Only two years after CERGE-EI was founded, Libor Krkoška enrolled in the PhD in Economics program. Following his graduation, he was the first graduate from Eastern Europe hired by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s Chief Economist Office in 1997. Ever since then he has been an active employee of the ERBD for some 24 years, working in multiple positions all around the world. How different of an experience was it for him back then at CERGE-EI? What from his student years has influenced him the most in his career? What is his role now in the EBRD as Country Strategy Deputy Director in London? Find out the answers to these and some other questions in a new interview with Libor.
You began your studies at CERGE-EI in 1993, two years after CERGE-EI was founded. Why did you decide to apply to such a new institution?
In the early nineties there were very few opportunities to receive a modern economic education in the Czech Republic. Only CERGE-EI in Prague was offering the possibility to study for a PhD in Economics according to the best international practice. I was also impressed by the excellent staff this new institution was able to attract, including its founders. This was complemented by the opportunity to study in English and the ability to go abroad for a year as a part of the studies. There were also close links between CERGE-EI and the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University in Prague, where I received my Master’s degree in mathematics. Last but not least, despite being founded only two years before I applied to study at CERGE-EI, I was also able to talk to the students in the first two cohorts and their feedback was very positive.
What were the studies at CERGE-EI like back then? What was the most challenging thing?
CERGE-EI was a newly established institution at the time, so obviously many procedures were only being introduced and some important information, such as the destination of graduates, was simply not available. Most importantly, it was unclear what level of support CERGE-EI would be able to give to students writing their PhD dissertations, and how the supervision by advisors from other academic institutions, visiting CERGE-EI on a temporary basis, would work. I also joined CERGE-EI while it was still based in its temporary premises in Zizkov, moving to its current location shortly after I joined the program. I was very pleased that my initial expectations and hopes were not just met but exceed by a large margin, be it regarding the possibility to spend a year abroad at a leading international academic institution or future career prospects. I was able to spend my third year of studies as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, writing my dissertation while working alongside some of the best economists in the world, something that I do not think would have been possible had I studied at the time at another university in the Czech Republic. Similarly, I found a job at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development after graduation, one of several exciting opportunities I had to choose from that would not be likely without studying at CERGE-EI.
You have worked at the EBRD for 24 years in several positions, in several countries. Can you tell us more about your EBRD career trajectory?
I was the first graduate from Eastern Europe hired by the EBRD’s Chief Economist Office back in 1997, and the reputation of CERGE-EI as a center of excellence in economic research in Eastern Europe was by then already well established. In this respect, being one of the first graduates of CERGE-EI — I was the 7th graduate from its founding — was both challenging, since we had to showcase the quality of the untested, newly established institution, but also very rewarding. I am always pleased to see yet another CERGE-EI graduate hired by international institutions such as the EBRD. I might have been the first CERGE-EI graduate hired by the EBRD but there were many others who followed and joined the EBRD, and other IFIs as well. Although I have worked for the EBRD already for almost 24 years, I have had a very varied career, staying in the Chief Economist Office for about 10 years before moving to the Banking department, working in the equity team as well as leading EBRD operations in Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Cyprus as a head of local resident office. About 3 years ago, I returned to London and now lead a team of experts working on medium-term country strategies for all EBRD countries of operations.
What from your CERGE-EI studies has influenced you the most in your career?
Obviously the quality of education provided by CERGE-EI and the influence of the professors and colleagues I studied with has had a very strong impact on what I have achieved to date. At the same time, I believe that the start-up spirit of CERGE-EI from the early nineties has stayed with me throughout my career. The EBRD was established at about the same time as CERGE-EI, celebrating 30 years from its founding this year as well. Joining the EBRD in its early years of operations had a very similar feel as studying at CERGE-EI during the first few years after its founding. Although my CERGE-EI studies were completed many years ago, I took this start-up spirit with me to my last position in the field, in Cyprus, where I arrived in 2014 to open the EBRD’s resident office and started the EBRD’s activities in a new country of operations. My latest work assignment this year, working on the re-engagement of the EBRD in the Czech Republic to help with focused and result-oriented recovery efforts after the Covid pandemic, has a similar feeling of being part of something new, including work on green transition and capital market development as part of the recovery efforts.
What is your main goal in your current position as Country Strategy Deputy Director in the UK?
The core work of the Country Strategy team is to lead the preparation of well-defined country strategies to guide the EBRD’s operations for the next 5 years in individual countries. We are further strengthening the focus of the country strategies, highlighting opportunities to support a green economy transition, strengthening equal opportunities and inclusion, and deepening digitalization in line with the overall strategic directions of the EBRD for the next five years. This requires a good understanding of the markets where the Bank is active, and more robust market assessments are something I would like to look into in the near future. Also, in line with the market trends, we are automating and standardizing our work on country strategies, releasing resources to engage in higher value-added activities, including better integration of policy engagements in the strategic directions for banking operations, as well as better reporting of results and achievements at the country level to further the impact of the EBRD’s activities.
This year, CERGE-EI celebrates 30 years from its founding. What do you perceive as the strongest message CERGE-EI gives to its students?
CERGE-EI is now a well-established and highly reputable academic institution, helping its students and staff achieve their potential while also relying on the hard work of its students and staff to maintain and increase its reputation further. Former CERGE-EI students have succeeded in pursuing a wide range of careers after conclusion of their studies, from academic career paths to working in the private sector, and for governments and international institutions. There is now a large number of alumni who are always ready to help new students with advice on career opportunities after CERGE-EI and how to design a personal development path. Do not hesitate to contact me directly if you would like to discuss opportunities to pursue a career in international institutions, private or public sector, or in academia after CERGE-EI.