Today: How Frank Lampl, a Holocaust survivor overcame long odds to become a business giant.
Born in Czechoslovakia in 1926, the son of a prominent lawyer and landowner, Frank was just 13 years old when the Nazis seized control of his nation in 1939. Soon Jews were being rounded up and thrown into ghettos, living elbow to elbow, with little food. Disease was rampant.
But it got much worse. In the early 1940s, thousands of Jews, including Frank and his family were sent to Auschwitz for execution.
Frank somehow survived, the only member of his family to survive. He was later sent to Dachau, another infamous death camp and then as a slave laborer, sent to a BMW plant near Munich. For years, Frank constantly saw death and disease, beatings and starvation and he never knew if he might be suddenly shot or gassed. This left Frank with severe nightmares for the rest of his life.
If he didn’t take medication, he would repeatedly scream into the night, “Are you still alive?” as if he was still surrounded by those dying all around him.
After World War ll ended in 1945, at 19, Frank returned to Czechoslovakia to make a new life for himself. He inherited the property of his murdered family and became a student. But not for long as Communist Czechoslovakia seized his property and declared him a “bourgeois undesirable.”
In 1950, they imprisoned Frank and put him to work in the uranium mines as a forced laborer. He was kept there until he and others were freed in honor of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s birthday in 1953.
Frank however was forced to remain a laborer, but they allowed him to choose between mining and construction. He was sick of mining and chose construction. “In those days, people believed that a political enemy of the government couldn’t expect a managerial job,” he said years later. “I remember a doctor of law with a window-cleaning job. That was normal.”
He remained a laborer for the next 18 months and then was made a foreman. By 1963, 37-year-old Frank had risen to managing director of a government construction company, but he hoped to achieve much more.
“I wanted to study and to learn, so I applied to [a] university. I applied three times in three years, and on each occasion my application was disallowed. But I was determined not to give up.”
Finally, Frank was accepted and despite the responsibilities of supporting a wife and son, earned an Engineering degree at the University of Brno. Subsequently, he rose to a senior management job with a construction company.
“Building a career is an interesting thing,” he later said. “I always tell ambitious young people to be careful how they treat their colleagues … If your subordinate does not like you, you won’t succeed. Most success depends on colleagues, on the team … People at the top can have large egos, but you must never say ‘I’; it’s always ‘we.’ “
In stages, Czechoslovakia gradually eased its Communist restrictions, even allowing some free market activity. Then in 1968 it revolted against Soviet Union control. The Soviet response was harsh, arriving with soldiers and tanks and crushing any opposition.
Frank could see the Soviets seizing his freedom as the Nazis and then the Czech Communists had done. He and his wife Blanka decided to escape, for if they were to start over, they wanted to be free of Communism.
To escape, they got a pass to visit their son Tom, an Oxford student in London. They packed one suitcase, so as not to arouse suspicion and left for England, leaving everything else they owned behind. At the age of 42, Frank had no job. He and Blanka had to start their lives all over. They got an apartment in London and eventually he was hired by a local construction company.
As an educated man, Frank read Shakespeare but he did not understand everyday English. So each day his friend, a plumber, taught English to him in a pub over lunch.
In 1971, 45-year-old Frank became a foreman for British construction company Bovis, and began a seemingly long climb up the ranks. But with his many years of experience and his caring for the well-being of his subordinates, he rose quickly.
Soon Frank was a project manager, and after seeing the news of a major fire at Pergamon Press publishing house, he cold-called a decision maker there and landed the rebuilding contract.
And he never slowed down, landing one building contract after the next. In 1975, Bovis asked him to set up and run an international division. Soon Frank got contracts from across the world. A 400 room hotel in Sri Lanka, oil pipeline contracts in Aden and Abu Dhabi and construction in Yemen, Portugal and San Francisco.
In 1984 and in 1986 Frank won the Queen’s Award for Exports. In 1985, he became chairman of Bovis Construction and Bovis International, which had become a giant company from all of the contracts he obtained. And in 1989, he was named chairman of the parent holding company.
Under Frank, Bovis kept on landing major contracts. It developed the famous Canary Wharf in London and built Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris) and built the Olympic Venue for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and built a massive shopping center under Moscow’s Red Square. In all by the time Frank retired in 2000, Bovis was in 40 countries.
Meanwhile, in 1990, in recognition of the tremendous success of Bovis, which had become one of the world’s biggest construction companies, the Queen knighted Frank, now Sir Frank Lampl.
Today, Bovis is owned by Bovis Lend Lease, an Australian firm with 7,500 employees worldwide.
In Frank’s personal life, he and Blanka were married in 1948 and remained married for 53 years until her death in 2001. In 2002, he married Wenda Scarborough and they resided in Wiltshire, London and in Washington but travelled the world, including to Israel, a special place to Frank.
Frank and Wenda remained married until his passing on March 24th, 2011 at the age of 84. She and his son Tom survive him.
But Frank is also survived by thousands of employees and their families who were the recipients of the many jobs he helped to create. And he is survived by his numerous projects which include schools and other public venues. Despite or perhaps because of all of his suffering, Frank helped to make the world a better place.
Success Tip of the Week:
If your career seems down and out, remember Frank Lampl and don’t give up. Apply the skills you’ve developed over the years or learn some new ones and most of all build the support of those who work with or for you, just as he did and your career could become more successful than it has ever been.
This piece was compiled from multiple sources but the quotes are from the British newspaper, The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/finance-obituaries/8424971/Sir-Frank-Lampl.html
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