36 (131) 2018
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A long and glorious industrial history extends into Poland’s future

Mariusz Karolewski, plant director, GKN Driveline Polska Sp. z o.o.
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Every day, GKN drives the wheels of hundreds of millions of cars, helps thousands of aircraft to fly, and delivers the power to move earth and harvest crops.

GKN makes essential components for industries that touch lives around the world.

The story of GKN was forged in the first fires of the Industrial Revolution over 250 years ago. It is a story of change and innovation taking in the birth of rail, the invention of the car, the development of flight and man’s adventures in space. It is the story of how a single ironworks in South Wales became a global giant spanning more than 30 countries.

In 1759, as the first pints of Guinness were being poured, the Dowlais ironworks opened. Over the past 257 years, the company has changed shape and direction many times, but has always maintained its place at the forefront of engineering.

GKN – the initials come from the three founders, Messrs Guest, Keen and Nettlefold – has spread its wings geographically, too. As the balance of economic growth has shifted, from Britain in the 18th and early-19th centuries to America, Western Europe and Japan in the 20th and on to the emerging economic powers of Asia, Latin America and Central & Eastern Europe today, GKN has moved with it. Today, GKN is a truly global corporate citizen – with a remarkable history.  

It’s been 20 years now since GKN decided to open one of its Driveline division’s plants in Poland. In the beginning GKN operated from rented buildings, but the company soon started looking for a permanent home as the automotive market grew. Three years later –  on 13 July 1999 – GKN’s first permanent Polish plant was opened in Oleśnica. That marked the beginning of a story of continuous improvement.

Since that day, the facility’s production area has been enlarged several times. In 2002 the production area was extended for the first time, followed by the opening of a new forging plant in 2005. In 2008 a logistics centre and tool room were opened and a new extension was added in 2013 along with a reorganisation of the production facilities. The most recent change is the opening in 2016 of a second GKN facility in Oleśnica. The new 14,280m² facility, with over 200 new production machines and a recruitment programme that is increasing the workforce by around 40% within four years will significantly expand GKN’s capabilities in this market.

Olesnica was also chosen as a location for advanced technology R&D, with outstanding potential in terms of engineers and scientists available from the excellent local universities. If all the plans are realised, the R&D team will grow from a small number of people today to around 50 in future years.  

GKN’s history in Poland is the result of the dedication of many great people – open minded and visionary leaders whose dreams and plans extended beyond regular expectations, people who supported us many times (with special thanks to the British Embassy in Poland and BPCC for sharing our passion) and last but not least – to GKN’s management who recognised Poland’s potential and decided to invest here.

GKN’s strength has always been based on the engagement of its employees. Without them, our dream could not come true. At GKN, employees don’t see their career paths limited by their current role and the company encourages workers to strive for promotion and self-improvement. Work experience, knowledge and commitment to the job are the three criteria that open doors for new opportunities.

GKN believes in the sense of the development of current employees; it also wants to train a new cadre of specialists. The company provides the possibility of internships for students from Wroclaw University of Technology. Often, they return after graduation and receive a permanent employment contract. This relationship is mutually profitable – GKN obtains employees trained for its needs and the university has places for internships and contact with business. GKN has also started to work with vocational school pupils. Vocational education is seen by manufacturing industry in Poland as being increasingly important in the future. In September 2015, the first class under GKN’s patronage started at the Technical School in Oleśnica. Its graduates will have the possibility of working at the Oleśnica plant and have priority in recruitment for production positions.

GKN for years was established as one of the world’s leading technology and engineering companies: a key supplier of components for everything from cars to F/A-18 fighter jets, and even the Space Shuttle. It employs 50,000 people in 30 countries and supplies the world’s leading automotive, aerospace and off-highway companies. Its rich and varied history has resulted in a modern company with a unique reputation for innovation and quality – GKN is the only non-Japanese company to be named Toyota’s best supplier three times.

From this year GKN is part of Melrose Industries. Over the centuries, GKN has welcomed change, not feared it. It has never been afraid to innovate. It has always been practical: it has always been a proud company, but the pride has always been tempered by an immense realism. That is why it is still here. That is why GKN occupies a unique place in mankind’s industrial history.

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