From CEO to classroom: Dermacol chief Věra Komárová on founding a school

Leonardo da Vinci Academy, founded by one of Czechia’s most influential women, is a young international school with a bright future.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 08.02.2023 11:49:00 (updated on 09.02.2023) Reading time: 5 minutes

Věra Komárová is best known as the CEO of Dermacol, the Czech Republic’s most successful cosmetics company. In business circles, she has been applauded for transforming a heritage Czech brand into a profitable international venture. For eight years running, Forbes magazine has named her one of the most influential women in the Czech Republic.

Those who know Komárová as a successful businesswoman may not know that she actually started out in education, studying didactics at Charles University, or that she speaks seven languages and comes from a family of teachers.

Or how in the midst of the Covid pandemic, she returned to her academic roots by establishing a pilot school in a temporary space to help give her three daughters an uninterrupted educational experience.

Today that school, Leonardo da Vinci Academy, counts 120 pupils from 22 countries among its student body and has moved to a permanent space in the Czech capital’s Old Town on Dlouhá street.

Ms. Komárová brings a unique perspective to the operation of the school, one that is driven by business savvy and the desire to create what she calls a truly Czech international school in the heart of Prague.

How has your business acumen helped in an academic environment?

I use a lot of the same skills. There are a lot of barriers and if I hadn’t been in business and hadn’t already been used to hearing a lot of “no’s” [it might have been different]. But I believed that I could do it.

Prague has a lot of international schools. Why does it need another one?

I think that what’s missing is a small, Czech-run private school in the heart of Prague offering both Czech and bilingual education. After 33 years of independence, we have a lot of international schools here but none that are entirely Czech-owned, woman-run, and offer a completely bilingual education curriculum from primary school to upper secondary. We also currently run up to Y10 and will grow to Y13 in the next two years.

What has proven the greatest challenge in establishing the school?

The biggest challenge was actually adapting the building to comply with regulations and respect the historic architecture. Another big challenge was getting accreditation from the Ministry of Education. There is a very small chance and it’s not given easily.

How involved are you in the day-to-day operations of the school?

I try to be at the school every week to provide leadership for the teachers, to see the students and hear what they need and mentor them. I think it’s important that they see and meet me. We’ve never wanted to have a huge school. We want to focus on a more individual approach.

Talk a bit about that individual approach.

Our class sizes are small and teachers are trained to be not only academically proficient but also to have a human approach to students. None of our students are just people inside classrooms, but rather individuals with their own ambitions, their own targets to work towards, and their own past experiences to build upon. We make sure to closely work with parents and teachers to enable everyone to thrive in our school - this amount of care would simply not be possible in a large school.

In terms of academics, how does your broad curriculum benefit both Czechs and foreigners alike?

If you are a foreigner and your child plans to stay here after graduation they can’t study at a Czech university without our Czech maturita. We provide both a Czech education and a pathway to either continue their education in the Czech Republic or at a university elsewhere in the world.

Leonardo da Vinci Academy is currently the only school in Prague providing a Czech, British, and international curriculum for children from 5-19 years. It has been recognized by the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) in Prague as a British Schools Overseas (BSO) and by the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports (MSMT). Students do the IGCSE exams in Y11 and leave the school with both a Czech high-school diploma (Maturita) and an international certificate that will allow students to easily go to any university internationally. The school is currently a candidate for International Baccalaureate.

Global awareness is also something that in the past you’ve said is key to your approach. But you are also devoted to bringing Czech culture, language, and education to foreigners, correct?

We are proud to have our campus in the center of Prague and so it is simple for us to really make the whole city our own classroom, with numerous trips and activities planned almost every week. In this way, we try to add Czech content into international methods of learning and we believe this is important for all students living in the Czech Republic, no matter their nationality - in fact, our teaching staff as well as our student body is very international and we welcome people into our school from all over the world.

As a woman in business, surely you must have faced challenges in a country where the gender divide is a hot topic. How do you support and encourage female students?

We are a school of the 21st century in our inclusivity. We don’t have uniforms, students are free to wear what they’d like without restriction. It’s a safe environment for all students and because of this, we also do not permit mobile phones inside the school building, in an effort to promote healthy student interaction.

Being a parent and a professional is tricky. How do you support parents, who like you, work?

Our extra-curricular program takes place after school so parents can pick up their children at 6 p.m. if they cannot do so earlier.

In 2022, Dermacol recorded its highest-ever sales on the Czech and Slovak markets, and the turnover of the brand amounted to almost CZK 500 million. What happens when you channel your talent for business success into the future of LVA?

A school is very different from the cosmetics industry. However, there are similarities - we want the best for our students, who will shape the future of our country. It is hard to succeed in business or elsewhere today and we want our students to grow into strong individuals that will be able to create a better world for us all.

This article was written in association with Leonardo da Vinci Academy. To read more about our partner content policies see here.

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