Bob Eaton got more than he bargained for when he visited Prague in February 1990 to look over the newly opened Czech auto industry.
The General Motors Europe president was so impressed with one Czech government official that he met - Andrej Barcak - that a few months later he offered the former Skoda rally driver a job.
Barcak, then minister of state for exports, gladly accepted. After single-handedly reviving Skoda car sales around the world, he had become restless as a government functionary.
Barcak, 53, remembers his conversation with Eaton that day. 'We talked only about cars,' he said.
Ten years later, the one-time Communist government official is preparing to join the management board of GM's Adam Opel. On May 1, he will become executive director for sales, marketing and aftersales at Opel headquarters in Russelsheim, Germany - a new position.
Barcak was promoted from the Prague-based post of executive director for sales, marketing and aftersales for GM in central and eastern Europe.
With more than 25 years of automotive experience, Barcak knows how to give shine and prestige to an ailing product range. That's what he did for Skoda in the late 1980s, before Volkswagen acquired the Czech maker.
He also launched Opel sales in the Czech Republic in 1990 and positioned the brand in the same rank as BMW in the country.
'We could get the best dealer candidates and we were selective about dealers and positions,' Barcak said. 'We set up a good quality network.'
Opel sales in the country climbed from fewer than 100 cars to 9,500 units within two years.
In 1993, Barcak was given sales responsibility for all of central Europe. Opel volume in the region went from under 30,000 units in 1992 to 133,000 last year.
Barcak picked up his sales and marketing skills at Skoda, his first employer after completing engineering studies at the Technical University in Prague in 1970.
Barcak worked at Skoda's research institute for three years. In 1973 he was named sales director for the state-owned export trade company Motokov, which was in charge of exporting Skoda vehicles.
Barcak was sent to the UK in 1976 as head of Skoda sales. His mission was to save the sinking local subsidiary. Relying on his technical background and experience as a rally driver on the Skoda factory team, Barcak began making technical improvements to Skoda's cars as soon as he arrived.
He changed the steering system to rack and pinion, improved the springs, added alloy wheels, changed the tires and added front and rear spoilers for better aerodynamics. Within five years, UK sales went from 4,000 to 15,000 units, making it Skoda's biggest market in western Europe.
Barcak's bosses in Prague were impressed. 'They said if you can do it in the UK, you can do it in the rest of the world,' he recalled. 'They made me responsible for Skoda exports worldwide.'
Barcak joined the Skoda board in 1980 and applied the technical changes made in the UK to all vehicles. The strategy worked. Sales outside the Czech Republic rose from 26,000 units in 1980 to 56,000 in 1985.
From 1985 to 1987, Barcak worked in the USA as managing director of Motokov's Jawa unit, which handled the import of Czech-made motorcycles and agricultural equipment.
'They were in considerable financial trouble and there was a question of whether to close it or save it,' Barcak said.
Barcak not only rescued the company, he also expanded its distribution channels and launched sales of Czech-made tractors, tires and other equipment in the USA.
He returned to the Czech Republic in 1987 as president of Motokov, which then had sales of $3.5 billion a year and 1,500 workers.
The Czech Republic was going through radical political and economic changes at that time - well before the Iron Curtain came down in 1989. Barcak said he was openly critical of economic programs that still reflected socialist, rather than free-market ideas.
According to Barcak, high-ranking government officials said: 'You are always criticizing, now show us what you can do.'
Barcak was named minister of state for export for the new Czech government in November 1989. He was part of the team that signed the country's first trade agreement with the USA.
That's how he met Eaton, who came to Prague with a view to buying some of the businesses that were about to be privatized. As part of his dialogue with the government, Eaton talked to Barcak about Skoda.
Besides cars, Barcak said they discussed how GM could start doing business in the Czech Republic. Little did Barcak know that Eaton would be one of the first to call with a job offer after Barcak resigned his ministry post in 1990.