The Insider View: Poland

Commercial environment

As one of Europe’s larger countries, with a population of 38 million, Poland has been one of the continent’s strongest performers economically.

A GDP growth of 1.5 per cent is expected in 2013, after growth of 4 per cent and 2 per cent in 2011 and 2012 respectively, reports Jakub Bejnarowicz of CIMA in Poland.

He says that, although the financial crisis is starting to affect consumption, there is still strong demand for household and luxury goods, while Poland’s banking sector remains healthy and interest rates are at a historic low.

Poland’s political system has been through huge changes in the past 20 years – e.g. joining the EU and adopting common regulations – says Jędrzej Kawecki, FCMA, CGMA, customer-service manager for Poland and the Baltic states at Whirlpool, the US household appliances manufacturer.

“There’s also been an infrastructure development boost, especially before the 2012 European football championships, which Poland co-hosted with Ukraine, that is highly visible,” he says.

“I travel a lot and I have seen how Poland and Polish cities have changed in the past decade. They are not much different from cities in the UK, Belgium, Italy or Germany.”

Alicja Dworowska, a senior financial analyst at American IT giant Hewlett-Packard, says she returned to Poland with some anxiety after living abroad for several years.

“My worries turned out to be unfounded,” she says. “At work I deal with people from all over the world and I don’t see any big differences between Poles and other nationals. The trait that differentiates Polish workers from others is that they are very ambitious and work hard to prove their worth to others. This stubbornness by Poles in exceeding goals has a very positive impact on careers in international corporations such as Hewlett-Packard.”

Because Poland is the biggest market in central Eastern Europe (CEE), many multinationals chose the country as their CEE headquarters when investing in the region at the beginning of the 1990s, according to Dworowska.

“Following the initial period of domination by foreign companies in the Polish market, domestic companies have started to compete successfully, both at home and in foreign markets, offering high-quality Polish products,” she says.

“One of the flagship examples of a successful Polish company is Solaris, which manufactures and sells buses around the world.”

Doing business in Poland

Poland’s position in the World Bank’s “Doing business” report has been improving. In 2012 it moved from 62nd to 55th in the rankings, says Professor Marzenna Weresa, director of the Institute of the World Economy at the Warsaw School of Economics.

Nevertheless, Marek Młotek-Kucharczyk, FCMA, CGMA, chief financial officer of Polish auto parts group Inter-Team, cautions anyone working in the country to remain ready for “surprises” and to be aware of “very complex tax and regulatory issues”.

Hewlett-Packard’s Dworowska says many young Poles speak English fluently, while others can speak German, Spanish, Russian, Italian or French.

“This is one of the main reasons why there is a lot of foreign investment in shared-services centres and BPOs all around Poland,” she says, adding that there are also many start-up firms in Poland seeking investors, both domestic and international.

“Some of the projects have already been undertaken by large corporations, especially in the IT sector.”

Whirlpool’s Kawecki warns that, although new ways of doing business, such as e-commerce and social media, are important, seeking direct contact and building personal relationships still hold the key to winning in business. In Poland a “targeted approach” – i.e. meeting people face to face – is considered important.

“Some time ago there was a saying: ‘To make good business in Poland you must drink a lot of vodka.’ Now I think it is more like: ‘Why don’t we have lunch and discuss some business in between?’”

Kawecki says. CIMA’s Bejnarowicz agrees that personal contacts are crucial when developing business in Poland. “To get a job in the public sector or a state-owned company, such connections still count,” he says.

“In initial business conversations, Poles are cautious and reserved. Those educated before 1980 and who were already in business before the 1990s are even less open on initial contact.”

Specific tips on how to do business in Poland can be provided by the Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency, says Weresa.

This state-owned agency presents opportunities to develop business through direct investments, capital commitment or participation in projects

Management culture

Poles are very entrepreneurial, according to Whirlpool’s Kawecki.

“I have heard a couple of times from my colleagues from other countries that, if you don’t know how to do something, you should go to Poland – where they will figure it out. And it’s true: years under the past system forced us to embed into our DNA the ‘figure it out’ chromosome,” he says.

Lately, a lot of global firms have opened accounting and logistics shared-services centres in Polish cities such as Łódź, Kraków, Wroclaw, Warsaw and Gdańsk.

“We learnt our lessons, having had the chance to work with British, American, German, Italian and French colleagues and companies,” says CIMA’s Bejnarowicz.

“First, we worked as contractors and suppliers; nowadays, also as business developers, managers and market leaders. The younger generation of managers (up to 35 years of age) are more straightforward and lead by setting clear goals, building trust and the success they drive.”

Although considered hierarchical, Polish firms have been moving towards a more liberal approach, says Professor Weresa.

“Managers are expected to know how to solve difficult problems and give direct instructions to the employees.”

Weresa also believes that management styles in Poland depend largely on the size and type of the organisation.

“In foreign-owned enterprises, management styles are similar to those used in mother companies, although managers take into account some cultural aspects specific to Poland,” she says.

“In state-owned enterprises the management style is more hierarchical and, in some cases, even authoritative. In small private companies, managers (usually the owners) are more flexible and dynamic.”

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