Jamaica RPCV Nick Hawk nests at Prague: American expat builds entertainment empire

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By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, July 18, 2001 - 2:08 pm: Edit Post

Jamaica RPCV Nick Hawk nests at Prague: American expat builds entertainment empire

Jamaica RPCV Nick Hawk nests at Prague: American expat builds entertainment empire

Hawk nests at Bonton

By Michele Legge

American expat builds entertainment empire

Nine months after the fall of communism, the lounge at Prague Ruzyne airport was still embellished with hammers and sickles as Mick Hawk arrived lugging a boom box in one hand, a duffel bag stuffed with cassettes in the other.

Hawk, then 28, was a fresh graduate from Ohio State University's master's in business administration (M.B.A.) program and had hopped a flight from Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

"I remember Zbynek [Knobloch], who's now head of [the record company] Sony Music-Bonton and is still one of my closest Czech friends, was holding up a sign that said Nick Hank," Hawk recalled. "It sounded to me like he was greeting a porno star. And I laughed my ass off."

As it turns out, Knobloch actually was greeting his future boss.

Hawk has been instrumental in transforming the country's first private record label, Bonton, into the regional entertainment monolith it is today. At last count, Bonton holdings comprised 20 media enterprises, including several music, film and video companies, radio stations, music megastores, distribution networks, and multiple-screen movie theaters in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. And the holding company hasn't finished expanding.

But Hawk, now a major shareholder and co-president of Bonton, initially didn't want to work in Central Europe.

The offer of a job in Prague came the day before Hawk graduated. One of his professors asked if he'd be willing to be the guinea pig for a new program, the MBA Enterprise Corps, which plucks graduates from top American business schools and shuttles them into fledgling companies abroad. Hawk initially turned down the offer.

"I'd traveled so much when I was studying," he explained. "I worked in Jamaica with the Peace Corps for two years, and I also studied in a special undergraduate program where I studied for a semester in five different countries -- in France, Spain, Mexico, Belgium and Germany. I thought I needed to get more domestic."

A music fan, Hawk had turned his back on corporate America and secured what he'd thought was a great job, in the mail room at CBS Records -- a toehold into the door of the American music industry.

Two days after graduating, however, Hawk was told that the job in Prague was with a record company, albeit a company that had only one record at the time. Ten days after that, Hawk arrived in Prague, the fourth employee of a firm that now has close to 1,000 people on its payroll, most of them under 40.

"I planned on staying a year. It was a volunteer job -- the school paid my rent and at the start I made $68 a month," he said. "Then, I was going to leave after my second year. I started using my existence as clout, [to instigate structural and managerial changes in the company]. And finally I said I'll stay, indefinitely."

According to Hawk, Bonton became a lucrative venture in 1994, four years after he arrived. "Now I'm a sunk ship," he quipped, adding that he has no intentions to leave.

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Story Source: The Prague Post

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