Today I have a great pleasure to talk to Marzena Richter. In 1991 Marzena was one of the few persons, who conducted the first audits to International Financial Reporting Standards in Poland and in other countries in Eastern Europe, e.g. in Bulgaria, commissioned by the World Bank and private investors. Before coming to Poland she also worked in international tax havens such as the Channel Islands. Marzena Richter qualified in the UK as a chartered accountant with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales and has more than 20 years post qualification experience. In 1993 she became a member of the equivalent Polish body recognized for auditing, the Polish Chamber of Auditors and has since been in practice as Staniszewski & Richter.
Tell us about yourself and your British-Polish roots and how do you remember your childhood?
Well, I have a very good memory of my childhood. I grew up in Central England, it’s called Derbyshire, this area, it’s the midlands, and my father settled in Derbyshire, after the second World War, he left actually Germany, when he was part of the army and he deserted the German army, he was sixteen years old, because he came from area of the German Polish borderlands and he used his Polish identity and bilingual culture to become part of the Polish army in Italy, because he was fluent in German and Polish, he obviously became a translator and he was very useful to the allied forces, and then after the war, he of course couldn‘t return to Poland or to Germany, because both those totalitarian systems were obviously against his ideas, and he was located in Nottingham and Derbyshire, after the end of the war, with his unit, his military unit.
And do you actually remember your father talking about these times, when he couldn’t return to Poland?
No, not really. Both of my parents were repressed under the totalitarian regimes and they didn’t really speak much about these regimes. They had experienced us young people or as children, so yes, my father’s life was dramatically changed, he wanted to be a lawyer, if there had been no war, he was quite a cultured person, and he found that life in Britain was the best option for him. A very resourceful person, he developed his own haulage business and when he found that he was on a stable footing, well he got married (Laugh), and just like many Polish soldiers, they had contacts with women in Poland, and so my father married my mother, who was from Warsaw, in the early sixties, and my mother was very happy to leave Poland actually, because she also had experienced repression. This time, it was the communist repression. Her family was very active in public service in a small town called Radzymin, which is just outside Warsaw, and my grandfather was a person, who was very active in the public community. He was a person of great integrity and trust, and he served as a local counsellor, he served in the judiciary and in charitable and public functions, so his name Ostaszewski, that was his the family name was very well known in Radzymin. He also had a political career, and this was obviously repressed through imprisonment, at the end of the, after the war, under the communist regime and his children were repressed, and so my mother, who was such a child during the war and a student in the Stalinism period, experienced great difficulties in developing herself, even though she undertook an engineering degree. So, when she had worked out that there was no future, because of her family name, the opportunity to marry a Polish soldier in Derbyshire was quite a good idea, and I think my parents experienced in the sixties a very good life, in terms of developing a small business. We employed some drivers from the local village. Our family home and our business was located near the M1, which would be the place to be for transport business, and we were sent to a local school, although, because we came from a Polish family, with a catholic tradition, we attended catholic schools, although there were no other Polish children in those schools, and another difference for us was that, we spoke Polish at home. So we attended a school, an English school, where everyone spoke English, but my parents were very keen for me to learn Polish. I have a younger brother, and we both spoke Polish in our home.
That’s very interesting! So what was experience when you had this, you were kind of different people in that village, like you speak different language at home
You know, what was your experience in this?
In general, we found, we had actually a very good experience, because first of all, my father had already developed a very good reputation in the village, and that’s very important in England. He was a local employer and socially, he mixed with other business people in the village. So, we for example, knew the local builders or the garden centre, etc. So, the people with garages for example, and we were part of that business community. There was a social aspect to that as well. My mother, was immediately encouraged to become part of the women’s institute, it’s an old fashioned, I think organisation, but in the 1960s it was quite a prestigious organisation, for middle class housewives, I think.
So, what was that organisation, the institute about?
Well, it was an institute and it still exists, I am sure you can find it in the internet, but it was where the ladies of the household would meet in an independent community for all sorts of purposes, educational but quite often charitable purposes, but it was a way of integrating village life, which is very important in England, which has lots of social and community based organisationsi. Obviously, the women’s institute sounds very old fashioned now, because these were people who would for example organise sales of jammed cakes, that’s what they are meant for charitable purposes, but it was also an interesting organization, because it developed the spirit of patriotism in England. My mother for example, was surprised that at the end of the meetings, they always used to sing this English Anthem, which is unofficial, based on poetry of…I think it’s…I am not too sure if it’s Elliot, but it’s called Jerusalem, you must have heard it!
I am sure, yes.
It’s like in Polish, Rota, its unofficial, everybody stands. So, my mother was very impressed with this spirit of patriotism and of course, these ladies would meet in our house, and they would marvel her very good coffee, because no one in England could make good coffee. On the other hand, we learnt to drink very strong tea, with milk (laugh). So, this is why, I come across as a very English person, because I was entirely surrounded by English people, although I have at the same time, a very strong Polish culture, and so, our experience of English village life, being a small business people, was a very very good experience. We felt very integrated, and we also had a second community, which was a school community, which was completely different. This was a school we attended in Atherton, and there was a parish associated with that, and we were also involved with our school, because you know, it’s where people are more connected with supporting their schools, I think in England, I think that’s a difference. There is a big connection to the school community. So for me, I experienced a very English life. The third community would have been the Polish community, but it was for us a very distant community, simple because of location. We were apart from one other Polish person in our village, the only Polish people and in order to be in contact with other Polish people, we had to travel either to Derby or to Nottingham, and Nottingham was actually closer, and this involved a separate journey, and so we sometimes saw another Polish family in Nottingham, but our contacts with the Polish community were more distant. I think also, my parents were very wary of the Polish community, because of their experiences. They were never too sure, who they were in contact with and they preferred to live their lives amongst English people.
So, what was your, what were your thoughts about Poland, at the time, because you said that, your parents didn’t mention a lot about the system in Poland, because it wasn’t really something that you would talk about a lot because that was quite sad, then you were like born on the British ground and you just were like in your natural environment, and then you had all this friends, you had…you were very much well integrated with the local people. So now what were your thoughts about Poland at that time?
Well, it only came through mainly my mother’s family, who would come and visit us. So she had some sisters, they would come over and stay and I already started to notice huge differences between the people that I lived amongst and the Polish family, that would visit us, and then of course there were some trips, early trips to Poland that of course the first one, I don’t recollect because I was a year old. The second one, I already have a recollection, I was five, and I do have a recollection of that first trip to Poland, in the summer and I remember, all I can remember were very very high buildings in Warsaw and balconies that were frightened to go out on, because we lived in a very large house, but it was a bungalow actually, we had a lot of…huge garden in the country side and there were never, I never saw any of these tall blocks, and we didn’t even go, travel to London. So for me, all these grey tall blocks were as a five year old, it was a shock.
So for you Poland was more associated with the big buildings, it was like a big cities?
Yes, for my grandfather’s place because he did manage to…he was one of the few unusual families to have retained property, pre-war property, it wasn’t confiscated, it was slightly too small actually, I think. It’s big by average standards, but it didn’t classify as a big place, it’s in Radzymin and we stayed at my grandparents’ house, which had been modestly rebuilt after the war, which was another reason for it, probably not being confiscated and that was, that had a very large garden. So, we had that freedom that children like to stay in a green area. So that was my… and the third place was a very large house, which was confiscated but my aunt, this is the property of my aunt, retained one flat in this property, although she was owner of the whole building, it was like a villa on the edge of Warsaw and the unusual thing about this place was…I wasn’t allowed to play in the garden, I wasn’t allowed to say anything. I had to be silent, when I entered the corridor, the common areas of the building because my aunt did not want any person in her…in that building to know, that she had relatives in England, so that sounded very strange, when I was five, of not being able to say anything, and not being able to play in the garden, and being told that this was my aunties house.
So I bet that you couldn’t wait to leave that place, right?
Yeah, exactly. I found on one hand, the actual welcomes that we received through our family were very good. It was always a very good experience to be with our Polish relatives, who liked to spoil children far more than English people, I think.
I received many presents, every single trip, I received so many toys and presents that it was ten times more than Christmas
That sounds really happy childhood. However Marzena, I would like to move on now into your later years. So if you remember yourself being a teenager, going through the schooling system and then how did you start, because I know, you have first educated in UK, then you started your own business in the UK. Can you tell us about that?
Yes. Well, I followed typical education in England. I attended in what we would say in Poland, the gymnasium stages, the middle school and Anglo-Polish private school, which was a good influence on the level of my education. It wasn’t entirely Polish, it was 50% English, 50% Polish. It was outside Northampton, and it would be a typical English private school. That would have been the standard of the school, because my parents noticed that in the immediate location in Derbyshire, the level of the schooling that was accessible by day, on a daily basis by bus for example, wasn’t such a good standard, and my mother in particular noticed this, because she believed she had a very good standard from Poland and so my parents were prepared to pay extra for high standards of education, which did significantly helped me. I completed my O’ Levels as the best student of the school and then I went on to do the A’ Level examinations in Maths, Physics and Chemistry and further Maths. So that was quite a…in England that’s quite an ambitious set of A’ levels, which immediately, usually direct the student to science and maths and in general, I found that the education system treated me very well. I never ever felt, that I was judged incorrectly. If I felt had lower grades, I felt that it was my problem to improve my standard. So, I felt very fairly treated and I also have to underline that when I was doing my A’ Levels in my final school, again I was the only person of Polish background and I was treated very well as one of the best students.
So mainly you were kind of more motivated rather than being punished for not getting to the results. Is that what you would say?
I felt motivated just as an English…I knew that, I had potential so I felt motivated, to try and achieve that potential. Sorry, I have to take a drink.
Sure, Ok. So, I would be interested to know, how did you go about starting your first business in England?
Well, I think we had to complete the education, because I obviously finished, because that’s was very important. I finished good degree in Maths, and Physics and then I did a masters’ degree in Astrophysics and these type of qualification in the UK are…if you finish with good results are treated very seriously by employers. You have to obviously direct your application as a graduate trainee, that’s very important to use the resources of the university careers department, to make the next step, and so after I finish my academic qualifications, I decided that to develop more, it’s necessary to take up some professional qualifications, because academic qualifications may…did open opportunities for me and opportunities also within multinational companies, where I would be trained in a particular field for example, computer science was also available for me and…however, I decided that I wanted to do something more independent than become an employee of a corporation or even a good business. I thought, I would qualify as a chartered accountant and that was a lot of information about this at the university, but what’s also important to note that I already came from a business family and I had the experience of running the business from the day, that I had been born and that was very important, because I knew practically for example, what invoices were for, raising for services, I saw them in my father’s typewriter when I was seven and immediately became interested in Maths. So, for me…also my father used professional services like lawyers and chartered accountants for tax purposes and I was aware of all of this, when I was growing up. I was also aware of employees, and how to control employees, drivers. How to take care of regulations, for drivers and how to look after you know, assets and stocks of business, because we had spare parts for our vehicles on our property and sometimes we had some duties for children to also help. So, all these family background experiences helped me significantly in understanding the work of a chartered accountant. I didn’t just select it, because it was a title that I wanted or it was an easy, it’s actually very difficult to understand, but it was…could easily facilitate me into a career. It was actually a role, I wanted to undertake in life, as if my mom wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor, I thought, I would like to be a chartered accountant and that’s quite important, and so after I have researched how to attain a training contract, I applied to professional firms in London and received a training contract and qualified at the time, when eastern Europe was beginning to change. During my training in London, I had already understood how many works in the world. I had some experience of investment in family funds and experience of small and medium sized businesses and listed companies, although this was all part of my training as a chartered accountant. I also had a wide range of exams to pass, from law, tax, accounting, computers etc. So the actual chartered accountancy qualification is also a qualification that prepares you for business, its one and the same. You become proficient in all these aspects like accounting, tax and finance but you also become an advisor and if you become a partner in a practice, then you are also undertaking a business activity, although I have to underline that in the UK, this side is not the most important, what’s very important is to underline the professional aspect of the work, because as a professional person, you have to be seen first working for the benefit of the clients that you are serving and secondly receiving remuneration, if you were to reverse those two ideas, in England it’s not considered to be professional to say, “I work for the remuneration”. The remuneration is the consequence of the professional work. If you want to line the material gain, it’s not professional, it’s like as if you were to have an operation and all the surgeons would see, would be how much you were paying for the operation. So that’s why of course, the practice is a business, we aren’t a charity, we have to work on business principles, but we have to underline firstly that we are professional people, who are serving clients and with different needs.
So, this is how you came about starting business in UK. So, you first graduated, you had your degree, you had the knowledge and the experience from your own house and from your own father and then, so you have decided to start the business, and do you remember how this all started? Do you remember your first customer?
Yes. Well obviously, because I am a professional person. Again it’s very important to note that you do actually mix within professional circles. It’s like any field that you want to take, if you were a singer, you mix in those circles and so if you are a chartered accountant, you also mix in those circles, and I could see that my first experiences came through working for a firm of accountants in Poland, who were one of the first to open an office in Warsaw. So my experience of developing a business in Poland was gradual, because it came through my professional work. I was still an employee of prestigious firm of accountants in London. It had an office in Warsaw and at this moment, I made the decision that I would like to see how Poland will change, and this was in 1991. So I had completed my exams and I was wanting to develop some what we call post qualification experience and I started to work on the fly-in basis as part of advisory teams into Poland and this was a gradual process. So my decision to open the business didn’t, it wasn’t an overnight from England to Poland, but it was a gradual process, and this time it was very exciting because Poland had experienced a massive change in its politics and I had, I was an eye witness to this change of power, and I was actually in the center of it. Literally, I arrived on the plane to the offices, which were located in the Marriott Hotel in Warsaw and immediately as I entered the offices of our firm, my employer introduced me to the president of the Polish chamber of auditors, which is the institution, which is the equivalent of the UK institution that I had qualified with, and immediately introduced me and said, “Oh here is one of our new, our recruits into Poland, who is from a Polish family and speaks Polish very fluently” and I discovered that we actually had more people like me and we were very important, because we immediately gave western companies very good access to the accounting and finance systems in Poland. We were acting like links into the system, and people had very good understanding of how Poland was operating at that time. Thanks to, thanks to recruiting people from a Polish background, who were very well qualified.
So, what was your actual role? Was it to, because I have missed that, you have said about the western companies and then you talk about the Polish companies and you were auditing, you were doing the work for the Polish companies. Is that right?
Yeah. The work came to our firm, mainly because Poland had experienced a huge financial crisis in the 1980s and reinvestment was necessary. So many Polish state institutions were restructuring and requiring western finance, for example the World Bank for investing in the Polish oil and gas system, and at that time the market was reforming and there were the state controlled enterprises called foreign trade organisations, which controlled all foreign trade in Poland’s heart and these organisation were beginning to restructure but they also needed finance, and so at that time we were acting mainly for western banks who were providing credit facilities to Polish state industries. What we would understand is privatised industries, but not they were still state controlled effectively and they needed western auditors to approve the condition, the financial condition of these businesses.
So how did you find working on this business, I mean, how did you find assessing, verifying financial situations and doing these audits for, on Polish businesses and basically, how did you see these businesses overall like, you know, they were still like coming from different system, from communist and it must be kind of a lot of difference between what you have seen in Britain. So can you tell us about that?
Yes, it was a shock. First, because I had seen actually very well run businesses and often I worked with high net worth family organisations, very prestigious organisations like Dukes. In England, I never experienced any corruption, nothing and in general everything was very well run, and so when I was transferred to work in Poland, all sorts of things, shocked me. For example, I was shocked, when my employer sent me to Łódź to deal with insurance company called Westa, and it turned out that we were dealing with someone who was going to be in… was a criminal, and one day he was the president of the company and the next day, he was in prison and I had been asked to write letters, inviting the president for dinner, for one of my employers and I thought, how could we? You know, we are dealing with crooks and I thought well, this could be quite dangerous. So that was one of the experiences that I had, but on the professional side, which is also quite interesting, how did I do the work, because obviously, I had no training in Polish law, accounting and of course many principles, whatever the political system are the same, and of course I quickly trained myself just simply by reading the legislation and improved my own Polish language, because of that, but even so, what really surprised me was the high level of very detailed bureaucracy that I came across, which created many many jobs, which seemed to be fictitiously created, just to keep people occupied and past papers around the desk, and that really shocked me, because I had always worked in a private enterprise in England and I had seen the correct proportions of people employed to do useful work. I have never seen anything, where people were employed to do un-useful work and of course, I got the feeling that they knew it was not useful, they were very engaged, often very bored and they often only understood a little part of their work and it was very difficult to get an overview of some of these organisations, because they were…it was like being in a hill of ants, lots of ants inside and I was trying to get the picture of the big hill and talking to many of the ants, and it seems to be very laborious process to put the big picture together and eventually, we did manage to understand it and to see the essence of the picture and understand the financial situation, but there just seemed to be a lot of excessive and un-useful work done, which obviously now in the economy we have would be very costly, and so many organisations have obviously over twenty years, have completely you know, reorganised and restructured themselves, they are far more efficient. Its day and night, the situation now, to what I saw twenty years ago, is the reverse, that’s all disappeared, and but for the first few years, when I started to do work, everything took a…an extremely long time to do, because of the significant mass of people that you had to deal with, to be able to understand the picture of the organisation.
So when you came across this kind of weird logic, in Poland, didn’t that make you think of going back to Britain?
Well at that stage, I had this…what I call this as intermediate period of approximately three years, when my employer was very much engaged in Eastern Europe. He had investments in Poland and as in offices, he had invested in his own offices, in his personnel and in Bulgaria and so I was employed to help develop the staff, because I was transferring skills from the city of London to Warsaw and I had young people working, assisting me, they were learning from me. So on one side, we were managing these projects, and developed very quickly in those years high level of skill in interacting between UK, western or generally investors and Polish entities, and the same time, my employer was interested in developing the Anglo-Polish people with professional qualifications in Poland and the opportunity came up to obtain a license of a Polish auditor and I qualified as a person who spoke Polish and had, after two years, I had a very great understanding of the law and developing tax system.
Ok, that’s interesting (Laugh)
Yes, yes, yes and so I qualified as a Polish licensed auditor, and then what happened was that my employer had I would say, made some mistakes with senior personnel and he decided to close the Warsaw office, which didn’t impact me immediately. However, I knew that if I want to continue my development in Poland I had the opportunity now, to actually work for myself. I don’t need to work for another company or a western auditor and so I thought, well I am a young person and I also met another Polish person, Anglo-Polish person of the same background, who I was able to establish a partnership with, which was important and we also became part of a network, an international network, and so with this, we established a practice. Since I knew, that the prospect with my employer was going to finish and on very good terms, I left and bought the photocopier, which he was liquidating, he was selling and with this photocopier, and one of my old colleagues, from this office, we started our own firm and this decision came after three years. So I think also to underline, why this decision was made at that time, it was a decision based on the new market, because I knew, that this is a new market and if you are entering a market, you must enter it as early as possible, to make your name.
That’s a very interesting point, yes.
And so I though it’s either now or never, because to work for someone is an opportunity, I’ll probably have for the rest of my life. However, to establish my own practice, it’s an opportunity that I have now and it would be much harder to do this, in ten or twenty years’ time, and so I thought that, that was my reason being for this decision.
You are sort of a pioneer in this market it gave your an advantage
Yes, yes, yes and the other. There weren’t many people in this market either. So for I would say, for the whole of the nineties, this whole decade, I felt that Poland was ignored actually by western investment. Much investment was going towards Czech, the Czech Republic and Hungary, maybe these countries were more identifiable, I don’t know, for the western investors. I couldn’t reason it actually, because I thought Poland was the most interesting market, thanks to its size and great level of I would say self-sufficiency. Poland is a country with many different economic areas developed, whereas the smaller countries are not so self-sufficient. However, the investment was channeled first into those countries, that were seemed to be more popular and but for my practice, I think I would say the nineties was totally different decade to the EU decade.
So how long did it take you to build that business in Poland to the level that you were self-sufficient?
That, I think there was a few strategic things that we did, like we acquired our own office, we made investments, we made long term investments, because the nineties was the best decade to acquire property, both for ourselves and for the business. As Polish citizens, we had no problem with acquiring property. I saw it is a logical step in a long term approach, is that you need foundations firm foundations to build-on and so the best investment is to invest in your own office and so that’s what we did. So we focused on those, I would say, significant capital expenditure and also invested in our employees, we always invest in our employees, because we encourage them to develop as professional accountants and auditors.
So, how do you mean, investing in employees? How did you go about finding them first?
Well, the methods have now changed and the methods were very traditional. You had to attend job fairs. These job fairs were organised in the Warsaw school of economics and the polytechnic and the Palace of Science and Culture, and the biggest problem we had, and we still to a certain degree have this, although the situation has improved is that many Polish people, young people, particularly in the nineties didn’t value the professional qualifications. They made lots of decisions to quickly leave us. So as soon as they started to work for us, they wanted to leave us, which was quite frustrating and what I am actually saying is, it was the same for every single other firm like mine. This was just normal and I realised that young people had no, didn’t see the value of having the highest and most difficult qualifications that you could obtain and they saw short term values, that they managed to learn some elementary book keeping and they spoke good English, they learned how to do a report, a financial report for a client, that was enough and then they would leave and go to a company that was starting up and needed young accountant and they had obviously no loyalty but that’s not the issue, they actually had no strategy to invest in themselves. They preferred to may be take a pay rise, which wasn’t such a big pay rise but a pay rise and leave for example, a three or four year training contract after one year to work in a company, where they would obviously have a higher salary but their advance in their career would start to be very limited. So for, of course, I realised that they never really understood how for example, the society that I was born into and educated in works, they just had no idea.
They just stand and looked at the amount on the pay-cheque on that day
Yes, yes, yes, yes. Of course, whatever they gained from working with our firm, was a huge investment already for them. I think that’s the way, they looked at it and as time has gone on, I have seen that Polish young people are more interested in obtaining qualifications. They have matured more and the work is now very clear, what the work is, what the work involves, because, at the beginning we received lots applications which were completely inappropriate for our business as well. The biggest difference is being that many Polish students looked at this type of professional practice as a place where you just work, merely work. They didn’t look at it as a place, where you are educated and where you are making the best investment of your life.
May be there was sort of thinking, that they have already learned everything in the university or school and now it’s time to go and work. Actually, do the work and get the pay cheque.
Yes, yes. That was the big difference for me, because obviously in England, the academic qualifications are recognised but not as professional qualifications. You can study business and you can study accounting for example, but it doesn’t mean that you are trusted to be an accountant. You have no experience. So it was a question of a new system developing in the nineties, I was part of the development of that system as an employer and I had to, you know, I have got my message across. Now, twenty years later, people are far more mature and I think they value the opportunity much more. Particularly, in the light of post EU, when we have had such significant migration to the UK and this has been very beneficial because many young people have gone to work in the city and in finance, in London, and they have actually seen this system directly and they have seen that professional qualifications are actually important. So the next ten years, and the migration of so many young Polish people is actually a positive experience as well for Poland, because they know that they are just good to invest in yourself.
So you actually touched the topic of immigration and emigration Poles from Poland, especially a lot of the young Poles, who leave Poland and go to Great Britain, opposite to what you have done, when you were young, in the early years of your business. I am not saying you are not young now, you look very young! (laugh) What I mean is just, that was in…it was in 1995, was that the year, you left Britain?
No, I would say, I haven’t left, because I am very very in touch. I am travelling this week to London,so and I travelled a month ago. I am very involved with business in UK in general, because it’s natural. It’s natural to be involved with it for me, but also with other western businesses. In fact, foreign businesses is entirely…comprises our client base entirely. We have serviced very few Polish businesses, very few pure Polish businesses. All of our clients have some foreign connection, basically, this is our…we are basically specialising in international business.
Sure, sure. So, now I just want to go back to this immigration subject. I have barely touched that and I had a question about that and you are seeing…You said that, you are seeing this phenomenon of Polish people moving to Britain as a positive?
Yes, very positive, because it’s integration of society and this Polish people moving to the UK, experience a different jurisdiction, different traditions, different culture and it’s…they are exposed so much of the diversity of the UK, and I think that’s a very very good thing…
Sure, sure. Doesn’t that make you think a lot of about Poland is losing a lot of young energy?
Yes, yes that’s true. I am not minister of finance I am not responsible for the economy. So, yes the fact that Poland has invested in educating so many young people, this is from the Polish taxpayer and Polish families, who now see their children, depart to work in the West is extremely frustrating, but I take a sort of practical approach to life. This is something I personally can’t change, whether I like it or don’t like it, it’s frustrating. I think, when this situations arise, I think you have to draw what’s positive about the situation, rather than focus on the negatives. I think it’s very sad for Polish families, for example, that there could be a situations where a father leaves a wife in Poland with children or the other way around, I don’t think that’s very good, but I think if people are moving to UK together, as family units or as individual young people to build a new life, because that’s what the current economy is…I would say is indicating them to do I think you have to draw, what’s positive out of the situations and not focus on the negatives. If you go back to how we started this conversation, I said to you, that both of my parents experienced totalitarian regimes and they didn’t speak about these regimes a lot, but they continued with their lives, when they knew their situation, the result of the situation would be…the best thing would be to stay in the UK, to live in the UK.
I completely agree with you that focusing on negatives doesn’t make us any favour. So it’s actually better to think about the positives and turn it around to our own…
Advantage, exactly, yeah, yeah. So you mentioned that you travelled between London and Warsaw a lot and you…I am sure you meet many clients in London, but do you meet any Polish entrepreneurs?
Polish, sorry, Polish
Entrepreneurs, small businesses
You see I don’t really mix with Polish entrepreneurs. I think that there is an area of business, that I could actually start to develop as they become more sophisticated, and the Polish, UK business grows. I think that is an area that we should as a Polish community try and develop. Typically, our Polish I would say background will…within the Polish diaspora will unite us often. In Poland, we don’t seem to have this level of unity or trust with the government, and the way Poland works, is that it exists often an outside Poland, and the Polish energy comes from the roots of Polish society, it doesn’t come from the top. The top is usually distrusted, isn’t trusted. So, I can see that typically Polish entrepreneurs are forming lots of networks and links, just like the war immigrates form lots of lots of social and cultural links, which kept Polish culture alive and this will be…this is the same, except it’s happening in the entrepreneurial field, because that’s what missing in Poland. The reason Polish people are doing entrepreneurial work outside Poland is because it’s very difficult in Poland to do it. Otherwise, they would be there and so I think the influence of the Polish diaspora cannot be under estimated and it must have a voice in Poland and it must for example, try and exploit, for example, relations with Poland, that is something for me, that I have never been able to quite understand, why Poland has such a wonderful diaspora in the whole world, on every continent, there are Polish people and those significant numbers of Polish people, very highly talented people in very highly developed economies, like the States and Canada, not to mention South America, which is now booming. So why the Polish diaspora cannot exploit its connection with Poland, is still something that mystifies me but I hope that I can, with my continued business activity can help link, re-link Poles back to Poland, that would be good to do on the business level as well.
Yes, so mentioned that Polish entrepreneurs outside of Poland, they are more linking with each other. They are more building sort of networks and relationship. They do trust each other.
And for some reasons in Poland, that seems to be not impossible but maybe a bit harder to achieve?
So, having on a final note, I would like to ask the question about what advise you would give to those Polish entrepreneurs and small business in Britain, and the reason for that is, because you have the experience of your dad doing the business and you were there from your early years, seeing that developing and you know, and you already mentioned that some of the values are very important for local people, for Britain, for British. So if you can imagine someone who is Polish starting his business, then what sort of values would be welcomed here in Britain and what is, the you know, shortest way to success, for the Polish entrepreneur?
That’s a very good question. I think to be conscious of our good qualities and good skills. What are Poles valued for? And I’ll mention a few industries, which you would find already very obvious. Poles for example, have always had a very high skills in engineering, and building construction, and at the highest level. I am talking about the Polish workers on the building site, although they also are very highly valued and Polish technicians and craftsmen are also very very highly valued. Everything to do with construction, whether it’s commercial or residential, and all micro businesses consultancies around that sphere, I think are very well valued. Another sphere is IT I am sitting in Krakow, which is really Silicon Valley, surrounded by brilliant IT specialists all sitting in their own homes, working often for businesses with addresses in the UK. If people knew, the volume of IT support given without any publicity to world organisations and corporations, they would be shocked. They would be shocked, because I simply know what my neighbours do and who they are working for, I can’t advertise this, but it’s like for example we don’t advertise our own high skills well enough. If I say that, I have a piece of clothing, typical of a woman to say this and to say the label, to say something is made in Poland and can you imagine if all these IT specialists had this big label on you know, (laugh) made in Poland and yet it’s known in the world, that Poland produces, in very difficult areas for high intellectual, often mathematical skills are involved, engineering, IT, I would also go into science. The only problem with science is, it is underfunded. I am also scientist in my academic qualifications and I have sponsored a science conference in Krakow recently in astrophysics and I could see the potential, even the investment has been made in Krakow in the third, what they call the third part of the Jagielonian University. It’s just completely under-utilised. So, again there are many highly qualified scientists who should really be exploited and I want to use that word in a positive sense to give them also proper rewards.
So Marzena, coming back to my question. Could you give the Polish entrepreneur in the UK 3 different sort of tips of how to survive in the British market or just not to survive but thrive?
The first one I would say, would be to overcome the negative attitudes that Poland developed within entrepreneurs, therefore to follow the law, which is the first most important thing, I have to say, which always protect you and that involves all the tax situations and consultations you may have with professional people like myself, who are actually there to advise you and not corrupt you. So, that’s the very first piece of advice that I would say. The second piece of advice is what I started to say about specialist areas is to market those areas, do not be ashamed of these areas, because I think, you have in Poland that, I feel for example, we talked about music education. The USA invests in the development of high level professionals through culture and it’s a big investment and they pay very good salaries to the whole music sphere, because they know, what type of people, there is skills develop. For example, I believe there is a relationship between IT and music, because often very talented musicians are also wonderful IT specialists. So the well developed countries, if you look at Japan, G-7 basically, look at the way, they are educating their children, where is the money going? And now look at Poland, as you know, this music sphere is so undernourished that’s why there…many actually have to leave Poland, and yet we have one of the greatest music traditions in Poland, as you have experienced yourself in Krakow, in the world, and again, I can’t understand why, the Poland fails to not invest in this sector, either in infrastructure for the teachings or simply that the Poles who are educated in this sector can develop education in music consultancies that in fact, I would say would be pedagogy in general and education. I think the Poles are also very good in the whole teaching profession, they can teach actually. I am just going now to wider to all the subjects, and I think that Poles need to have the third thing would be a conscious sense of their identity, that would be the third thing, is to follow the law of the country and market the skills that you know are at world class standards and to have a very conscious and very positive sense of your own identity.
So, from what you have said for me, it sounds like, maybe not to mix and try to please British people by playing their game but just sort of promote Polish values locally and to market these values and tell them, why we are good?
Yes, yes, yes, because if you start to lose your own identity, you start to lose prestige. You have to built prestige, someone will pay well for your service. They will pay you a very good market rate, if you promote the prestige of your skill.
But this is actually very interesting, because skills are skills and it doesn’t matter whether they come from Poland or Britain, but when you are actually marketing those skills or promoting them, what would be your approach nowadays? Would you say that these skills are good, because I am Polish or would you actually try to promote it from this perspective and use it to your advantage that you are Polish yourself and that’s why maybe, you know, better on the market, or would you rather go away from this idea and just focus on promoting, just the skill itself?
Well, you are right. The first assumption is correct. For example, if I now reverse the question, because you asked me about my own background and I trained in the city of London, which is one of the world’s centres in finance and I obtained the professional qualifications of one of the most elitist organisations as regards finance and accounting, there is in the world. I would say, a quarter of our members work outside the UK, chartered accountants are valued on every continent and the equivalent organisations in the Anglo Saxon world, CPAs, Canadian, Australian etc are very highly valued, we are prestigious organisation and I have to market that, because if I have finished a professional qualification which is regarded as very prestigious and I am part of that…product of that system, good product, then I have to market that and that’s my identity and that’s how I obtain the business. My identity in particular is formed as a professional person of integrity and trust in England. That’s how the chartered accountant, the image is seen, it’s not a picture, but it’s a picture, it’s something to do with trust and responsibility and not that “you look nice”, which is often the case in Poland, where Poles see superficial, you know, the way the internet page may look, with some artificial people, but they don’t write anything about professional qualifications. So, you know, what sort of market are you addressing? So, that’s my experience, now I am not a Polish engineer or a scientist or even, let’s talk about the practical businesses, craft businesses or something in food, whatever. It’s known that there is good workmanship coming form Poland, I mean how many subcontracted businesses, I have seen where the label is foreign and the work is Polish and so we are not obtaining the profit. Polish people are not obtaining the profit by losing their prestige, their royalties on those businesses, let’s for example producing for a cake in kitchen in Poland, Kitchen furniture, for example from Kalwaria Zebrzydowska which is known for high quality cabinet making and furniture making, that label “Made in Poland” isn’t there, it’s and so that’s why I am saying that the cultural and the identity, the identity is very important. Now, if I say, that we are dealing with people from the UK, from the city with good qualifications, they have prestige, because of their identity. Now, what we won’t be developing a financial centre in Warsaw, we could actually, because we have certainly got the resources but whatever we do, we have to use our identity. For example, if we go back to music, we have some iconic names, we can use like Paderewski or Szopen would be iconic in piano training for example. You can develop a business to employ, Polish music teachers to teach children piano, we have a good tradition in the world, anywhere in the UK, because so much now is accessible through you know internet is a great medium, and businesses can be done that way now.
So, I understand what you are trying to say and it’s basically that whatever we do in abroad, in the UK, whatever business we start, maybe there is a worthwhile to look back at our Polish roots and see what we are good at and just try to dig deeper and try to find those advantages and just show them and provoke them first, and built rather than starting from nothing like, “I am here and I am the best!” (laugh)
Yes, well if you look at, if you are aware of the British Polish Chamber of Commerce, if you look at UKTI, what is the slogan For the UKTI campaign? UKTI is UK Trade and Investment, they have received substantial money to promote British goods and products in Poland and what is the slogan? “Britain Is Great”. Now reverse that, what is the slogan for Polish skills, Polish investments etc. We don’t know! (Laugh)
And this is very good question. I would end with this question, so all our listeners or readers can answer to the question themselves and I think this question would be or should be put at every startup, at every business plan and that should be the first sort of question, we ask ourselves. What we are good at and why we are actually starting this business? So Marzena, it was great to talk to you, I would love to spend more time with you and it’s you know so much interesting, however the time is already over, we have spoken for an hour and a half…
Didn’t notice it
I am sure, you have other meetings today. So, thank you very much for talking to us today and I hope a lot of our readers and listeners will find it interesting and informative.
Ok, thank you