Interview with Martin Gregor, Director of the Institute of Economic Studies


Interview with Martin Gregor, Director of the Institute of Economic Studies

Martin Gregor, the second Director in the history of the Institute of Economic Studies, has devoted a large part of his academic career to building and maintaining the high reputation of the Institute. Before handing over his role to his successor, he told us what he considers his most remarkable achievements and what he sees as challenges in managing a prestigious academic institution.

You have served as Director of the Institute of Economic Studies with admirable commitment for over three terms. How long exactly?

It sounds unbelievable, but I have spent fourteen years as a director. In addition, I had previously worked for two years as the deputy director of the first director, Professor Mejstřík. So, all together, I have enjoyed sixteen years of exciting but quite time-consuming work, especially challenging when one has three children and at the same time tries not to stunt as an academic. With a slight exaggeration, I can say that I am on par with the former German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, regarding the time spent in the office as a leader.

In which ways has the Institute changed over the years, and what, on the contrary, are its stable and core values?

I had the opportunity to see several workplaces in the Czech Republic and abroad, and I can witness that the IES is unique in many ways. But I would like to choose just one characteristic: the Institute attracts excellent students, and some have almost legendary ambitions. Every school fights hard to get the best students, but we are in a great position to attract the best high school students consistently. The concentration of intelligent and skilled students who deal with interesting and non-trivial problems (and at the same time do not just create an “information fog” around them) is high here.

Thanks to this, our students have always been seen more as peers than novices. Some of them sometimes "have their noses up in the air." Fortunately, the reality of our demanding courses eventually brings them back to earth.

A high concentration of motivation and willingness to dive deeper into complex quantitative problems also create pressure and inspiration for the faculty members. These high expectations manifest, among others, in the energy invested by our academics when supervising undergraduate and graduate theses.

In short, meritocracy and performance are the core values at IES.

You took our Institute over after its "founding father", Professor Michal Mejstřík, in the aftermath of the great financial crisis. Recently, you have experienced the pandemic, the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, and significant economic and technological changes. Which period was the most challenging for you in the director position, and which was the most interesting?

Fortunately, the state of the economy and the world affects the school differently than companies with more volatile incomes. The economy mainly affects students who are looking for jobs. Although our graduates never had a real problem finding a reasonable job, the opportunities for the students were different during the economic boom and bust.

I never saw these shocks and waves as the main challenge but as a context and limitations. The main challenge is the questions of goals and suitable means to reach them - in which direction to profile the school, what kind of people to attract, how to motivate them, and how to finance the entire operation. There are two typical modes of managers in the university - on the one hand, pure academics who are willing to sacrifice anything for their values and who maximize those values and don't look too much at the costs. On the other hand, some directors are just expected to maximize their revenues. 

The greatest art and challenge is to do both - to promote what is valuable and proven for economists and gain some reasonable revenues.

And what about the enormous societal and technological changes?

Changes come and go. But what comes and never goes away is bureaucracy. And it grows exponentially. Unfortunately, it stifles innovation not only in companies but also in universities. The students and the wider environment should be made aware of how significantly we are impaired due to bureaucratic constraints. For example, nonsensical regulations that relate to entirely different parts of the labor market are just being applied to the university. 

In addition, responsibility is gradually diluted - more and more commissions are being established for the problems an actionable executive should flexibly solve. 

Nowadays, the management of IES-type organizations is mainly about this aspect. The greatest challenge for the future director will be to manage the proliferation of the administration, whether resulting from regulation by the Ministry of Education or from the legal positivist idea that problems can be solved by generating detailed rules and guidelines. 

What do you consider your most considerable success that you are proud of?

That would undoubtedly be the rocket trajectory of our research. Building solid research and reputation is the hardest, most expensive, and slowest endeavor. Building international visibility and ties abroad is also related to this. Our improvements over the last almost 20 years are enormous - it's a leap up several classes of competition.

I am delighted that the next director will be Adam Geršl, who worked for many years at the Joint Vienna Institute. He is very well aware of how crucial global visibility is and how to maintain it.

What will you be missing the most?

I will undoubtedly miss the director's office on the ground floor next to the noisy street on the north side (smiles). No, more seriously. The sweetest moment as a director was always when I edited the regular half-yearly list of activities and achievements. Seeing what all my colleagues have achieved and knowing that I have contributed (to a smaller or larger extent) has continuously pumped blood into my veins.

What advice would you give to your successor as director?

I have already given Adam a lot of helpful advice and information. We already have more than 500 threads of conversation in the shared email.

The most important thing is maintaining a good and collegial atmosphere. Furthermore, the main thing is to find a reasonable balance in individual activities. Important things usually don’t have a quick and easy solution, and matters with quick solutions tend not to be essential. Also, from the beginning, be willing to say unpopular things to colleagues and assign them unwanted tasks. 

I do not doubt that he will succeed and that we will continue to grow and prosper under the next director. I look forward to this period and wish the next director a lot of energy and success. 

I wish you good luck, Adam!