“Poland is there and can help you save money.”
“As long as the meltdown continues in Europe and in the United States, we will continue to grow in the service sector by 20 percent every year. As we have – 20 percent every year, for the last four years.”
Jacek Levernes is the vice-president of Global Business Services (GBS) in Europe, Middle East and Africa, and a member of Hewlett-Packard’s Executive Management Board for the region. He is also the co-founder and president of the Association of Business Service Leaders (ABSL) in Poland – an organization representing 70.000 jobs and investors like IBM, Google, McKinsey, Infosys, Sony, Shell, Thomson Reuters, UBS, Credit Suisse, Citi, Bertelsmann, Cap Gemini, Carlsberg, and Arcelor Mittal.
He shared with us his very own theory of why Poland was not only a stronghold of healthy economic growth in the face of a global meltdown, but why it has also become one of the best destinations in Europe to outsource business operations.
What can you tell entrepreneurs in the United States and other places about Poland’s services and BPO capabilities… something they don’t know?
What people don’t tend to realize is that you can do European and global careers in Poland today. What we have, say, in some of these service centers, be that R&D, business process outsourcing, knowledge process outsourcing, project management, a lot of what we talked about with those companies; most jobs have a European or global angle to them. Because those [Polish business] centers are not there to service Poland. They’re there to service Europe. And as they grow and become more advanced and complex, you start placing more global jobs there.
I myself grew up in Norway and Spain, studied in the United States, worked in Belgium, Switzerland, then I went back [to Poland] and what I see is better, or at least the same career opportunities for myself than in many countries, which you might not have expected. I think that’s an important message to get out– have a look at what European or global career you can have in Poland – in Katowice, in Krakow, in Wroclaw, Lodz, Gdansk today, because 10 years ago it would have only been possible in Frankfurt, London or New York.
What are the advantages of outsourcing business process and IT operations to Poland, looking from a standpoint of an international entrepreneur like yourself?
What’s important to remember is that Poland has made it to the first place in Europe, employing soon-to-be 100,000 people, by the end of this year, [in the business services sector]. This is based on our research. That is significant, because only seven or eight years ago there was basically nobody working in this sector in Poland, and now business services is the fastest growing sector in the country. Very dynamic, especially for young people– the average age of employees in the centers that we have is 29, speaking on average 2.4 languages. An estimated 65 percent of these employees are women and 93 percent of all have a Master’s degree.
There are many attractive cities, many of these [business services] centers are in Krakow, there are other ones in Wroclaw, Lodz, Gdansk, Katowice and the Silesia region, as well as even in Szczecin and some other cities. Different attractiveness, different regions. I think what’s particularly attractive [for foreign investors] in the Silesia region are strong German language skills, on top of English skills. I think that’s where Silesia comes as strong, as well as when you look at engineering. This is a place where you can go to look for engineers.
There are so many theories as to why Polish GDP continued growing following the 2008 meltdown, especially as other EU countries were falling into recession. What’s your theory? Why is Polish economy still growing?
First, I think there were structural changes that happened in the 1990s which perhaps were not very popular, historically, but a lot of the changes that were done by, for example, Leszek Balcerowicz, [a Polish economist, the former chairman of the National Bank of Poland and Deputy Prime Minister in Tadeusz Mazowiecki’s government], who was leading Poland and the economic changes that were very tough in the 90s, provided some of the fundaments that made the economy grow strong and solidly in the years after, so basically over the last five to 10 years.
Point two- Poland is benefiting from being a member of the European Union, so because of the Cohesion Fund. How do we create more balance inside the European Union? There’s a lot of funds that are going to develop infrastructure and build the country back towards the EU standards. For example, if you think about Spain- which is now in some trouble – but think of Spain between 1985 and 1995. The country had really changed. There were many funds that went into building up the country. That’s definitely a factor.
The third point is a really highly-skilled labor force, both in production as well as services. The main reasons for all the foreign investment being driven [into Poland] are, I think, because of the cost-effectiveness, because investors were happy and want to come back and invest more, and, thirdly, because of the hard times and recession times in Europe and in the United States. Companies are looking for savings; that means they are looking for additional investments on how to save money. Poland is there and can help you save money. On top of that, because of the global issues, zloty, the Polish currency, has become weaker– which, to a foreign investor who thinks of investing in dollar- and euro-terms, means that it is actually cheaper.
That was exactly my next question.
Exactly. So these ‘bad times’ are actually creating more opportunities. My prediction last week (…) was that as long as the meltdown continues in Europe and in the United States, we will continue to grow in the service sector by 20 percent every year. As we have – 20 percent every year, for the last four years.