23 (118) 2016
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Poland leading the way in shared services – GlaxoSmithKline case study

Michael Dembinski talks to Sebastian Drzewiecki, head of GSK's business service centre in Poznań
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When GSK came to Poland in the wake of its acquisition of the Polfa Poznań factory in 1998, there was no thought yet of doing anything else other than manufacturing pharmaceutical products.

The business service centre was created in 2005 to try to build such an organisation in Poland, and to see whether or not it would succeed. It did. “When we started 11 years ago, we began with 26 employees delivering IT services to Europe; now there are 450 people delivering to GSK globally.” The Poznań centre proved the concept and achieved great success. Since then, GSK has opened four more global multifunctional centres – in Costa Rica, the USA, London and Kuala Lumpur, each focusing on a different area of expertise. Poznań is IT specific; the others handle areas such as financial and facilities, explained Mr Drzewiecki.

The prime requirement for a successful service centre is the people. I asked Mr Drzewiecki about the recruitment process. “There's a good relationship between GSK and the local universities. We employ mostly young people, around 120 of whom are currently graduates for whom this is their first job. We also encourage interns to work with us, and 80% of them stay on. Working at GSK for them is good for their professional development and future career, even if they can't stay. We invest in young people. There's mutual collaboration between us and the universities. It's important that our employees have a good, general IT background, so we offer lectures run by our people on a quarterly basis. We like to give something back. Our lecturers are pragmatic and focus on the subject, talking about the sector rather than about the company. Our IT security team, for example, is great and highly valued by our external partners, such as the British Embassy to Poland. They are active in forums and symposiums focused on security issues. This means that our people can explain what they do, and what this means from the student’s perspective.” Does GSK suggest to the universities how courses should be structured? “There's no interference into the profile, the students follow the standard learning programme,” says Mr Drzewiecki. “Surprisingly, 45% of our employees don't have an IT background – these people typically manage services, or are accountable for risk profile. Of the remaining 55%, most have completed studies in IT, in specialisations such as infrastructure, databases or security.”

Some Polish cities – Kraków and Wrocław in particular – are overheating when it comes to business process outsourcing/shared services centres, with staff retention, employee churn and poaching being major concerns. I asked about GSK's main competitors in Poznań. “Our main competitor for staff is Allegro, Poland's local eBay equivalent. Other large employers in IT services include Cyber and BAE Systems. Currently, there are not many IT organisations in Poznań. Even so, we tend to exchange talents; 80% of our leavers come back to GSK within two years. We are open to people coming back, and the atmosphere in the workplace helps,” says Mr Drzewiecki.

One of the major issues for UK companies in Poland is cultural differences. Poles are said to be hard-working individuals who find it difficult to work in teams. “Yes, there are differences between Polish and British cultures, but at GSK, we have lots of people working together and we are very focussed on collaboration and support. In any case, those cultural differences are far less noticeable in the youngest generation of graduates. When we created our employer branding campaign, we set out the employer value proposition very clearly – teamwork is the lifeblood of our working culture. Such an approach appeals to new people coming to the company. They like it, and they are not afraid to ask questions,” says Mr Drzewiecki.

Hierarchy is another cultural difference – Poles tend to like clear hierarchies, with ranks and organisation charts. How does this look at GSK's IT services centre? “It isn’t an issue,” replies Mr Drzewiecki. “We are a global organisation, with 130 managers leading our people in Poznań, mostly remotely, with 70% of them physically based in the UK or other sites around the world. The managers also visit their teams sometimes, as Poznań is only a short flight away from Britain. As for expats, we have only 10 people from abroad working full-time in Poznań. You don't have to be able to speak Polish to work here. And while the primary language of business here is, of course, English, 30% of our workforce speak a language other than English or Polish. This is not required, but it's nice to have. We see that hierarchy is important in Poland, but here it is not that critical. We follow a different logic – everything should be predictable and transparent. A workforce of 450 is not that large; it's not too difficult to manage such a number of people. The rules must be easy to follow,” he says. “The recruitment process is crucial when it comes to teamwork and hierarchy. We ask many questions around soft skills – how well will potential employees fit into teams and work with their fellow co-workers.”

I ask about recruitment campaigns and how these are diversified for different target groups of employees. “We have four lines to promote jobs at GSK. For young employees, and students it's called Unlock your Career and uses the paradigm of a video game where the player is trying to reach a higher level. Then, there is Restart your Career, aimed at people who feel stuck in a routine. We offer them the chance to join, for example, our financial team and to try something new in our organisation. For future leaders there's Launch your Career. Here, we're looking for managerial talents. Finally, there's Develop your Career, also aimed at people already working somewhere else, suggesting that they try to learn something new. However, although we do recruit externally, we primarily like to grow from within, identifying our internal talents and helping them advance; we also place a lot of weight on employee recommendations. If they like it at GSK, they can share their experience with their friends and encourage them to join us,” says Mr Drzewiecki.

What of the future, I ask. “We cover most of the IT services required by GSK around the world from Poznań. However, R&D is missing. We would like to support this area from Poznań, and this is our target. We have very smart people here. There is still a desire to move more jobs to us, sourcing more of the services to Poznań. Eventually, we could be employing 600 or even more people here,” he says. However, there are no plans to outsource work to other companies. “This is a captive model; we work only for GSK,” says Mr Drzewiecki.

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