My Century And My Many Lives, by Frank Munk
Frank Munk, my grandfather, wrote this autobiography to record his memories
from 1901 onwards. This history and its postscript are available on our family website in his
memory as they tell a complete story of the 20th century. These memoirs may be referenced as
long as proper attribution is made; our family retains ownership and copyright. We have one
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© Copyright 1993, 1994, The Munk/Ragen Families
MORE LIVES THAN TWO
I have clearly
lived two different lives, one in Europe, the other in America. But, in
addition, I have also lived two lives in my native Czechoslovakia: one was
academic and the other practical.
I started out as an
economist and most of my theoretical work and writings were in the field of
economics. Later on I gradually shifted to international politics, while my
special interest remained the interface between the two.
I have also
fluctuated between different sub-areas of the two main fields. Early in the
1920's I got interested in what was then called scientific management of work,
also known as taylorism. It later acquired a bad reputation as a mostly
cold-blooded exploitation of labor, but originally it was part and parcel of a
trend towards what later was known as capitalism with a human face. The chief
exponent of this special effort in our country was Docent Václav Verunác [the
title of docent was more or less equivalent to that of associate professor in
this country]. I soon became a permanent feature of the sessions he used to hold
in his office. Verunác was consultant to many corporations, including the shoe
factories of Tomás Bata, later known as the world shoe king. He successfully
experimented with such innovations as workers' profit participation and many
practices now attributed to the Japanese.
I next turned to
the then practically virgin field of economic planning. There was no such thing
in practice and very little in theory, not even in the Soviet Union, which
adopted economic plans and planning only about 1929. I published my first book,
which dealt among other things with economic planning, in 1928. The name of the
book was "Nové Hospodárstvi" [New Economics] and it was published by the
government publishing company ORBIS. I was then regarded as a promising young
economist and began writing numerous articles for a number of magazines.
It was as a result
of these activities that my former professor Josef Macek recommended me for the
award of a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in the United States, where I spent
two years between 1931 and 1933.
While in America, I
was particularly interested in new forms of retailing, especially chain stores
and chains of department stores. Another field which attracted me was
advertising and the whole area of propaganda and public relations. During my
year at Columbia University I spent a good part of my time downtown, talking to
store executives and advertising agencies. My interest in economic and business
planning led me to forecasting. I visited for instance one of the first
institutions pioneering in that field, the Babson Economic Institute.
home, I started an advertising organization, somewhat like the Advertising
Federation of America, under the name of Reklub, the Czech term for advertising
being reklama. I became its first president.
While at Harvard, I
started writing my doctoral dissertation which I finished after my return to
Prague and published as a book under the title of "Distribution and Distribution
Costs." I received my doctorate in 1936.
After that I
devoted most of my attention increasingly to problems of macro-economics and
what you might call macro-politics, no doubt influenced by the darkening clouds
of another world war. It was also connected with my becoming an economic advisor
and head of the economic committee of one of the major political parties.
All of the above
activities would have barely provided a source of income. As a matter of fact, I
had from the outset pursued a double career, one theoretical, the other in the
real world. From 1922 till my departure for America in 1931 I was with the
Prague International Fair. I started as a part-time helper in the News
department. My first assignment was to draw a chart of the fluctuations of the
Czech of the Czech currency, the crown, in terms of the Swiss franc. I rose
rapidly in the ranks and soon became the permanent Director of International
Relations. The Fair was a public corporation sponsored by the City of Prague and
supported financially and in every other way by the Czechoslovak government.
Exports were the life blood of the Czech economy and the Fair played a very
important role in their success.
My duties were
manifold: I had to prepare all the printed propaganda, make speeches abroad,
deal with foreign exhibitors and visitors, represent the institution through
public relations, act occasionally as an interpreter, negotiate with foreign
governments -- the agenda was practically unlimited. I was recently reminded of
one of my regular duties, when I was present at a dinner for about 270 guests at
my granddaughter's wedding. I organized any number of banquets, mainly for
foreign visitors, including many government delegations, having to take care of
everything, including speakers, seating arrangements, menus and everything else.
Much of it required a good deal of diplomacy. The Fair, which originally used
offices next to the City Hall in a Renaissance 16th century building, was seen
daily by thousands of tourists. Later a large, modern Fair Palace was built. I
organized a permanent exhibition of Czech products, started the first fair of
radio when it was in its infancy and all kinds of export programs. It was a very
satisfactory kind of work.
I did not go back
to the Fair after our return from the United States. Instead I became Manager of
the local representation of Adrema, a leading German manufacturer of addressing
machines. In fact they were much more than what the name indicates: they were
precursors of present-day computer data bases since they could naturally be used
for other purposes, such as inventory control, payrolls or anything of that
kind. The only difference from data bases was that they were
mechanical-electrical whereas computers are electronic. One of my tasks was to
help businesses in devising their organizational use. I had also to travel a
good deal. Adrema was part of the largest Czech firm in the whole field of
business machines. It was owned by Richard Gibian, who became my friend. He was
an unusual man, a very able businessman, an excellent musician, and a very
He tried to keep me
when I got an offer I thought I could not refuse. In 1937, I was approached by
the owners of an expanding chain of department stores, somewhat in the vein of
present-day Walmart or K-Mart. The name of the stores was TETA ["Aunt"] in
Czechoslovakia, TATA ["Dad"] in Yugoslavia, and SORA ["Sister"] in Romania. It
was a very profitable venture and I was offered one of the highest salaries in
the field. I was hired with the understanding that I would become General
Manager of the combined companies as soon as the man who was presently in the
top job would retire, which was expected soon. I was the heir apparent. He died
just as I was leaving. I left of course in a hurry when I learned about my
impending arrest after the German invasion in 1939. The reason I was eager to
try my hand was of course my old interest in these new forms of retailing, as I
describe it elsewhere. I was given a "golden handshake" when I left, but it did
me no good since I could not take any money with me. One day I was well off, the
next day I was penniless. Incidentally, TETA had political problems which
limited its growth. As a result of pressure by the party of small business,
strict laws limited the opening of new stores and much of my time was spent in
Thus ended my
excursion into the realm of business and naturally I suddenly was also cut off
from my more academic interests in that part of the world. In fact, I had to
start all over again. It was to be a hard time for both Nadia and myself.
However my sudden departure from Prague was really a godsend because I would
surely not have survived the six years of Nazi occupation or the ensuing more than
40 years of the Communist regime.
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