The Awesome Story Of How A Czech Banker Came To The US With $50 Hidden In A Sandwich And Built A Coal Empire

Invasion of Prague 1968

Photo: Wikimedia

As has been well-documented recently, rags-to-riches stories have become harder to come by in recent years.But the Wall Street Journal’s Sean Carney has found one hiding behind the old Iron Curtain.

Zdenek Bakala, CEO of New World Resources, just oversaw groundbreaking on Central Europe’s first privately owned coal mine since World War II.

He’s come a long way.

Around Thanksgiving of 1980, Bakala, then 19 years old, stuffed a sandwich with a $50 bill hidden inside into a small backpack and fled communist Czechoslovakia. He ended up in Lake Tahoe, washing dishes at Harrah’s casino for a time before moving to the Bay Area.

He was eventually accepted at Berkeley, graduating with an economics degree. He then went on to earn an MBA at Dartmouth.

In 1989, he was hired by Drexel Burnham Lambert’s investment banking desk. Then he moved on to Credit Suisse First Boston, and in 1991 opened the bank’s first Prague office.

Now at age 51, Bakala presides over a company with a $2.52 billion market cap and eight production sites across Central Europe.

On the side, he recently purchased the manufacturer of Napoleon’s favourite dessert wine, and is setting up a brewery in Geneva. He just endowed a professorship at Dartmouth, and hopes to build a business school in Prague.

Read the rest of Bakala’s and NWR’s story here.

NOW WATCH: Money & Markets videos

Want to read a more in-depth view on the trends influencing Australian business and the global economy? BI / Research is designed to help executives and industry leaders understand the major challenges and opportunities for industry, technology, strategy and the economy in the future. Sign up for free at