The Leap into Business

After the fall of Communism, East-Central Europe made the leap into the market. For that to happen, however, millions of people had to make the individual decision to leave their old jobs and take positions in this new market economy. In many cases, they didn’t have much of a choice since the economic reforms threw many people out of their jobs. Perhaps they had run a small grey market business during the Communist years – selling cigarettes or cleaning apartments – and they simply turned these operations into legal entrepreneurial initiatives.

But the new economy also needed a brand new managerial elite that didn’t for the most part exist in the region. “At that time, you opened a newspaper and you saw: financial director for Proctor and Gamble, marketing director for Colgate Palmolive,” remembers Bogdan Lapinski. “I went to interview at major companies, like Arthur Anderson and Hewlett Packard. All those companies were looking for top positions at that time. These were incredible opportunities.”

I met Lapinski when we were both working at the Institute of Psychology at the Polish Academy of Science in 1989. When I left Poland that year, I imagined he would continue in academe. I was surprised to discover when I returned to Poland that he had made the jump into the business world.

“I found the business work enjoyable,” he told me when we met up again in Warsaw in August 2013. “It was a surprise for me, because business among so-called intellectuals – the intelligentsia — didn’t have a very good reputation. There was no such thing in the Communist period. But even capitalist business had a bad reputation for other reasons. It was not viewed very positively by some of my friends who stayed at the university or by psychologists. It felt like I betrayed our ideals and sold myself to business. When I went to the business world, I saw that they didn’t know what they were talking about. It was an interesting discovery for me. It was a very good match with my preferences and temperament, with my personality.”

It was an exciting time in part because of the chance to rise rapidly in the new companies. “I immediately jumped to the top of the company,” Lapinski explained. “It was in the 1990s quite common in Poland, and probably in other countries in this region — but it’s very unusual in established economies. Through an ad in the newspaper, coming from nowhere, I jumped onto the board of directors of IKEA. It took only one week.”

His earlier work in psychology provided him with valuable inter-cultural and conflict resolution skills. Often he acted as an intermediary between expat managers and Polish workers. “In Polish culture, people don’t like to get orders or what they interpret as orders,” Lapinski told me. “When a manager asks you for something, a very typical answer is: I will try. It made expats mad. ‘What do you mean, you will try? Go and do it!’ This was a misunderstanding on both sides. Employees interpreted it as a rude order rather than asking or advising. And managers interpreted it as rude that the employee interpreted it as ‘no.’ They thought, ‘I asked for something, and you will only try?’ It was a common linguistic and cultural misunderstanding, but it had implications. It was an example of seeing people here as unwilling to cooperate — and Polish people seeing those guys just as arrogant. You can’t build a relationship on this.”

We talked about what it was like to get the first IKEA stories up and running in Poland, the tension between resistance and rapprochement in Polish culture, and why the changes of 1989 came along at just the right time in his life.

The Interview

 

Do you remember where you were and what you were thinking when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?

 

I was traveling at that time quite a lot. I was in and out of the country. But at that particular time I was at home, in Warsaw, watching all the news. We were already accustomed to surprising news. There was something new happening every week in the region. The fall of the Wall was surprising, but it was in a way expected.

 

Tell me why you decided to study psychology?

 

It was for personal reasons and interests. I wanted something in the humanistic field, something about human nature, human conditions: it could have been philosophy, sociology, psychology. I considered the history of art for some time. But I also wanted something with which I could help other people. Helping others was an important value for me. The combination of those two reasons naturally produced psychology as the field for me. I knew it when I was 17. I still think it was a good choice. And somehow I’ve continued to work with people, for people, in human resources. That’s a continuity.

 

When I met you in 1989, how long had you been in the psychology department at the Polish Academy of Science?

 

Four years.

 

You’d already done your university degree.

 

It was a job, my first job. It was a requirement to write the thesis. Right after my studies, I was a freelance translator. I translated some psychology texts. Then after two years, I got the offer at the Academy of Science to join a research group. I had my first boss and my first colleagues.

 

Which research group were you in?

 

It was a research group on youth substance abuse. The main purpose was to determine the risk factors. We had a grant from the ministry of health. Based on this grant, we did what was interesting for each of us, and then we linked it somehow to substance abuse. It was a bit disappointing for me.

 

You had hoped it would have more focus?

 

I wanted something that would really contribute either to truth-discovery or to people’s wellbeing, in a word something more idealistic. I quit in November 1989.

 

That was quite a time to quit! My memory is that you were doing your thesis on phenomenology.

 

Not exactly. It was on identity development in youth. Phenomenology was my private field of interest, which I couldn’t apply at this institute because it was very academic-focused – statistics, experiments, hard data. Phenomenology is qualitative in nature. When I quit the academy, I was hoping, though it was very unrealistic as it turned out, to conduct my research through maintaining my contacts with researchers around the world in the field of phenomenological psychology. I found someone in the United States, someone in Denmark. I visited this group in Denmark in 1989. And I met this guy from the United States who came to Poland. I expected some kind of support from them – to join their group. But then I realize that in their countries they were also underfunded, fighting for every penny. To sponsor someone from other country was unrealistic for them. They were kind enough to exchange letters with me, but nothing else. I felt I had not much to offer. I just wanted to study with them.

I had to do something for a living, which was teaching English. To combine the two, teaching English as well as doing research and my thesis on my own, it was too much. And not having any academic community to work with, it was not realistic. So, I just abandoned this idea of doing anything academic or working on my thesis. And I didn’t want to be an English teacher either for very long. So then I went into business, one year after leaving the Academy of Science.

The business world was being established at that time in Poland. These companies were coming to Poland and opening their offices, and they needed people like me. I found this surprisingly inspiring.

 

That they needed you?

 

To work in start-ups. It was actually much more dynamic, even more inspiring intellectually than working at in the Academy of Science, which was very slow and, as I said, very individualistic, without much teamwork. I found the business work enjoyable. It was a surprise for me, because business among so-called intellectuals – the intelligentsia — didn’t have a very good reputation. There was no such thing in the Communist period. But even capitalist business had a bad reputation for other reasons. It was not viewed very positively by some of my friends who stayed at the university or by psychologists. It felt like I betrayed our ideals and sold myself to business. When I went to the business world, I saw that they didn’t know what they were talking about. It was an interesting discovery for me. It was a very good match with my preferences and temperament, with my personality.

Maybe the reason is that I immediately jumped to the top of the company. It was in the 1990s quite common in Poland, and probably in other countries in this region — but it’s very unusual in established economies. Through an ad in the newspaper, coming from nowhere, I jumped onto the board of directors of IKEA. It took only one week.

 

That’s amazing. When was that?

 

It was May 1992.

 

Between 1990 and 1992, you worked in several startups?

 

I had some small jobs in business: four months in a consulting firm, five months at a bank, three months as a translator for a consulting firm. These were small jobs that gave me some experience. That’s why I was hired. I was not just an English teacher. I didn’t have much experience, a couple months here and there. But at that time, it was all that you could expect from Polish people. Nobody had even a year of experience that they wanted. The learning was on the job.

 

It must have been very exciting.

 

I learned about business, and the capitalist way of running a company, from the top. Which was easier than starting from the bottom and climbing the ladder. It was a relatively painless process.

 

When you went to interview at IKEA, had it opened a store yet in Poland?

 

They had a very small, so-called start shop in Ursynów. This was the way companies started at that time – in small offices or adapted spaces — like IKEA. They didn’t have a store. So I opened the first store in the center of Warsaw. Then I opened the real store outside Warsaw: 22,000 square meters.

 

What did the ad say they were looking for?

 

A human resource director or manager. There were no executive search companies, which do this job now. You don’t see any ads in the newspaper these days for that kind of position. But at that time, you opened a newspaper and you saw: financial director for Proctor and Gamble, marketing director for Colgate Palmolive. I went to interview at major companies, like Arthur Anderson and Hewlett Packard. All those companies were looking for top positions at that time. These were incredible opportunities. I didn’t even know what Proctor and Gamble was at that time. They were not established here, and there was no Internet to get information. I’d never heard of the company so I decided not to interview there.

 

But you had heard of IKEA.

 

Yes, IKEA was here in Poland for many years. They manufactured furniture in Poland or at least purchased wood from here, since the 1960s. It was only retail that came later. But people knew about IKEA. They traveled abroad, brought home IKEA catalogs. They looked at these and dreamed of what their kitchen could look like. Beautiful furniture and apartments: these things were uncommon here at that time. IKEA was viewed as a symbol of a better life.

 

You answered the ad, and you were interviewed. What was your experience of the interview?

 

It wasn’t my first interview, of course. I went to several. There was nothing that I didn’t expect. There was some short test that I did, which was bit surprising, a test of my management style. My performance was good enough, so I got the job.

 

Did you have any idea when you applied for the job how much authority it would have?

 

I had little idea what human resources was at all! Nothing like that existed in Poland. Frankly the idea of pursuing a human resource career came from an Austrian consultant that I met here. They advertised and I went to apply for a job at their company, thinking that maybe it was something for me. I was trying different things. When he looked at my CV, he said, “You have a psychology degree, some psychology experience, plus you worked a couple months in a bank, so you know a bit about business. This combination of psychology and business means human resources.”

I had no idea what human resources was. I borrowed some books from the university library to read about it. It was very theoretical, but it looked okay. This was my only knowledge about this job. I knew very little what this job was about. There was a list of duties but it was very generally stated: I would be responsible for managing people in the firm and for training and staffing. It was very abstract for me: what kind of staffing, what of training? I was a bit surprised when I started the job that it was down-to-earth. I had these academic books on HR on my shelf and the next day, I was asked to buy clothes for cashiers and for warehouse workers! This was also new. It was intriguing, but also surprising. I saw my job more as a strategist and not someone who was involved in these day-to-day activities. But I got used to this quite quickly.

They asked met to work on the shop floor for a few days after they opened the first store, the small one in Warsaw. They asked me to work as a shop assistant. This is the culture of IKEA, but it’s not only at this firm. I was a bit embarrassed, to be hired as a director and board member and then be required to stand in the store and sell lamps. It was very instructive. I still appreciate this experience. Going directly to the top position, I didn’t have the experience of how people work on the shop floor. Normally today, as a student I would have this kind of job. But at the time, it was not very common for students to study and work at the same time.

 

It must have required a huge amount of learning to set up such a large store.

 

The typical thing companies did at that time – and I experienced it at three companies – IKEA, Amoco, and Pepsi – was to send top managers to their headquarters and other divisions in other countries: to talk to and learn from people there. There were some written materials that were part of the learning. There were still expats working with us. I was working for three months with a former HR manager, who was Swedish, and I was shadowing him. We worked together for a couple months. We had some kind of Central European academy where managers from IKEA in Central Europe met with a Swedish trainer whose role was to educate us, to pass on to us knowledge of human resources.

There were no MBA courses in Poland at that time. There was no time for an MBA when you had to recruit and train hundreds of people. It was a positive job. HR is about hiring and firing. But at that time it was just hiring. Because of high inflation, there were constant pay increases. You were the person delivering good news. Plus, companies were investing. There was lavish investment for training people. There was no cost-cutting at that time. It was different from normal. These were start-ups.

 

Did you encounter things that were peculiarly Polish that people from other parts of the IKEA network didn’t experience?

 

One thing, which is the same in any multicultural management especially when you come to a developing country from an developed economy, it’s really an art to respect people — their ideas, their experience — and to use it while also passing on to them all the know how and management skills. It requires a special effort to do that. You have to be patient, you have to listen a lot, and those two qualities are not equally possessed by all the managers who came to Poland. It was difficult for some of them to use or recognize the potential of people here.  Sometimes they failed to combine their knowhow with people’s talents here. Quite often, people were coming to me, as the HR manager, and telling me that the expats were treating us as if we don’t know anything. It was not the rule, but it did happen from time to time.

On the other hand, I understand those people coming here. They were quite disoriented. They didn’t know what to expect here, if they would find educated or uneducated people here, open or shy, with a high work ethic or a low ethic. They just didn’t understand what kind of environment was here. If they were not good observers or listeners, they just came with their assumptions, for instance that they were coming to a country with nothing and they were bringing something. And they were just focused on something.

My first manager from Pepsi refused to live in a regular apartment here in Warsaw because he was afraid of the risks. He stayed in the Marriott hotel. That was the only environment he accepted. He stayed there between one and two years. He moved out only once, when Bill Clinton came to Warsaw and the whole floor had to be emptied because of security, and he had to leave his room for three days. I think he was exceptional. But it was still a sign of how this environment here was viewed.

 

Can you think of other occasions of cross-cultural misunderstanding or something related to people’s preconceptions of what Poland was like?

 

In Polish culture, people don’t like to get orders or what they interpret as orders. When a manager asks you for something, a very typical answer is: I will try. It made expats mad. “What do you mean, you will try? Go and do it!” This was a misunderstanding on both sides. Employees interpreted it as a rude order rather than asking or advising. And managers interpreted it as rude that the employee interpreted it as “no.” They thought, “I asked for something, and you will only try?” It was a common linguistic and cultural misunderstanding, but it had implications. It was an example of seeing people here as unwilling to cooperate — and Polish people seeing those guys just as arrogant. You can’t build a relationship on this.

 

Is that still a dynamic here?

 

We have  much fewer expats now at the managerial level. At that time it was common, even in middle management. Expats were coming to develop successors or just to work on setting up start-up projects. So, there were quite a lot of them.

 

Lech Walesa tells an anecdote in his autobiography about fixing up his house during the Martial Law period. He hired workers from the shipyard to do the work. He was upset with their work style. They took long lunches. They left exactly at 5 pm even if there was more work to be done. He hired them during a strike, and when the strike ended, he was able to hire other people, who worked until the job was done. For Walesa, this symbolized the difference in work ethics under the old system and the newly emerging one. Did you encounter anything similar as a HR manager?

 

It was exactly as you mentioned: working just until a certain hour and then leaving. It was common in state-owned companies or in the public sector.. I saw it not recently but in 2004 in a state-owned company acquired by a U.S. corporation. People were surprised when expat managers stayed late hours. In the Communist system, everyone left except some directors. They didn’t know what to do. Here the manager was staying, should they stay or go home? They were asking for guidelines. I was working as a consultant for this company. The only way to solve it was to discuss openly what was unclear. Then it resolved quickly.

There was another example of a misunderstanding. The director was coming from another country to visit the factory. He decided not to wear a jacket and tie, but just wore a shirt to be friendly and open. The workers felt offended that if he didn’t come as a director to them, wearing a proper jacket and tie. So, obviously, he didn’t respect them. He wanted to show respect and was received as disrespectful. Clashes like that were happening quite often.

Also, something that still exists that I’ve in some companies is a kind of rebel mentality against headquarters, which are outside of Poland. This mentality of me versus them, fighting rather than trying to solve issues. I saw that in several companies, so there’s some kind of pattern: what unites us is having a common enemy, which is headquarters. We spend time complaining about them and the stupid ideas they have.

 

Did you have to work with unions in any of all those companies?

 

All those companies were union-free. That was one of the objectives of the HR director: to prevent unions from establishing themselves. I didn’t do anything specific to prevent this. But some of those companies today may have unions.

I remember one company, where I worked as a consultant, that actively prevented unions from being established. So, the HR director and the CEO were working on that. The main idea was not to create a confrontational environment in the company. Not confrontational but collaborative. Establishing unions was not at all seen as inviting any kind of collaboration. And they succeeded. They argued some people out of it.

Their main argument was that it was not good for our company in the end. Maybe there was an implication as well that it was not good for you the worker either. But this I don’t know. Where unions were established, it was an additional job for the HR director and the company. This was another skill to develop. But I didn’t deal with this because there no unions in the companies I worked for. And people at that time were happy with their new jobs.

 

As you look back at the process of the economic transition, do you think it went reasonably well or could it have been done better?

 

That’s very difficult because it’s a question of what could have happened. There were no previous examples of this kind of transformation. It was very difficult to evaluate that. I still see more emotional arguments around it than rational ones. Maybe there are and I should do more reading about it or discuss this with experts. But I see very ideological and emotional arguments rather than rational ones. I judge it more by the results that we had later and what we have now — a relatively stable economy — rather than the process itself. Compared to other Central European countries, our transformation was at least consistent and quick. But this is more of a belief on my part. I couldn’t prove it. This is not my field. Now there’s quite a lot of ideological arguments about how many people profited at this time, illegally. But it was not yet been proven at any significant scale.

There’s also a lot of talk about selling companies and banks. The argument against it was there not enough capital in Poland to develop any kind of business. But there were businesses that succeeded, like KGHM, a copper mining and manufacturing company, one of the biggest companies in Poland. There are some other large companies that are still Polish. The question is whether we could have had more of them. This I don’t know. Now almost all banks belong to foreign owners. Also most  retail is owned by foreign corporations. Most pharmaceutical businesses are owned by foreign companies. So, this is a concern. It was proven that many of these companies are exempt from taxes or have had very significant tax relief. Now I see it’s the same issue for Google in UK, so it’s more a global issue. It’s a question of how much corporations share their profits with governments. I don’t think it’s typically Polish problem, that something went wrong only here.

Here’s something that surprised me during the last 25 years. When the Kaczynskis came on the political scene, the political discourse became very aggressive. Now I am used to it. But in 2004-5, it was a surprise to me. It was a real change. I saw it not only in TV or in the newspapers but in the informal forums under the articles. This was something new, and it was quite interesting. It was a very new phenomenon on the Internet to see people debating. Sometimes they were debating. But after 2005, they are mainly just offending each other. I thought it was something temporary when the Kaczynskis were in power. But it stayed.

 

One of them is still in the opposition.

 

Yes. And will be. So this break in the society seems to be quite permanent.

 

How would you explain it psychologically?

 

Psychologically, you cannot create anything, you can only release something or suppress or alleviate something. For sure, in this society there is a potential for conflicts. When there are two Polish people, there are at least three different opinions, as the saying goes. This tendency to split, to confront rather than collaborate, is quite strong in Polish history. When there are politicians who are very cynical and skillful way fueling or strengthening that tendency, it can really blow up. Before, politicians were not playing with that so carelessly. Maybe they realized the destructive consequences of it. Walesa was the first one to do that. But he had a special position, so he was more tolerated.

Politics became more interesting with the expression of these very strong emotions. When you listen to someone, you know what to expect – from this group or from that group. It loses its rational basis. All politics became more irrational than it was before. But maybe that’s natural.

 

The Round Table negotiations seem to be this almost unique time of official collaboration with the goal of achieving something for all of Poland. But there was also a lot of negative feelings about those negotiations. There was some speculation that there was secret collusion. I talked to somebody from Krytyka Polityczna who argues that one part of the Party and one part of the opposition decided to work together to deal with opposition within their own ranks.

 

The Round Table was very unusual for Polish culture. The usual was more fighting. This Round able gave us a couple years when we were not escalating conflicts, which was good. It came later, this confrontation and this escalation, and it’s fortunate that it went this way. The Round Table had this impact, that collaboration had some value.

Recently we were celebrating the Warsaw Uprising, which was a very emotional event and understandably so. But politically and strategically it was a disaster, and in the human sphere as well. There are two traditions in Poland: the  Resistance and the Round Table tradition. They are both in the culture. There is much more of the first. But it’s the role of politician to, support this or that. The difficult thing is when you have such an emotional and aggressive opposition: it has impact on the more peaceful side as well, which somehow has to become aggressive as well. Otherwise, they are not heard. It’s very difficult. It requires a lot of skills and maturity to deal in a peaceful way with a very aggressive partner. These are qualities that are not so frequently found. In the end, this peaceful side ceases to be peaceful anymore.

 

If you think back to what you were thinking 1988-89, prior to the announcement of the Round Table negotiations, what did you think was going to happen in Poland?

 

I lacked a historical perspective and historical thinking. If I thought this way, I would have looked at Polish history, and when Poland was independent for 20 years before the war, then I would have had a more realistic picture of the political, cultural, and mental composition of Polish society. My expectation was very optimistic that we were in a way a united society, a society without too many divisions. We spoke the same language. We were a mononational country. We had common opposition to the reality during Communist times. I had quite unrealistic and optimistic expectations that only positive things would happen when we joined Western Europe and were released from the oppression of the Soviet Union. We didn’t have the same problems of other countries, like Czechoslovakia splitting or the first secretary of Romania murdered. We seemed to be lucky. I saw it as a deserved reward for Solidarity and as compensation for what happened later: the significant economic and political stagnation. I expected just the best things.

I can’t remember much fear that anything could go wrong. The country and the people seemed to be busy organizing, building something. I didn’t see any destruction or threat. I remember instabilities in the Soviet Union at that time. The Soviet Union or Russia became weaker. But perestroika was very positive. This was my thinking at that time.

My personal situation and that of other people improved. There were so many opportunities for people like me. But I didn’t know that in the 1980s. I think I didn’t expect so many things to change. People who were closer to opposition, like Piotr Pacewicz, a colleague at the Academy of Science, he said during the strikes in 1988 that the system would disappear. And it was like you were listening to a heretic! I was overwhelmed with the speed and amount of changes to come. I remember in 1999 when we joined NATO, I was at the airport in Denmark at passport control and there was some British guy on line with me who said, “Oh, it’s good that Poland is joining NATO so we will be together.” And I felt great, that we were welcome and joining the better part of the world. But that was later already.

But looking back to 88-89, it was at first overwhelming, then I got used to it, all the new things that were being created: new political bodies, new ministries, a new currency, new banks, new investors coming, new laws introduced. They changed dozens of different laws and regulations. There were new private schools and universities. There were a lot of changes that I view very positively.

Things were changing so rapidly, but when you are inside, everything seems too slow. That’s what I felt. People were complaining that it was too slow. They were saying, “This should be changed. This shouldn’t exist like this any longer. We shouldn’t stay with one leg in the old system and one leg in the new.”

Another surprise was the role of the Church, which was viewed very positively before the transformation as supporting the democratic opposition. Then when the Church showed its conservative face from the social and ethical point of view, this was a big surprise. But looking at the Church before the war, I shouldn’t have been surprised. It didn’t dissociate itself from anti-Semitism , and all the sins that are coming out now were present then – the greed, the self-interest. It could have been expected, but personally it was a surprise. I saw society in a less differentiated way. I saw collaboration and consensus. And then it turned out there was no consensus. There was no discussion. And when the discussion started, very extreme views came to the surface.

 

Polish society seems divided between very conservative and very liberal – like California with Orange County versus the Bay Area. How has it been for you to navigate this kind of society?

 

The easiest way is to close yourself off in the environment that is just supporting one of the sides. I try to see a positive potential in this tension. It would be interesting if people could have a constructive dialog. I don’t know if you’ve heard about non-violent communication, this movement and ideology of trying to put into dialogue people who support very extreme positions. There is always some common ground, some common interests or values. What I try to see personally is that extreme nationalists also care for the country, for people, for culture. Of course I never support their means. But I wouldn’t deny that they somehow love their country and want to preserve the culture. I know some of them. They’re quite extreme, and I don’t agree with their reasoning. But I respect their knowledge of Polish history and their pride in Polish achievements throughout history. Many of those achievements have been forgotten. People with more liberal views are looking more into the future, so they are not so interested in analyzing history or being proud of that history. So, this is my personal way of navigating.

For everyday peace of mind, I just cut off myself from this ideology. I just sign petitions against or for, and this is my only activism. I think that mediation and communication is still the ideal solution. If something like that would appear I would support it wholeheartedly. I know that there are some attempts, maybe successful, to put Palestinian and Israeli people into dialogue. I’ve seen some films about how they try to have dialogue while still not giving up their own views. For me this would be an objective: just to be able to talk. But it’s not something that’s happening. And I don’t see this objective as valued by any party, by any side in this conversation. Personally, I’m too emotional a person to start such a conversation. Maybe if I was in a mediator role, I could do it. But being on one side would be very difficult for me.

I hide myself in the liberal niche. I read only liberal newspapers and magazines. I have only liberal friends and enter only liberal websites. Business is liberal or neutral, so this is my work environment. I have problems when I encounter these others, when I see them being aggressive on the street supporting very destructive views. I can sign petitions, but I would support dialogue rather than fighting with petitions. The tradition for this is very weak in Poland. When dialogue happens it is devalued as treason, as a plot. So it’s been degraded, which is a shame.

 

You really changed your life after 1989, going from academia to the board of directors of IKEA. I met a lot of people for whom 1989 was a great opportunity. For some people it wasn’t, of course. You were 30 when 1989 happened. How much have you thought about the timing of all that?

 

It was the best timing that could happen. I was very lucky. But even if it came now, I would be okay. There were a lot of coincidences. So many things happened at that time. It came at a time when I was more and more disappointed with the Academy of Science. Also, I divorced in 1989. So, it was a revolution in so many overlapping ways. I was more preoccupied with my personal life at that time than social and political matters. In 1989, I was looking for a new apartment because I’d divorced. This was my key thing: to find an apartment I could afford, because I had very little money.

I was 30 – and 30 was a crisis for me in terms of middle age. So, everything happened at the same time in one year. It was all in one pill. The change was the main theme of this year. No change could surprise me. I changed everything in my life, and everything changed around me. It was like being in harmony. Those changes around me were like a natural thing, an emanation of my own change or the other way around. So, maybe I’m not a good example.

When I joined IKEA, I had this small Fiat…

 

It was called Bambino, no?

 

It was called Bambino in Italy. But in Poland it was taken very seriously, so we called it a small Fiat. It was an object of dreams, and you can’t dream about a Bambino! So I had this Fiat. Some director saw me in this car and told me that I had to immediately change it to a Toyota. But I was scared to drive a really big Toyota. Then you needed to buy an apartment, you couldn’t just rent one. Things I didn’t aspire to myself became a requirement.

 

Would it have been useful to have been a Buddhist back then?

 

Being a Buddhist at that time would have been similar to being an intellectual or a person who didn’t value money but culture or education or the developing of one’s mind. I don’t think I would have joined so enthusiastically these new trends and business coming to Poland. I would have been suspicious. And then I would not have joined and I would never have had this experience. I would have been like some people who decided to continue to work in the academy and still work there today. They still have the image of a company or a business as a jungle where everyone is just waiting to kill everyone else to get to the top, and it is a constant rat race. Probably I would have stayed with this belief and with this image.

 

When you think back to 1989 and everything that has happened between then and now, how would you evaluate that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being most dissatisfied and 10 most satisfied?

 

10.

 

Same scale, same period of time: but your own personal life?

 

This is more difficult. 10.

 

And when you look into the near future, the next two or three years, how would you evaluate Poland’s prospects on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being most pessimistic and 10 being most optimistic?

 

Eight.

 

Warsaw, August 11, 2013

 


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