Dorota Serwińska from our office in Warsaw, spoke with Beata Stelmach, Chair of The Supervisory Board, of The Polish Association of the Listed Companies

Beata, as a person closely related to the market of listed companies, you are a great supporter of the value of corporate governance. Why is this so important?

Not so long ago, corporate governance meant the proper organization of relations with shareholders, paying particular attention to the organization of mutual relations between the leading shareholder and the group of minority shareholders. Another important issue was the presence of independent members of the supervisory board. Moreover, great importance was attached to the quality and transparency of communication with the market. This is still very important, but it is no longer enough. We look at the impact of the company's activities on the environment and how its presence affects all stakeholders with whom the company has relations. In short, we evaluate a long-term sustainability strategy. This is a much more serious responsibility for the organization and management of the company, taking into account environmental, social and corporate governance aspects.

In short, we are talking about ESG standards, and all these areas are jointly assessed by shareholders or rating agencies, which consequently translates directly into the company's value. Therefore, today a code of good practice is not enough.

Okay, but if we were to think about it practically, why is it so important?

The world's economies have been growing at a breakneck pace over the years, and we have been content with growth and progress, but we have paid little attention to the environmental damage that this development has brought with it. Air and water pollution, gas emissions contributing to global warming - all this has gone too far not to react decisively and stop the environmental devastation. Therefore, business has been tasked with protecting our planet. Regardless of whether we are dealing with production, services, trade or heavy industry we need to look at the entire chain of events to ensure appropriate standards of operation.

Beata, you say that until now corporate governance was a matter of soft requirements, and now hard regulations are being introduced. What do they concern?

One of the most important regulations that should be mentioned is the CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) - these are EU regulations regulating the scope of mandatory reporting in the area of ​​sustainable development. The regulations require company management to place ESG issues at the center of business planning and short and long-term strategies.

In addition to taking care of the above-mentioned environmental issues, companies are expected to take even greater care of their relationships with stakeholders. The rights of investors and shareholders have today been supported by tough regulations to not only standardize the method of communication, but also to lead to even greater transparency. Other regulations also appeared along the way, including: guaranteeing transparency of remuneration in public entities, which is aimed primarily at eliminating the pay gap between women and men in similar positions, or ensuring equal representation of various groups at the level of company authorities.

The "Women on Boards" directive aims to increase the representation of those groups that are underrepresented on company boards. In practice, it is expected that more women will be invited to the group of managers. The first moment when entities will be obliged to publicly submit an appropriate report is 2026, so shareholders should take care to ensure the diversity of the bodies appointed for the new term of office today during general meetings.

It is expected that modern enterprises will ensure diversity in the workplace, in particular among management and supervisory bodies, respect minority rights, introduce mechanisms that guarantee an inclusive environment and open to diversity, encourage teamwork, and ensure the education and improvement of competences of their employees.

So we're not just talking about the consequences of the new directives for the external market, it also applies to employees?

Of course. The main point is to create a work environment that will respond to new challenges and expectations of employees. The workplace is our second home, but this also means appropriate balance of activity and division of time into work and rest. Therefore, another directive worth mentioning concerns "work-life-balance". It is not only about respecting private time, but also about taking care of the physical and mental health of our employees. It must be admitted that the pandemic and remote work have opened our eyes to a number of new needs. Today, hybrid work is a standard, but there are new risks: loneliness, the unnoticed problem of burnout, depression... it is a big challenge for companies to take care of their employees.

A motivated, well-coordinated team means better well-being at work, but also greater commitment, identification with the company, and in turn, greater responsibility and a proactive attitude.

And back to corporate governance itself, the last component of ESG…

Let's look at the Polish Stock Exchange. Among the largest WIG-20 companies, half are companies with State Treasury shareholding. Corporate governance has been in great "disarray" over recent years. Meanwhile, listed companies should be a model for all other entities on the market; by definition, they should be the best organized, respecting market laws, treating all shareholders equally, caring for their image, and respecting public market standards. They also include competent management and supervisory boards composed of independent members, but there are also many listed companies where the majority of shares are still in the hands of the founder. As long as corporate governance is respected, stock investors entrust their funds to the company's development. However, it sometimes happens that it is difficult to accept public market standards, the desire for manual control prevails, and independent and competent specialists are reluctant to hire - and this destroys the trust of financial investors.

And what could be the consequences of this?

Research shows that over 80% of professional investors take into account how corporate governance rules and ESG requirements are met. Professional investors, funds and asset management entities directly adopt investment strategies aimed at entities and their instruments guaranteeing a sustainable development strategy. The application of these principles translates directly into the valuation of companies, image, recognition and attractiveness for business partners.

Do you have any golden advice for the management boards of large companies regarding corporate governance, or ESG more broadly?

Complying with ESG standards simply pays off. At the same time, by taking care of the environment and the community gathered around the company, we create a culture and values ​​that attract investors, business partners and loyal employees who identify with the workplace. By operating according to transparent rules, companies become attractive to shareholders for many years, which guarantees further development.

We are grateful to Beata Stelmach for taking the time to speak with us about such an important subject.

Our 119th Partners' Conference

This week our October conference is being held in Warsaw and our Polish colleagues are looking forward to welcoming us to their beautiful city.

As ever, the agenda comprises a rich programme of keynotes, presentations, workshops and panel discussions which will provide critical content to help our consultants, and the clients they serve, thrive.

Friisberg has a special and constant focus on helping our clients tangibly improve the outcome of their decisions. This could mean an increase in profit or revenues, but should also include growth by other measures, not least DE&I and ESG.

We have years of experience in the field of commercial negotiation across multiple sectors and around the globe. We have extensive experience in enhancing negotiation skills for leaders in the Retail, FMCG, Sport, Media, Technology, Professional Services and Pharmaceutical sectors, amongst others. Dominic Wilford, our international lead in Negotiation Consulting, will be delivering the keynote address to Partners on the benefits to our clients of honing the negotiation skills of their senior executives.

Organisations must be prepared to adapt and evolve as the world changes. Not only is there urgent action required on the climate crisis, a widespread reset of relationships between employers and employees, multiple and varied effects on economies from societal shifts, but also disruption to markets from heightened levels of conflict around the world. Such constant dislocation demands that we reflect on how we work, what we believe, and what matters most.

Business leaders need to equip themselves to address all of these complex factors and must be ready and able to negotiate successful outcomes. Friisberg can help.

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 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.

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