21(116) 2015
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Just how good are Polish executives?

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Michael Dembinski talks to Prof. Jan Nowak of IBD Business School about demand and supply for executive talent on the Polish labour market.

A trend that’s being talked about by head-hunters and HR managers alike is the internationalisation of management. Polish managers today are increasingly sought after by global corporations to work outside Poland, while at the same time very few global corporations (the French being a notable exception) here in Poland today are run by expats. Does this show that Polish management is coming of age?

Prof. Nowak is keen to stress the supply side of the equation. “There is a shortage of talented managers – capable managers; all companies complain about this and surveys show the same – there is a shortage of qualified managers who can manage teams rather than hierarchies. Yes, internationalisation of Polish management is clearly happening – expats have been replaced by local Polish managers – with, indeed, the exception of the French. But the Anglo-Saxon world’s subsidiaries are run by Poles – and those corporations are seeking and training local managers. Expat packages run to quarter, even half a million dollars a year, if you include accommodation, children’s school fees, family health insurance etc. This is several times higher than cost of the best Polish managers. The localisation of management in Poland has largely happened. This was, as it were, a first stage in their internationalisation”

“Global corporations are seeking Polish managerial talent for management roles outside Poland – even Asian firms such as Samsung for instance. Generally, they will hire all nationalities and rotate them between countries. Rotation has certain advantages – sharing experiences from other countries – learning different ways of doing business, finding best practices that can be elevated to global level. If the Polish managers prove themselves at home, they become sought after and tend to be appointed either to roles at the global HQ or running regional centres – typically taking on responsibilities for the whole of the CEE region – then moving up to head EMEA. But very few Poles would run companies globally – brand managers, CFOs, heads of HR etc.”

So is the second stage of the internationalisation of Polish management in its infancy? “Is Polish management coming of age? – I think this has just begun. I think there will be more and more Polish managers occupying top positions of global corporations.

“It’s interesting to compare Poland and Spain – a good benchmark, a country of comparable size. There are many more Spanish managers globally within the big corporations. This is the result of the barriers that Polish managers face when they aspire to such positions. Their leadership style has been shaped by running businesses in Poland over here over the past 20 years – an autocratic, forceful, operational management style. Polish managers seeking to develop their talents so that they can go global need to learn team-building across cultural barriers. They’ll be working with all sorts of nationalities, people with different cultural traits.”

The answer’s clearly in training. But what sort of training – in-house courses? “Executive MBAs at renowned business schools with students composed of many nationalities provide a learning environment conducive to learning new ways of doing things. We tend to get bogged down in national silos – there’s one way of doing things – confrontation with other ways and other styles is key. Differences in perspectives and cultural backgrounds are also conducive to developing the requisite abilities of global managers. Customised courses don’t allow for cross-fertilisation. One graduate told me ‘I made sure my classmates came from all other sectors except the financial sector’. Different sectors, different challenges – but the nature of the problem would be similar, and a fresh idea for the solution might come from a different sector or industry.”

Global corporations tend to ‘get it’. But there’s one group that needs to learn that it needs to learn – Polish entrepreneurs, the owner-managers that have successfully built up their businesses over the past quarter century. “As a group, they tend not to accept market research, external consultancy and advice. The challenge they face is – how to grow an entrepreneurial business into a more formalised business, a corporation. Touching everything with their own hands – managing their firm as though it were an agricultural estate – a folwark – works well up to a point. Once you start competing with the big boys, that authoritarian, micro-management style no longer cuts it.” A succession wave is looming in Poland. Some 70% of family-owned firms are facing succession now or in next few years. My hope is that the new generation will be more open to professionalisation of management. Many are currently acquiring MBAs.”

Entrepreneurs selling their businesses often encounter a shock when it comes to valuation. Not having best practice in place in areas such as risk management, HR practice, compliance etc, means the buyer can offer a significantly lower price for the business than if it were managed according to globally-recognised principles. Many Polish executives are still 'seat-of -the-pants' managers – gut instinct has guided them well so far in their career. How would an executive MBA sharpen their competitive edge?

“Best practice, different perspectives and an ability to have a helicopter view. The business leader should be a general manager – not someone who specialises in IT or accounting – able to understand all the areas of business – and able to shape the expectations of their subordinates responsible for those areas. Not only should the business leader have a well-rounded view of business, but they should be comfortable in foreign markets. Exporting, then setting up a foreign sales office, then a subsidiary – dealing with distributors and partners from different countries – in different languages. Here in Poland, although managers tend to have good English, true multilingualism is lacking. Scandinavian or Dutch managers are frequently fluent in three or four languages.

Executive MBA vs. 'ordinary vanilla' MBA - what are the key differences? Is it still possible to land a C-suite job in Poland without an internationally recognised EMBA degree?

“There are several differences. The student profile for one. EMBA students are more mature, have more work experience, five, eight years plus. They are more carefully selected – not only to benefit from the programme but to contribute towards it. They must have something to share. Students remain on the job while studying. It’s for working professionals. Out of every 100 students, only one is between jobs. Active managers are selected. They must be able to show potential to advance career as a result of gaining the EMBA. And there’s the format of the course itself – class meetings are either second weekend zaoczne style – or else, as we can see increasingly, programmes are offered on a modular basis. Once in six weeks, even once in three months – but then for two weeks in one place. Then there is continuing communication with professors and colleagues online. These modular courses are quite rare in Poland. We have one week-long module every two months. The remaining seven weeks are spent at work, augmented by online learning, supervised by the module professor, with a tutor helping to completing assignments between residential parts.”

“EMBA students get support from their organisations – typically 70% of fees in the US are sponsored by companies, while in the UK it’s usually around 50%. Companies support their students with the shared tuition fee, release time coming out of annual leave during residential sessions. And for employers, the fact that students work on real, live problems that the companies have in real time is an added benefit. These business problems become the basis of a consultancy dissertation for the student’s company. Our partner business school in the UK, Ashridge, has a repository of cases and company records – thousands and thousands – gathered from students over the decades – anonymised data – that can be beneficial for the organisation.”

“EMBA graduates gain new perspectives. They benefit more from networking – the high calibre of the students means they have more to offer one another. Teaching methods are different. Case studies are used, many of the business problems are considered in reference to sectors or companies represented by students – problems faced in everyday work. Facilities tend to be better in EMBA programmes too – top schools have boardrooms rather than classrooms. But then tuition fees are higher – which shows a higher level of commitment than regular MBAs. Commitment has to be there – a certain grade is needed to be achieved if the student is to be reimbursed by the employer. This means there are usually golden handcuffs in place – the signing of a lojalka – the student agrees to remain at least two to three years with company that has subsidised the cost of the MBA. In case of departure, the students have to return an agreed proportion of the costs. In practice, this is a deterrent, not really pursued. But there are cases where a student does not ask their employer for support because of this!”

Why is the Ashridge connection important? How do links with renowned EMBA courses abroad help Polish business schools? Does such a link raise the profile of the course? If so, how?

“Brand recognition – more so in UK than Poland. Ashridge has not been active in this region, more so in Germany or Russia. Across CEE, the brand-name ‘Ashridge’ is not as well-known as INSEAD or IMD. This will change. Globally though, brand recognition is high – in the area of executive education, it is in the Top 20. And after the recent merger with Hult International Business School in the UK, Ashridge is now even stronger. Ashridge is not a typical business school. It was not established as a spin-off from a university, but evolved from a management training centre, gradually adding Masters and Doctoral level courses to its short-term courses, as well as consulting and business research. The IBD business school here in Poland has a similar, though shorter, history. Ashridge was set up in the 1950s, IBD in the early ‘90s. There are layers of bureaucracy at universities. Independent schools are more agile, adjusting quickly to market needs. By offering short training courses and consulting, independent schools can stay in touch with business on a daily basis. We have 13,000 graduates from our short courses every year. We know what they really need, we can assess their development requirements.”

The BPCC and IBD are offering a scholarship to three BPCC members. What are the conditions of this scholarship?

We are offering up to three scholarships for each cohort – eventually two cohorts a year. To award three scholarships, there have to be nine qualified, admissible candidates. One scholarship per three admissible candidates – a reduction in the tuition fee of over one-fifth of the usual price. We will have a joint committee that will set criteria for selection of candidates, and will jointly decide which candidates will be awarded the scholarship. We’ll judge which candidate has the greater potential for career acceleration and the best prospects for achieving high managerial positions. We intend to create leaders. We’re looking for evidence of progress – not someone stuck in one position for 20 years. Other set of criteria – CGPA – cumulative grade point average will be looked at as well. Academic attainment. A Masters’ will be preferred to a Bachelor’s degree. We will accept candidates with a bachelor’s degree – but lengthier, stronger work experience is needed and prospects of career development need to be demonstrated. A GMAT will be applicable from those candidates without five full years of work experience. This is a compensatory mechanism for those with shorter experience, but who are nevertheless capable.

If you are interested in applying for a BPCC/IBD scholarship for an executive MBA course, please submit your application to the IBD Executive MBA Programme (form available on www.ibd.pl/executive-mba), alongside your cover letter applying for a scholarship.

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