I'm glad to report that the 2017 cohort arrived home late last night. While I'm sure everyone was glad to be back in there own beds, I know there are some, myself included, who are already missing the richness and beauty of Poland life.
The trip back was a perfect time for reflection, and that's exactly what I did between the layovers and cross-Atlantic flight to head home. Amongst the sightseeing and the fun, we observed a lot in regards to what it means to do business in present-day Poland 2016. In essence, we find a perfect melange of motivation from history and hope for the rising entrepreneurs of tomorrow. These business men and women compete with each other from a market perspective, yet more holistically, this competition is actually a sense of unity to build Poland to the heights of tomorrow.
I tried my best to try to summarize some of the most important themes and points from this trip as all these types of reflections flashed through my head. Here are five of those take aways from the week in review.
1) Poland is very much a text book example of how politics dictate the national economic environment.
Right from the beginning, Poland’s recent rise past the Soviet Communistic era was emphasized as a core theme to living and doing business in the young democratic nation. There was previously no point to pursuing your own business or being creative or competitive because there was no incentive to do so, a theme especially underscored during our business visits to Startup Poland and Coca Cola. Now, not only is there incentive to push the boundaries of creativity and profit models, the limits are endless, and it seemed as if those attitudes were reflected at every single visit as each speaker spoke of the future of their companies to come.
2) Past events do not guarantee future results, even for rising nations.
The Mongol battles, the fights against the Turks, the war against the Nazis, and the struggle past Communism signify some of the key events in Polish history. If these conflicts were indicators of the future, then it would be easy to remain skeptical about the security of living in Poland in the generations to come, let alone any thoughts of having a business.
However, as our panel speakers indicated, as strong and prosperous as Poland has been, especially as being the only country in the EU to avoid recession during the dive starting in 2009, Poland needs to remain cautious as it relates to future performance. It is true that the better part of the last decade has shown tremendously positive results, so keeping in mind that, financially speaking, every economy has its peaks and valleys, business owners and residents need to realize this natural cycle and simply be ready when the first big ‘valley’ arrives. Poland has advantages when it comes to adjusting to dips in its economy which it can use to strengthen its position through these cycles to come.
Photo courtesy: Bara Pelcova
3) Globalization and assimilating to known global brands is a sign of strength in Poland.
The concept of accepting seemingly obvious name brands into a country seemed obnoxious to me at first, but after hearing the Polish perspective during our Coca Cola visit, it is clear to me now that to a new democracy that these are signs of global commercial acceptance, not commercial take over. Even more, our speaker at Coke when asked about trying to overtake Pepsi (a distant competitor in terms of volume in Poland) stated, “Without an enemy, doing business wouldn’t be any fun.” The capitalism model appears to be truly embraced and prompts motivation, pushing business people to try harder and be better in the work that they do. The name brands that we in the States are so quick to turn our heads to truly epitomize the efforts that the Poles have made to grow their economy to a strength with global standing.
4) Everything works out for a reason, including with Polish currency.
When Poland originally petitioned to adopt the Euro, it did not meet the requirements of the Eurozone to adopt the currency change. As it turns out, this worked in Poland’s favor, especially in terms of the recession which started in 2008 and hit the EU full force in 2009. Today, you will find numerous news articles which now state the opposite of this initial petition: Poland has no intention of adopting the Euro in the foreseeable future. Remaining on the Zloty has allowed Poland to depreciate the currency they have independent of the rest of the Eurozone and, therefore, adjust to allow for economic adjustment and growth, an option Greece did not have as a result of being part of the Eurozone and the Euro. This flexibility is absolutely another strength which will allow any business owner the opportunity to jump in and be a part of the growing Polish economy.
5) Although we may forget its importance at times, culture will always be critical for business and economic growth.
One area where the Polish and the Americans are similar is their sense of national pride. However, I tend to give the Poles the edge when it comes to their culture. Being an American represents so many different things, so much so that especially with a country our size, it is common for people to have, dare I say, extreme variance in culture based on where they grew up. The values of these sub-cultures may vary, and the perspectives and perceptions of the state of the States also varies depending on the roots of a group's experience.
While this may also be true of Poland, the smaller size and especially the history of the country, including in recent years, makes the culture more homogeneous, in my opinion. To an extent, though, this was also homogenized as a result of the “cultural cleansing” during World War II. This makes sense to me, though: whereas in the States, only part of the nation has been oppressed at any given time, the entire nation of Poland has seen invasions of regimes, and it was up to them as a collective group to come together and work through those times. There is no conflict or variance of perspective here in terms of what happened and trying to understand -- the Polish people all went through the same experiences, so where you will find the variance in perceptions will be in the interpretation and reflection of that experience, not in trying to understand the other side.
What was even more clear across the board – site visits, guide briefs, and museums alike – is that because the Poles truly banded together to fight those times, this makes it easier for them to work collectively in a social sense, rather than political, to make their lives better for Poland. This is incredibly important to their business life today. Doing well in business, supporting and being a part of a developing the economy, pushing the limits of business, and helping to further anchor Poland’s position as a key EU if not global player in the world market…for these reasons and more, the Poles remember who they are and where they came from, and for that, they continue to fight in a different battle, a healthy battle, of promoting their livelihood through business.