We spoke with Małgorzata Kulis VP, Managing Director and Katarzyna Skorupka-Podziewska, People & Culture Director at Volvo Trucks, Poland.

Volvo Trucks is a world-leading truck manufacturer, committed to drive progress and shape the future landscape of sustainable transports. 

Małgorzata, it has been almost 12 years since you joined Volvo Trucks Poland as a Managing Director. Has the company changed during that time?

Małgorzata: Completely! 12 years is a long time, and today we are totally different. I joined an organization managed in a directive manner, organized in silos, where information was treated as an asset to build an advantage to maneuver within the company. Few people understood why I, a woman, with no technical knowledge of trucks, suddenly became the Managing Director. I had to deal with some problems and the reluctance of others, who did not believe that a woman in a truck business could survive in the long -term, but I managed. Let me remind you that the concept of diversity was not that strongly promoted at that time, and I joined what was a very macho business.

Much time has now passed, and we have made many collective changes to become a great organization today, balancing experience with new generations, more women, as well as activating engagement of individuals to fight jointly for the company goals.

What has been most important in this transformation?

Małgorzata: Building a culture of open communication and trust. It's a long process, but it has paid off in many ways. I didn't know about the technicalities of the trucks, but I knew how to deal with people. Today, we are all proud of the community Volvo Trucks Poland creates, and some of our solutions are inspirational, not only for other Volvo Group entities, but also for our competitors. I have to say proudly that we created and still create many talents.  

And what are these solutions that allowed you to build this community?

Katarzyna: One of the assumptions of our strategy is the slogan: #Inspired by Your Needs. It means that we are inspired by the needs of our customers, our employees and our business partners. Our company employs 500 people in 13 distributed branches. This is not the easiest structure to manage, so we need to be close to people, genuinely listen to their needs and address them appropriately. People feel cared for, they feel our concern for them (the “care” factor increased from 60% to 90% in the last 3 years), it's not a slogan, but our everyday life.

Małgorzata: This approach strongly impacts the company's results. Last year we achieved our highest result and we believe we are doing so because we listen to people - I mean all people: our customers, our business partners and of course our employees, who are definitely the biggest assets of our organization, as well as the creators of our common achievements.  As a Management Team we travel around our locations, give space to ask questions and listen to ideas, analyze and address what people say, no matter whether it concerns basic or more sophisticated issues. We don't sweep anything under the rug. Maybe sometimes we don't have an answer immediately, but we acknowledge the issue and come back with answers encouraging local colleagues to propose solutions, improve processes, and to make constant small improvements.

Is this openness to listening to the voice of employees specific only to the Polish organization?

Małgorzata: Volvo Group is an organization that appreciates people feedback, but what we do is that we create “Local WHY” with everything we do in Poland. Today Poland is the 4th Volvo Trucks market in Europe and 6th in the world, so we are an important player, and we need to be strong for our customers, who act in an extremely difficult and competitive international environment.  

Sales of the trucks as such, is not enough. In Volvo Trucks we want to be the best and the most desired transport solution provider. It means that what we do must have a measurable value for our customers and our approach must be effective and focused on premium services. We also need to have a very professional and transparent dialogue with our customers to build relations for good and bad times.

By building open communication and trust, you gain knowledge about what people expect and know what they want. Are there other benefits?

Katarzyna: Employees feel listened to and cared for. They consciously work for innovative solutions. We believe that our customers can feel that we have a unique culture and that employees are stronger, dedicated, engaged and want to work with us.

Employees are ambassadors, they feel a unique sense of belonging here to our Volvo community, and this attracts customers. This energy transfers from people to people. This is what distinguishes us from the competition.

We are the market leader in many fields and have very high customer satisfaction which is measured systematically either in the area of trucks sales and delivery, or service market and retail services or financing provided by our sister company Volvo Financial Services. We care a lot about how our customers assess us and what can we still improve.

You say that this is what sets you apart in the market, that your employees are authentic brand ambassadors. Does this affect results and performance?

Małgorzata: Absolutely YES!!! People returned to working back in the office within two weeks after the first lockdown during Covid. Many other companies are still struggling to have people back in their offices. Our people are genuinely committed, have lots of new ideas and feel connected to the company and the Volvo Family we create. I believe that is why we have such a phenomenal performance.

Katarzyna: We have decreased the number of voluntary leavers twice to 4%. It is very difficult for our competition to encourage our people to leave Volvo Trucks. People go beyond their area and emphasize their strong bond with the company. Every year we organize the Health Challenge and other programs to take care of both the physical and mental health of our employees - but we never do it without checking what they really need. People organize it themselves, take an active part in it, fuel and motivate each other.

Also regarding additional benefits, we decided to introduce a pre-paid Volvo card system because people need different things. We have 25% of each generation in terms of age, it is a very well-balanced organization, and we need to accept that people have different needs. We do understand it and we care about it.

Małgorzata: As in every corporation we are a results driven company, there is high time pressure and results pressure, so we try to monitor the stress associated with it so that our people feel taken care of. We do what we do for real, we don't provide KPIs - because that's a corporate requirement, but we use them to Keep People Inspired, to Keep People Interested, and to Keep People Innovative. We don't follow fashion, but we do something for people in a real way and it pays off so well.

Our people increase our competitive advantage, optimize our activities and make us busy with so many great ideas and initiatives. And by this our Performance KPIs are also outstanding.  We have a great Management Team, where we are also very gender, age and personality balanced: 4 Women +  4 Men, isn’t it great?

Katarzyna: We both have great pleasure and satisfaction in working for such organization, and I am more than sure that most of our employees feel the same way.

volvo pink

This is all very inspiring - thank you both!

We spoke with Marzena Kulis, Managing Director, Johnson & Johnson MedTech, Middle East and MISSA.

You are one of very few women in such a top position, in a rather difficult region, where there are not that many female executives. Can you share with us what helped you, and what led you here?

This is probably due to several factors, first of all: the baggage of ambition, courage, and the right to pursue a professional career, which I have carried with me since childhood – I definitely owe this to my mother. I’ve always been driven to do something interesting, exciting, and rewarding. Also, I learn the most from people who are different to me, who come from other cultures, other business sectors, or differ significantly from me, for example, in age. This enabled me to become convinced that diversity is so very important – I have a deep respect for it and see it as a business fundamental.

It is also important that I work in a company which is very open and supports diversity. The presence of such companies in the Middle East instigates and encourages others to follow best practice in business and leadership imperatives and fundamentals, including diversity. It is still difficult to talk about a trend here, as it still may be in developing stages, but I observe a great desire for a change.

Do you consider yourself to be a part of this change?

Immediately after arriving in Dubai I was elected to the Management Board of the MedTech Companies Association – MECOMED. I also received the Forbes Award for the Most Influential Woman in the Middle East, which gave me significant exposure to both the business world and the wider public sphere. I am now invited to various meetings and I participate in many round-tables, where often I am the only woman at the table, but the message is spreading around the region and I am sure that something is slowly changing.

Can we somehow influence circumstances to make women's careers easier, to enable them to succeed? I am not talking just about the Middle East, but in a more general way.

This is a very important question, and as usual, there is no simple way to address this problem, but it is through embedding a culture of diversity within organizations. It must be processed and consistent. Culture builds powerful organizations.

It is worth noting that at the entry level we have a balance between women and men. We build inspiring development programs, including those focused only on women, but it takes many years for those talents to reach the managerial level, and even more to reach the executive level – unless, of course, it is someone exceptional in terms of performance, leadership, and commitment. Men climb faster, they have time to devote themselves entirely and fully engage. At the managerial level it’s 30% women and 70% men, at executive level the ratio is even worse.  Mobility, courage, and openness are necessary to make a career, and women are not so eager to practice those, or at times feels enabled to do so. Also, and all too often, they can be all discouraged by their managers or partners. As I said, building ambition and courage at a very early age plays a significant role, and you need the enabling and safe space to cultivate it.

Do you think a gender balance quota, regulations and targets in the EU will affect this?

I am not a big fan of regulations which tell us how to run the business, but as you can see, we did not make much progress the other way. So, I think that is an important step and probably necessary, but it is also important to change the mindset at the executive level. It is important is to teach top managers “inclusive & authentic leadership”.

What does that mean?

AUTHENTIC means: “You walk the talk”, you build the trust, you treat your people with respect.

INCLUSIVE means: you are open to different ideas, you learn from your people, you reflect on their point of view, even when and if you do not initially agree, however you still encourage them to be a significant part of important business decisions. It is when you are not biased.

In our company, every VP has a KPI related to increasing diversity as part of their business goals – our assessment of leadership skills depends on it. I have noticed huge progress in this area since this model of appraisal was introduced. At the moment, we are focused on strengthening our talent pool.

I have “exported” a lot of women from my region to the EU and to the USA to develop them further. Having said that, perhaps I didn’t focus enough on acquiring new talents externally – I didn’t close the loop. You have to develop what you have, as well as being proactive and rather aggressive at points, in searching for female talent and inviting them to join your organization.

Some say “the quotas” lead to hiring women who may be "weaker" candidates than their male counterparts?

So what? Our role is to support them to grow even if it is a stretch for them.  We can’t be afraid of mistakes, they will happen just like they do when hiring men. It is the part of the game. I believe that if we want to change something we have to start at home with our children: teaching girls that they have right to be ambitious and teaching boys to appreciate that. We also have to focus on building a culture of openness and inclusiveness. If quotas will accelerate this process, we will all benefit from it, not only women.

Anna Rudzinska from our office in Warsaw spoke with MICHAŁ FIJOŁ, Chief Commercial Officer and Board Member at LOT Polish National Airlines about how to introduce digital transformation and manage a large organisation in times of change.

Michał, could you first introduce yourself and tell us something about your role as a Chief Commercial Officer?

Basically, I sell tickets! That is how I describe my position outside the industry. Why so? Because airlines are associated with airplanes, captains, cabin crew, airports; it is the usual passenger perspective.

The back-end, of which I am in charge, is very seldom revealed to the public and it includes all the commercial activities of the airline: network planning, airplane allocation, ticket pricing, revenue management, global sales and marketing, product, contact centre and airport customer service and last but not least cargo business. As Chief Commercial Officer I am here, together with my team of over 800 people worldwide, to run a profitable airline business.

And the company itself? How big is this business? What are the challenges that you as an organization face?

LOT is one the oldest airlines, established in 1928. It has its hub in Warsaw, working mostly in hub&spoke model with some point-to-point flights operated from Cracow and Budapest.

I joined LOT in January 2016; the airline was at that time on the verge of bankruptcy. The simple plan of the new board was the profitable growth of LOT. As a result for the following four years, between 2016 and 2019, LOT was the fastest growing airline in Europe, over 25% every year: the number of passengers increased from 4.5 to 10.5 million yearly, the number of destinations from 42 to over 100, the number of our planes was doubled to 80. And in all those years LOT had a significant positive financial result. Then the difficult times of COVID came, which was a disaster for the entire travel sector. Now I am pleased to say: we are back on track.

These are your results and successes, but what was the path? How did you manage to achieve such results?

Firstly, let me say that aviation is an internationally exposed industry which requires extraordinary cooperation. Neither success or a failure is an individual result. The mind-set of the entire management team as well as the efforts of the entire organisation were necessary to get where we are.

This is why a great team is necessary to accommodate the growth and at the same time to charge the company. Sales is based on relations and we invested a lot of time into our network. All the rest are numbers and all our decisions have been backed up with proper analytics.

My special focus was on digital transformation of the processes within the entire company. The team needed to keep in mind the passengers’ perspective in every decision and change we made - passengers’ comfort and convenience. The ultimate goal was to deliver a smooth digital travel experience, which consists of inspiration, promotion, booking and payment process, post-sales activities, check-in, communication with the passenger, in-flight and post-flight services.

I am extremely satisfied with what LOT achieved as currently one of the biggest e-commerce businesses in Poland. The quality that we offer in our own channel on lot.com and through LOT’s apps provides a world-class customer experience which translates into great results and passengers’ satisfaction. The major advantage for an airline is direct communication with the customer – I prefer saying: passenger or guest – better control over the process and lower cost. At the same time we know more about the needs of our passengers so we can better adopt and have a better offer for them.

In parallel, we put a lot of effort in expanding our collaboration with indirect sales agents. I truly believe they will always have an important role as travel managers. An open dialogue, continuous communication, understanding of their needs, beneficial cooperation are the manifestation of this attitude.

With every transformation and change, managers must face financial restraints. Also, people often do not like change and try to avoid the new and unknown. How did you deal with such situations?

Two important aspects need to be mentioned here.

Firstly, the promotion of change: the team knows that we need to increase our business and we need to improve. The consequence is that resources are necessary because our people need time to accommodate the significant growth and also to find space for change implementation. The change means introduction of the most modern IT solutions, new products for our passengers, process optimization, and business development. Growth accommodation means that LOT serves more and more passengers every year, and the change means that we are able to serve even more passengers with the same resources and be more profitable.

Participation in change increases adoption of the new solutions, it is perceived as distinction, and enables a chance to gain new competencies. The change leaders are the ones who I appreciate the most.

Secondly, and here let us come back to the digital transformation, the changes in IT systems designed for aviation are extremely complex. Plus, the airline had a significant IT debt. Introduction of new technologies does not mean just a purchase of an IT solution. This is the entire business process which needs to be improved and adopted to the highest industry standards and the best-of-class practices from all over the world. That is why I have been always able to convince my board colleagues to invest significant amounts into IT implementations accompanied by extensive consultancy services. That is how we managed to achieve high adoption rates and avoid complains from the unsatisfied teams.

This attitude is crucial because an airline–you may not believe it–is truly an IT company. We have over 100 IT systems, extremely complicated, some of them using artificial intelligence and machine learning, including operational systems with worldwide interactions, marketing automation and content management systems. Some of them are built with the best IT companies worldwide like Adobe, Microsoft, or Amadeus. The implementation of high-tech solutions required an extensive cooperation between LOT and those suppliers, which was very exciting for both parties. Certainly, we are not the biggest airline, but we did manage to gain their interest and support with our engagement, ambition and focus on the goal.

Another huge challenge was gaining the right people. Aviation is a quite hermetic industry, because usually there is one, maybe two airlines in a country. There were not too many aviation experts in Poland, and we decided to invite young, talented people to the company. They took an analytical test even before the interview. Fortunately, we were able to sell the magic of the sector - aviation is a sexy, modern business with greatly recognized brands, so we were able to attract ambitious and smart people. My dream was to create a company which was run like the top consulting firms of the world: take the most brilliant people directly from the university and then train them quickly and let them do things, empower them, give them responsibility, so they can grow. Looking now at the commercial staff at LOT I can proudly say this is the case.

In times of ubiquitous change what leader is needed?

Flexibility is extremely important. COVID affected aviation spectacularly, we had to flexibly look for other sources of revenue, protect and motivate our people and use the time in a smart way in order to get stronger in the post-pandemic reality. In aviation geography plays an important role too: unfortunately, after COVID the war in Ukraine started which influenced both our operations and network as well as impacted Poland as a tourism destination thus also our revenue streams. LOT needed to adopt by opening new routes, by fine-tuning the sales market structure.

The leader's flexibility also means noticing a generational change; the new generation requires different communication and approach. My role is to understand, learn, not complain, and try to blend them into my ways. It is also important that the leader has the courage not to turn a blind eye to the weakest employees - a lack of reaction is extremely demotivating for the others, one must not accept negative attitudes and behaviours.

Furthermore, the leader must also be aware of how enormous the impact he/she can have on people through his/her own example. The leader is a role model - how can I expect the punctuality of airplanes if I am not punctual? How can I expect clean planes and a sense of ownership from employees if I do not bend myself to pick up a piece of paper lying in the corridor to throw it into the trash?

Finally, there are a lot of brilliant ideas but what is important it the end is the ability to deliver. And not only once, but repeatedly, task after task, project followed by another project, yearly results, five year plan, etc. That is the environment I am used to working in. And this how my team works.

Michał, what did you learn for yourself during this period of enormous changes?

One accumulates technical skills with great effort, and then it turns out that you simply have to apply the simple rules of life when working with people - smile, kindness, respect, optimism -  support in stressful situations. If I regret something, it's how late I started coaching sessions with you. Today I appreciate the importance of developing such subtle soft skills. It is not enough to be just a subject-matter expert, then you work as an individual. When you are super capable, then you work for two, but if you want to achieve something great, you work through an army of people: the entire managerial team, and their subordinates and the subordinates of the subordinates. All of us with the same approach and common goals.

Do you know what I consider my success today? It is the success of my people I have the privilege to work with.

We spoke with Agata Kaczmarska, CPO PL and CEE dentsu

Agata, over the last year you have introduced a very interesting benefit program for your employees related to health on the market. It seems to be the beginning of a long-term trend in HR. How did you come to this?

From the perspective of the HR department, the pandemic had a very positive impact on jump-starting the serious discussion about the mental health of employees. Until the pandemic, mental health was a taboo, which led to negative consequences for incumbents and businesses. For example, it had often led to stigma against the affected. Today we are talking about providing mental care as much as we are talking about healthcare. It is simply another very important benefit for employees.

During the pandemic it turned out that many people suffered in isolation. Our reaction as companies was only: "manager, your job is to take care of your people." In fact, we have shifted this burden onto them. This was a big challenge for many leaders, who did not know how to help their employees; they didn't even want to ask questions to employees about their well-being, because they lacked the knowledge on how to react to  these answers.

It turned out that organizations are not completely prepared for this and the level of education in these areas is very low.

Have you found a way to help them?

Yes, maybe not solve the issues but relieve them.

We have created an educational program for managers - Mental Health First Aiders, which trains and prepares for psychological first aid. It is a global program.

We entered into cooperation with several organizations but we were primarily looking for a systemic support. Our partners in this project made selections and out of 100 people (of 800 employees in the company) who applied for the program, 20 were selected, trained, and certified.

These people are in the first line of  help. They do not so much solve problems, but rather show our people where/how to find professional help.

How did your employees react to this?

Very well indeed. Though, as might be expected, not everyone utilizes the program to the same extent. However, the representation is so large that it also gives an insight into general and cultural problems within the company. We have an additional benefit in the form of identifying watchouts. We have also introduced 3 additional days off for psychological well-being.

Surely you are at the forefront of this change in the market, aren’t you?

Fortunately, our global CEO Wendy Clark attaches great importance to well-being, hence we have her support in this matter. Companies are beginning to expand the range of options for taking care of mental health. When it comes to the availability of psychological or psychiatric care, the statistics, especially in our part of Europe, are alarming. That is why such help must be developed. This is obviously an additional burden for companies, yet the trend is right and there is probably no turning back.

You say the topic was caused by a pandemic, but could it also have anything to do with other aspects of our lives?

Of course, with the whole geopolitical situation and lack of stability and predictability, etc. Additionally, the "snowflakes" generation is growing. They are extremely sensitive, emotional people who are not prepared for what they are about to find in the outside world.  Then, what is a strong point may turn out to be a weakness and vice versa. Disagreeing on certain things in the company’s space is  young people’s forte, however, the pandemic seems to have hit them very hard.

You say that the issue of employee benefits is changing. What other trends are you following?

Taking care of one’s career and competences of the future. Still few organizations deal with career counselling and re-skilling. This will be a very important change due to the rapid development of AI and digitization. We know that some professions will disappear,  although, we cannot predict when it will happen. We are not yet faced with this challenge, but it may surprise us very quickly. It is necessary to do an in-depth analysis of what will disappear, what will appear, whether we have education in specific areas, or whether we can search for talents in other countries. Thus, it will certainly be another challenge that companies, especially HR departments, will face.

We spoke with Marcin Majchrzak, General Manager Haier Group Poland, Baltics & Ukraine.

Congratulations on your promotion, please tell us how the company's business in Poland has been so far and what have you changed?

Thank you very much. Of course, it was a big change both for me and for our two companies in Poland at this time.

I am afraid, I won’t say anything revolutionary: always in such a situation, the first task is to build a team. Experience, knowledge and belief tell me that if you have a good team, you can achieve any goal. The beginning was not easy. Relatively quickly I found people with great potential and knowledge, but also with an appropriate value system. The challenges were in all possible areas, from relations with business partners, through improperly selected products, lack of communication with consumers, to the profitability of both companies.

Together, we defined who we want to be and what we want to achieve. We developed a new business model and then the perfect execution of the plan became the key to success.

Simultaneously, we were working on the changes in the structure and merger of the companies, developing new methods of operation on the consumer and client side. Today, we know a lot about our consumers, that enables us to communicate effectively with them. I gives me great satisfaction and joy that as a team we have created a friendly and stimulating workplace. We have a unique culture which translates into commitment, constant development and searching for new ideas how to develop a business.

You had the opportunity to work in various markets in previous organisations, now you have taken over the Baltic countries and Ukraine. It is a huge challenge how to approach it at all and the expectations. Is it hard to plan anything in advance?

In the current situation our action plan is twofold. First, Ukraine - our main task there is to evacuate our employees and ensure their safety. We are also in constant contact with our clients. Some of them are active and we help them whenever possible.

The Baltic countries, on the other hand, have some similarities and differences compared to the Polish market. Modern retail chains operate similarly to the best players in Poland. The preferences and expectations of consumers when it comes to household appliances are slightly different. At this stage, I cannot reveal too much, but we have an idea and we see great opportunities to develop our business in all three countries. We certainly have a lot to offer consumers as well as distributors.

What will you focus on, and pay special attention to, in the context of product development in the coming years - and why?

I think that today nobody has any doubts that the future belongs to modern digital solutions, thanks to which we simply live more comfortably. All our new devices can be connected to the hOn app and use functions that make our daily activities easier. Artificial intelligence makes our equipment quickly adapt to the consumer's lifestyle, making it easier to wash, cook and store food. At the same time, we put great emphasis on pro-ecological solutions. For instance, our washing machines are certified with the highest energy class at affordable prices. Candy RapidO offers comfortable and quick washing with very low energy consumption. Exactly what consumers expect today. To this you need to add aesthetics and design as household appliances have become an element of interior design today.

Our goal is to improve the quality of life of consumers. To make daily activities easier or even take them off customers’ hands. That is why we focus not only on modern solutions based on artificial intelligence, but also create an ecosystem together with various partners. As a result, we will provide consumers with a comprehensive solution in a modern way that makes life easier. Even today, using our wine cooler, you can easily check what we have in stock and order your favourite wine through the aforementioned hOn application.

How do you approach ESG? How do you bring this idea to life in your organisation?

This is a very good question, especially in the context of Haier's values. Since the day the company was established, its culture has been built on three pillars: entrepreneurship, close communication and cooperation with consumers, referred to in our company as Zero-Distance-To-Consumer, and the construction of the aforementioned ecosystem.

At Haier, we act as company owners. This is also the most sought-after feature in potential candidates for our team. I used to work in a company with a "highly corporate culture”, focused on internal goals. We always look at the reality around us through the eyes of the consumer. Therefore, when creating the ecosystem, we do it based on local partners. Thanks to this, we support the local community but also better respond to the needs of consumers.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing and key to its success?

This is a kind of logic puzzle. People are the most important. A properly built team with a wide range of experiences and skills is able to create and implement ambitious plans. Naturally, under the right conditions. My role is to build this team and create the right conditions. We promised each other two years ago that we would create together a workplace where we will be able to pursue not only corporate goals but also our own goals, especially those related to development. In order for the team to function efficiently, it must have the right conditions. The combination of these two elements gives you a chance for success.

We spoke with Laurence Pinget about Christmas in her home town of Strasbourg.

In the Rhenish Tradition, Christmas is one of the loveliest times of the year

The oldest Christmas market is known all over the world and we are happy and proud to have it back again this year! For four hundred years this famous market has been working its magic in the European capital, Strasbourg.

The festivities begin on Friday 26th of November with the illumination of the majestic Great Christmas Tree, with its kilometres of fairy lights, and the opening of the emblematic Christkindelsmärkt.

It is a festivity that delights children, and of course adults, every year.

This year I noticed over 300 wooden chalets, spread around different squares in the city - it really is a fairy-tale atmosphere - and during the next month I will enjoy strolling through the streets, or just enjoying a glass of mulled wine, vin chaud and some Christmas biscuits called breddle with my family and friends.

I can't really adequately describe the warm, cosy atmosphere, with the delicate aromas of cinnamon and spices, truly sublime decorations and illuminations that come together to create this special atmosphere that takes over not only in Strasbourg but overall in Alsace!

Perhaps we should have a Friisberg Conference here one year!

Laurence Pinget
Paris, France

We spoke with our Polish team about their holiday plans.

On Christmas Eve in Poland, many families share oplatek (an unleavened religious wafer), each person breaking off a piece as they wish each other Merry Christmas.

Similarly, at Easter we share boiled eggs that are sprinkled with holy water by the priest.

It used to be that Wigilia (Christmas Eve) dinner could not begin until the first star appeared in the night sky, but now in many in cities we can't see many stars! Traditionally, an extra setting is still left at the table - just in case someone shows up uninvited.

There is also a tradition to put a handful of hay under the tablecloth to commemorate the fact that Jesus was born in a stable.

How do people in Poland usually spend the holidays? 

Many people visit their families. We Poles ski a lot, so many people go skiing during the Christmas holidays in Poland, but also in the Alps.

What’s your favourite holiday tradition? 

Well, most kids (and some adults!) would say getting presents! There is a lovely tradition of organising kolędowanie (singing carols). Many families throw a big party just for singing carols all evening (if you don’t sing, you don’t get a dessert!). In Poland, people spend Christmas holidays with their family, but our kolędowanie tradition enables us to also celebrate Christmas with friends.

Looking back on 2021, was it a good year?

Our unemployment rate is the lowest in the past 30 years. The mean salary also increased in 2021. For the 2020/2021 academic year there are 1.2 million students in Poland - so it seems that, against all odds, 2021 was a good year!

What are you most looking forward to in 2022? 

That the pandemic will stop and everything will go back to normal.

We spoke with Paulina Romaniszyn, General Manager at Stada Poland.

The role of medical consultants is evolving, and many organizations focus on and develop digital methods of reaching doctors and patients. How will the role of field workers change in the coming years?  Is F2F contact still important and necessary?

I joined Stada at the most difficult moment – during the pandemic. The organization was not growing and my goal was to achieve growth. We needed to appreciate that the market was changing in terms of therapeutic areas that are growing and those that aren't. Also, we needed to increase the role of pharmacies and the evolving competences of representatives and managers to determine our approach to promotion which was strongly focused on solution.

We also redefined the approach to market segmentation and who expected what. Importantly, the organization and our people had to change. When I joined the firm, I initiated a mental shift among employees towards, “I would like to develop myself and grow with our organization and proactively change to generate double digit growth.”

Stada specialises in pain management, prescription medications as well as OTCs and supplements. Due to the pandemic and changing demographic, there are more and more young doctors, and this forced us to revise our strategy. We also started to revisit our specialists. We were so determined and motivated that the business started to grow. Even now, after the pandemic, the team wants to be in the field where possible. Also, the beginning of this year marked a launch of the program aimed at re-establishing relations with our clients – we started to organise F2F meetings with them.

Following the acquisition of Wallmark, Stada now reaches the consumer through Amazon, online pharmacies, e-commerce, conferences, webinars and in the mass market through advertising and direct communication with the patient.

Coming back to the topic, we shouldn’t generalize and say that the world is only digital now and you do not have to visit doctors F2F -  in my opinion the middle ground is the best solution. The key to this is the product that is sold and the segmentation of doctors into those who want visits and those who do not. A lot depends on the therapeutic area and the age of the patients. In the specialist field, without f2f meetings, we will not be as recognisable as we would like.

Both pharmacy and chain markets grow and the role of the chain sector increases. Certainly, professionals connect digitally, but representatives still visit their partners. It's a myth that there are no direct visits.

Do the communication expectations shift along with the generational change in the medical community? What trends do you currently notice and which are you happy about?

The generational change is very beneficial for the community. It encourages young doctors to learn, to develop. They are focused on cooperation, through applications and webinars. They are patient- and new technology-oriented much more than the older doctors, who mostly see value in direct visits. Young people are “in the same team” as pharmaceutical company. They are a generation that wants to learn medicine -  they are not only guided by routine.

To meet this need, we have built the Stada med portal. Through webinars we share knowledge about new aspects of pain treatment. Stada.med creates a space where doctors discuss patients and their needs. Young doctors are eager to learn how to help the patient and go off the beaten track.

My observation is that this is also happening in the pharmacists' community where they are closer to the patient. Mass market, on the other hand, is guided by acting on the emotions of the consumer through advertising, based on certain atavisms of people and their reflexes.

How will the patient benefit from digital communication?

The patient has already gained and will gain even more. We have two groups of patients:

How can advisory partners such as Friisberg help and what, in your opinion, should be their role in supporting the digital transformation?

I can see two areas here. The first one is the marketing, market research, patient / consumer research. How do patients feel about the digital age? Is it a good direction, is it helping or bothering them? What is good, what is irritating? Those partners can substantively contribute to this discussion.

The second is, of course, recruitment. During the process to focus on the analysis of the "digital" generation of candidates - the world is changing. We have a variety of people in the organization and we try to choose those who are open to new technologies and are eager to learn. If we want to keep up with trends and work in a pharmaceutical company, we have to learn all the time. The second thing is reliable feedback and making the candidates aware of their shortcomings in order to help them develop. Even though it is often difficult information, it is worth building candidate experience in this way.

Lukasz Dominiak

We are delighted to welcome Leszek Porembski to our Warsaw office as a Senior Consultant.

Leszek  joined Friisberg in July 2021 and focuses on Executive Search and HR executive advisory services.

Having graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy of Catholic University of Lublin with a MBA degree from Kozminski Academy and Bradford University, since 1994 Leszek has been professionally dedicated to HR management gaining his experience in different industry sectors including aerospace, petrochemical, pharma, food and hospitality. This gives him an impressive strategic and hand- on perspective over a number of organization and business situations.

Leszek has previously managed HR departments in large and mid-size companies and is convinced that a well-chosen and integrated team can make miracles happen within organisations. His experience spans leading projects in the field of change management, talent and performance management, reorganization, social relations, diversity and digitalization.

Dorota Serwinska, Partner in our Warsaw office, also extended her welcome, “We are delighted to have Leszek  joining our team and our ability to provide our community with world-class talent advisory, leadership and coaching.".

Fluent in English and French and Spanish, in his spare time he is passionate about mountain ultra trails and open water swimming. He loves discovering new cultures, places and people.

Leszek is thrilled to be joining Friisberg & Partners International in these exciting times and is looking forward to working closely with the firm’s clients and Partners in Poland and across the globe.

The Polish Executive Search Firm, Rudzinska Serwinska Consulting (“RSC”) has been a Partner Firm of Friisberg since 2016.  We are delighted to announce that from today RSC has will be known as Friisberg Poland.

Anna Rudzińska and Dorota Serwińska, formerly of Korn/Ferry and Spencer Stuart respectively, started their firm in 2016 and this rebranding is timely both because of the rapid evolution of their firm as an increasingly respected provider of executive search in Poland, and also as the successful Warsaw office of an international firm working on cross-border assignments for global clients.

Whilst RSC was well-known in Poland, Anna and Dorota believe the time is now perfect to adopt a trading name which is recognised everywhere. Having been Partners of Friisberg for 5 years now, they were already entirely comfortable that Friisberg accurately reflects their own values, offers a range of premium client services and has real stature in the professional services and consulting sector. RSC and Friisberg are two strong brands synonymous with providing consulting-led executive search that their clients really value. Anna and Dorota have seen the success of Partners in other countries following a transition to the Friisberg name and the warm welcome that receives in those markets, so are they are keen to build on that yet further.

“Initially, Friisberg’s polycentric model allowed us to retain our defining characteristics as a partner-led search firm and all that meant to us, and our clients” explained Dorota, “while at the same time offering access to a broad range of national and now international expertise. However, we face a time of accelerated change and, more than ever before, we must be able to help our clients transform to meet and exceed the dynamic needs of the new normal. We are changing our name because the world around us is changing and it embodies our deep dedication to client success and relationships, wherever our clients do business. Friisberg has a determination to never stop leading the way in innovation and thought leadership, so recognising that we were already so well aligned philosophically with Friisberg, we are genuinely delighted to now be Friisberg Poland. There is a real sense of kinship throughout the Friisberg partnership, and we know that our like-minded, determined and professional partners can collectively enable the success of our clients.”

Anna continued, “This is a major milestone for us. As the Polish market accelerates this is a unique opportunity for us to better serve Polish clients as they expand elsewhere in the world, and equally for Friisberg to support international companies investing in Poland. In Poland we have noticed a significant and growing amount of cross-border work and positioning ourselves as the Warsaw office of a 40 year established firm with 40 offices around the world aligns perfectly with our abilities and ambitions. We are no less committed to our Polish clients, and they too will see that our reach, networks and expertise are enhanced on their searches.”

Zoltan Petho, Chair of Friisberg & Partners International, welcomed this rebrand, “Despite a global pandemic and economic crisis, Friisberg remains focused on its strategy to expand and innovate to connect clients to talent, internationally. We have made it our purpose to grow with our clients, as individuals and as a team, and Poland further strengthens our already significant presence in Central & Eastern Europe.”

Friisberg is embarking on a renewed expansion plan and hope to see the success of our firm in Poland replicated around the world at a time when other management consultancy firms are standing still, or even withdrawing from key markets. There is no doubt that Friisberg is becoming increasingly attractive to executive search professionals who want to become Partners in a firm that is succeeding for its clients.

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