it happened just before the weekend, we didn’t know the answer to this with any certainty until early on Tuesday. Thankfully, nobody in our L&R team suffered any physical or material damage. Despite this, several L&R employees received the sorry news that their relatives’ houses had been damaged. In some cases, houses had been completely destroyed. But even though nobody was “directly” affected, such a terrible event occurring so close to home leaves no one cold. Rather, there was a growing urge to do “something”. Everyone said they wanted to help, they NEEDED to help.

What form did the initial response take?

It’s always difficult at the beginning of a situation like this to assess how and whom it is best to help. It was sheer chaos in the destroyed villages. Our colleagues in Slavkov immediately started collecting money internally - that was a great act of solidarity and humanity. It makes you really proud. We have such strong cohesion here and in such extreme situations it is even more apparent. The management team - Philipp Teubl (Director POR), Robert Ondra (Country Manager LRCZ, Head of Distribution and Marketing) and me - analysed the initial support measures that could be put in place. The first thing we decided we should do was to help in the way that made the most sense for acute treatment - offer our products. So we supplied the nearest hospitals in Břeclav and Hodonín with product donations.

What happened next?

We also got in touch with the Executive Board, because we wanted to do more. We are a major employer in the area. We employ a lot of people from the surrounding area, and benefit from their skills and their commitment. This brings with it tremendous responsibility - towards our colleagues as well as towards those in our vicinity. Our colleagues would like to be proud to say that they work for a company that offers support in an emergency situation. Besides any moral obligation, this is also important for us as an employer in the long term. Our potential future employees live in this area. I am delighted that the Executive Board responded so quickly and so positively and released 1 million Czech koruna (approx. 40,000 euros).

It took a little longer to hand over the donations?

Yes, that’s right. At the beginning, everything was very much hands on, i.e. trades people were travelling halfway across the country to help. The affected villages had to get organised and open donations accounts. That didn’t happen until September. And we also had to decide who we wanted to help next. After talking to the mayors of several villages, we opted for Moravská Nová Ves, Lužice and Hrušky. The money is being invested in the reconstruction of the infrastructure, e.g. kindergartens, schools, etc. and used in the way that is most urgent and useful now.

What happened with the donations from your colleagues?

Money was being collected at the site right from the beginning. It was very important for our colleagues to give something of themselves. And this feeling continued to hold strong. That’s why in July we created the option of donating directly from salary deductions, and left this option for employees to donate open for much longer than had originally been planned, i.e. until 30 September 2021. In the end a total of another 50,000 Czech koruna was collected. After careful internal consideration, and consultation with the mayors in the villages, this money was given to two families whose houses were left with only the walls standing after the tornado. Even though the donation process takes some time and was a bit tedious, it was important for us to offer support and it fills me with pride that we at L&R are willing to go the extra mile, (not only) in extreme situations. Offering long-term help and being there for others is and always has been entirely within the spirit of our Purpose.