Vogue CS in English

Michaela Seewald: More Women as Heads of State? It Would Help Our Region

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” said Madeleine Albright once. Her words have also been spoken proudly by Michaela Seewald. The Slovak native, who has also had a successful legal career, launched a courageous project a few years ago. 
Foto: Marek Mičánek
By Zdeno Gáfrik
This interview has been published on Pravda.sk.
She has brought to the Czech and Slovak markets one of the most renowned fashion magazines in the world: Vogue. It has been in circulation with CS appended to the logo since September 2018. In addition to publishing the printed version and attracting more than a million online visitors each month, Michaela Seewald and her team have worked to push the publication beyond the traditional lifestyle genre. The recent Vogue Live hybrid conference is proof of this.
You are the mind behind Vogue LIVE, a large conference held earlier this year with a focus on education and mentoring. What gave you the idea and why did you and your team feel the need to create a such an event?
The idea for Vogue LIVE was to give Vogue CS print and digital products a chance to be expressed live and in person. To allow our readers and followers to take part in this experience and, for example, to interact and have a one-on-one discussion with a Vogue cover star or a member of the editorial team. The theme of mentoring and education is an extension of my mission with Vogue to provide a platform for women and girls to realize their maximum potential. Education and mentoring are essential to success in the dynamic environment we are now living in, and we wanted to offer conference participants the chance to meet and speak with the leading voices in this area. 
The second year of the event was again full of big names, exceptional women and men. Was it easy to get them to come to Prague?
Prague is certainly an exciting destination and offers beauty and history. It provides the ideal backdrop for a conference like Vogue Live.  
Foto: Michal Fanta
Foto: Ivan Kašša
Perhaps the biggest star was Maye Musk, a model, businesswoman, dietitian and mother of the famous Elon Musk. She has already appeared on the front page of your special edition, Vogue Leaders. She is a charismatic and fascinating person with a lot of experience. Is there another reason you invited her to speak at the Vogue LIVE conference?
Ms Musk is an amazing woman. She personifies energy, resilience and intellect. When you meet her, you are immediately drawn to her and want to learn more about her.  Education and mentoring take many shapes and forms. Personally, after spending time with Maye and discussing her views on motherhood and career, raising children and fostering a successful career in multiple disciplines, I immediately wanted to share this experience with our readers and followers.  Ms Musk wrote an inspirational book – “A Woman With A Plan” – that tells her story. I can recommend it highly. It has been translated into Czech as well. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the interviews and live presentations she gave in Prague, as well as a great read.  
If it’s not a secret, what prompted Ms Musk’s to lend her name and face to the event? Was it the chance to represent successful and exceptional women, the tried and true brand that is Vogue, the unexplored market, or just the idea that mentoring and education is important?
Working with Ms Musk is a partnership where our values and mission are aligned – and education and mentoring are certainly important to us both. We were thrilled to have her in Prague and to share her wisdom in our part of the world. I want to quote Madeleine Albright, who passed away recently and was also a great patron of our mission at Vogue CS, having appeared together with Maye Musk in the first edition of Vogue Leaders.  Ms Albright once said: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I know that both Ms Musk and I take this statement to heart, and you can be sure we are here in partnership to support women and girls in every way possible.  We are on a shared mission to achieve this. 
An important part of the Vogue LIVE conference was to draw attention not only to education itself, but also to the important role of women in society. Equality has been talked about for a long time. The line-up of your guests, especially women in senior positions, suggests that women already play an important role in Czech society. How do you as a woman rate the situation here?
I would say that the influence and impact of woman in our society has certainly evolved to the point that there is more equality.  Just look at the tremendous women that have been on the cover of our magazine and that were in attendance at our Live event. Look at all they have already achieved both locally and internationally in such a diverse range of fields.  But we cannot rest on our laurels – there is so much more to achieve.  On the political front, we in Slovakia have elected the first woman president.  It would benefit our region and the whole world if there were more woman as heads of state. Whether that be in the United States, Russia, China or the Czech Republic for that matter. Imagine what that might look like. I hear John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine” whenever this topic is discussed.  
You hail from Slovakia and work and live in the Czech Republic and America. Which country do you think is the best? 
Countries are like ice cream.  They are all wonderful places that offer different flavours of life opportunities. I love Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the United States of America. Comparing them is like comparing vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream. I love them all.   
Recent years have brought a huge boom in mentoring. It is one of the main ways used by top managers, women and men in the highest positions, for continuing their professional development. In what do you perceive the main difference between the educational process and subsequently some sort of mentoring, guidance. Can we separate them?
Mentoring is as ancient as humankind itself.  It just happens that the huge “boom” that you mention stems from the realization of the importance of mentors and the gap that is left open when this form of learning is not present.  In some ways, our society in the Czech Republic and Slovakia had for many years post 1989 been devoid of mentors for business people.  How could there have been entrepreneurial mentors, for example, when entrepreneurship had been absent for years under the former regime.  It was challenging for many women and men locally to navigate this problem and find viable role models and advisors. This has of course changed. Today there is a wealth of role models, advisors and mentors locally that have a formal and informal role of passing on the wisdom and the moral obligations we all have. To your question regarding formal versus informal mentoring, both play an important role and are valuable.  An experienced advisor or, equally, a manager can play an important role in the lives of young professionals, and I’m proud to see this happening all around us.  
In one of your interviews, you said that you considered your own spouse to be your mentor. Is it good if someone with such a personal and emotional connection to you is involved in your development? Do you think that it can bring more to our lives, open up wider horizons, if a person close to us is standing behind us (by us)?
My husband is very successful, and I would be remiss not to take full advantage of the knowledge, skill and network he offers. It is in fact a privilege to have such access 24/7.  He also views it as a privilege to have access to my world and advice, and that’s the way it should be.  He is the first person to tell me that a range of views and opinions are critical to decision making, development and success, and I have developed my own personal advisory board that facilitates this broad experience.  So, to answer your question: yes, one should strive to have access to mentors that open up an array of horizons.  
Foto: Michal Fanta
Pavlína Wolfová, Andrea Běhounková, šéfredaktorka Vogue CS, Julie Kostetska, spoluzakladatelka ukrajinské módní značky GUDU a Philipp Vlasov, šéfredaktor Vogue UA na konferenci Vogue Live, 31. března 2022
Foto: Michal Fanta
Vogue Global Editorial Director Anna Wintour na konferenci Vogue Live, 31. března 2022
You come from a teaching family from eastern Slovakia. You are a successful lawyer with rich international experience. You then became the publisher of a renowned publication in the Czech-Slovak market. What role did education play in this?
Education, both formal and informal, are the cornerstones of success in whatever you strive to do. I would say that the ability to think critically and analytically are applicable to any discipline. These basic tools enabled me to leverage a formal education, and having great parents who encouraged me to achieve this was also invaluable.  
We have gone through more than two years of the pandemic, and this has significantly affected the education of the youngest generation. Do you feel it too?
The past two years have been very difficult for many, particularly for families with younger children, especially with regard to the challenges of online learning.  Additionally, what was taken away was the personal interaction that children desperately need to grow and learn  This has affected to a greater degree the part of society that may have already been facing many challenges, and it is our collective duty to find educational solutions to address this problem.     
Are you not afraid that those two years will be something that not just the youngest generation, but also humanity, will be missing in terms of education and learning? What do you think was lost and what was gained? I would be happy if you could answer me not only as the publisher of a successful publication, but also as a mother and a human being.
While there are many downsides to the last two years from an educational perspective, there are also opportunities.  There is a wealth of online learning opportunities available now that enrich the learning experience of pupils.  My daughters have gained a lot from these resources, and we were able to spend quality family time with them every day during that period. And we will always remember that as a special time.  
The Vogue LIVE conference was a hybrid. It combined two forms: a live part and an online part. It shows that modern education and professional or personal development in the 21st century does not have to take the strict form of sitting at a school desk or attending a lecture. But aren't you a little worried that we're giving up personal connections and experiences in the 21st century?
I am concerned about the effect that online learning has on personal interaction. It will have impact on how interpersonal relationship skills are formed and how our society develops in the future. I am however a firm believer that individuals will remain hungry for personal interaction and that it is a core part of our being that will never be replaced by the digital experience.  At some point in the near future, we may even see a rebellion of sorts from our teenagers who may long for the days of personal interaction and want to experience what life was like before digital became the norm. 
Unfortunately, the last few weeks in Europe have been marked by a war unlike we have experience since World War II. Among the speakers you also have guests from Ukraine. So, in addition to the emphasis on education and personal development, will the message of the conference be the pursuit of peace and understanding?
Peace and understanding are principles that women bring to the table in their finest form.  We support Ukraine and denounce war. In particular, we give our hearts to the women and children who are fleeing the war. I want to end with a question for you.  Do you think we would be in the mess we are in Europe today if women were the heads of state?  I think you know the answer, and that makes my mission more important than ever. 
 By Zdeno Gáfrik
This interview has been published in Slovak on Pravda.sk.