The fifth edition of “European Executive Forum”, an international congress on leadership, management, and innovation, taking place under the honorary patronage of Jarosław Gowin and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, is now over.

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The fifth edition of “European Executive Forum”, an international congress on leadership, management, and innovation, taking place under the honorary patronage of Jarosław Gowin and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, is now over. The event took place on April 26 and 27 at the Sheraton Warsaw Hotel under the motto of “Sustainable Leadership”. Six discussion panels featured 61 outstanding experts and thinkers from Poland and abroad: representatives of the most important Polish companies and renowned public institutions, foreign guests, and experts on leadership and management.   Once again the prestigious “European Leadership Awards” were granted to honor the best enterprises, managers, and business leaders characterized by their exceptional involvement in the economic development of the Poland and adherence to the rules of business ethics.

Day 1

The challenge of populism

The first day of the conference was opened by a speech of prof. Guy Standing – professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, who discussed “The corruption of capitalism” and referred, among others, to the modern notion of capitalism and the associated risks. Professor Standing demonstrated that during the last decades the society became divided into classes, from the oligarchs, supported by the political class, to the proletariat and, finally, the precariat, being the most recent social group. The precariat, as he said, is not the poorest group, but it is characterized by an uncertain life situation. The fact that the groups holding power turn away from its problems causes gigantic socio-political changes and is creating a political monster.

European disintegration and its causes

The first speech raised a lot of emotions, which were stirred up by professor Timothy Garton Ash – a writer and professor of European Studies at Oxford University, well-known also in Poland. In his speech he touched upon the issues of European disintegration and its historical determinants.  The majority of reasons he provided converged to the sudden turn of Europe towards populism. In order to understand Brexit, the growing number of followers of Le Pen or Trump, one needs to understand the reasons for which these ideas become popular – the growing fear of the changing world of work. But, as Garton Ash said, to se ne vrati – secure and stable work “for everybody” will never return. And it is not caused by the “bloody foreigners”, as populists often claim, but by the progressing globalization and drastic changes caused by the digital revolution. What can we do with the progress of nationalist narration? – asked the professor. This is a task for politicians – not for those in Brussels, but at the level of individual member states, as well as for journalists, who should present and publicize facts. We will have to reinvent the world of work.

During the first discussion panel entitled: “Understanding the world – Business in a Europe of uncertainty”, moderated by Marek Tejchman, deputy editor-in-chief of Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, the speakers debated on the future of our model of capitalism and the position of Europe in relation to the dynamic economies of Asia and America.

Companies move from Asia to European markets, which currently guarantee better quality and higher competences. According to Dorota Hryniewiecka-Firlej (Pfizer Polska), Europe is beginning to create a better investment environment. Piotr Czarnecki (Raiffeisen Bank Polska) pointed to the necessity of actively changing the functioning business paradigm.  The banking sector is at the verge of uncertainty caused by economic problems. Professor Guy Standing called digitization the first technological revolution which paradoxically generates demand for new jobs. What needs a revolution is the method of recording employment statistics. Referring to the opinion of Dorota Hryniewiecka-Firlej, he stated that moving production from Asia to Europe requires significant expenditures on the part of governments, which prevents these means from being allocated elsewhere.  Pedro Videla from the IESE Business School talked about the business community, whose main task should be to make sure that nobody is left behind in the race for innovation and technology. He emphasized the problem of the aging society, which causes entrepreneurs to spend vast amounts of money to avoid losing the most valuable employees.

So how should the economy function if the society does not trust experts? Timothy Garton Ash replied that it needs to be clear what decisions are made, by whom, and at what level. Referring to the disputes going on in the European Union, he claimed that the member states should strive for integration and cooperation in preventing future economic upheavals.

The winners and losers of technological revolution

During the second part of the congress, Pedro Videla (IESE Business School) discussed the differentiation of the level of industrialization, the process of globalization, and technological progress. Videla also posited that the global distribution of wealth is increasing, which causes the deepening of inequality. His presentation ended in a statement that we need reforms, more flexibility, competitiveness, and a common fiscal framework to prevent another economic crisis.

Consumers’ world after digital transformation

The next panel started with a presentation by Bożena Leśniewska, Vice President of the Management Board for the Business Market, Orange Polska, concerning digital transformation. The things that were recently considered science fiction are now reality, she said. Digital transformation puts humans and their needs at the very center. Bożena Leśniewska talked about the new possibilities associated with the development of the Internet of Things and the newest projects of Orange, going far beyond telecommunication. These include, among others, the creation of a climatic platform, designed to prevent climatic disasters, or an electronic system for charging highway fees, which will help put an end to troublesome cash payments at gates.

Panel 2. Bridge to the future…A drawbridge?

The debate entitled Innovation – Bridge to the future”, moderated by Agaton Koziński, journalist of “Polska The Times”, revolved around the most important challenges that innovative companies have to face and the conditions which are key for the success of breakthrough enterprises.

Prof. Piotr Płoszajski (Warsaw School of Economics) compared innovations to a drawbridge which constantly needs to be built and requires diversity and an environment conductive to the development of technology. Bravery, diversity, curiosity, and the basic question “What if?” should be at the basis of innovation. He was accompanied by Michał Skowronek (MasterCard Polska), who talked about the creation of a certain type of culture in companies and perceiving innovations not only as products, but also as systems facilitating work in companies. Maciej Markowski (Cushman&Wakefield) pointed to the greatest innovation, i.e. the change of organizational culture in companies which used to be hierarchical, stiff, and control-oriented. Flexibility and openness are now more important, and innovations are created by the exchange of knowledge. Bożena Leśniewska (Orange Polska), when asked how to evolve without losing old advantages, said that most companies on the market which are or will be successful and become leaders need to understand that during the fourth revolution the customer is key. Technologies do not define changes on their own, but show us how to implement these changes and new business models, while the growing expectations of customers present companies with new challenges and requirements, she said.  Rafał Gołębiewski (Elavon) demonstrated that there are two types of innovators. Innovators, who want to implement innovations and operate actively, and speculators, who have ideas but do not try to implement them. Magdalena Dziewguć (Google Cloud) asked the participants of the conference to assess their own companies and organizations by drawing attention to four dimensions: innovation culture, willingness to take risk, testing ideas, and working with start-ups. She also emphasized that entrepreneurs do not have to be talked into innovation because it is sufficiently attractive in itself.

Hidden champions – the vanguard of Globalia

The third panel was opened by a speech of Hermann Simon – expert on marketing and sales, considered to be the most influential thinker of the German linguistic area. His presentation concerned the notion of Globalia – the problems associated with progressing globalization and its influence on national economies. Globalia, he said, will be a very strong catalyst for development. He emphasized that countries do not export – it is a misconception – companies do, the strongest ones. The features of hidden champions should include, according to the professor, growth and leadership goals, focus on pricing, marketing, and sales, as well as global presence.

Panel 3. Entrepreneurial organizations or how to get through with a new idea.

The third and last panel of the first day was devoted to the issue of entrepreneurial organizations, opportunities for start-ups on the market, and the competitiveness of companies. The panel was moderated by Krzysztof Obłój, professor at the Kozminski University and University of Warsaw.

 Dr. Krzysztof Mazur (Jagiellonian Club) started with a strong statement that globalization generates social tensions and blocks innovation. Global champions control the global market, while capital is concentrated on just a few markets. Chairman of the supervisory board of Auchan Poland, Russia, and Ukraine, Francois Colombie (Auchan Polska), opposed to the opinion of Krzysztof Mazur and emphasized that globalization results in many benefits for new companies and its should not be considered in the context of the monopoly of global leaders and the long odds of beginners. Rector of Kozminski University, professor Witold Bielecki, talked about the necessity of searching for new methods of strategic company management which would respond to the dynamic changes taking place on the market.  He proposed the creation of mini globalism as an alternative and compromise between globalization and antiglobalization.

During the discussion, President of the Management Board of HB Reavis, Stanislav Frnka, mentioned start-ups which need to be steadfast on their way to success, while Hermann Simon (Simon-Kucher & Partners) posited that despite quickly changing trends, technological progress, and digitization most markets are still niche markets, which are not in the area of interest of international players. He also proposed a pessimistic hypothesis concerning human capital in the era of digitization, where the market will no longer be able to offer adequate employment for individuals with insufficient education. “Resources at universities are improperly allocated”, the professor said.


The evening culminated in the second edition of a formal awards gala honoring the best companies, outstanding managers, and business leaders who implement the highest standards of leadership.

The ceremony was officially opened by one of the special guests of the Forum, Eamon Gilmore, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland, who emphasized the key role of good leaders referring to the crisis in Ireland and the ways in which is was finally overcome. The awards were received by leaders who exhibit exceptional involvement in the economic development of the country, uphold ethical standards in business, and pay special attention to the well-being of the society. “A manager who begins the process of restructuring has two options: success or excuses”, said one of the award winners, Dariusz Krawczyk, President of the Management Board of Polnord S.A, when receiving his award in the Visionary CEO category.

Laureates of “European Leadership Awards”

Top Industry Leader – Elavon Financial Services
Innovation Leader – Comarch S.A.
Innovation Leader – Tomasz Czechowicz – Managing Partner, President of the Management Board, Chief Investment Officer, MCI Capital S.A.
Visionary CEO – Dariusz Krawczyk – President of the Management Board of Polnord S.A.
Global Success Leader – Wielton S.A.
Visionary Entrepreneur – Mikołaj Placek – President of the Management Board of Grupa Oknoplast
Personality of the Year – dr. n. med. Dorota Hryniewiecka-Firlej – President of the Management Board of INFARMA

Day 2

Always do the right thing and never walk alone

The second day began with a speech of Eamon Gilmore, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland. He presented his perspective of a political leader with over 20 years of experience. He referred to the crisis in Ireland and the actions of the Labor Party, negotiations with the banking sector and implementation of improvements is such a way as to reduce their impact on the poorest citizens. He also mentioned the fight with the bad reputation of the country by means of international aid and promotion of national values around the world. Ireland managed to overcome the crisis, even though it still needs to face many problems, just like the rest of Europe. Globalization, populism, and the reduction of political messages to a single tweet are some of the challenges that politicians have to face. The three lessons that we need to learn from these difficult situations are: always face your problems. “Always do the right thing and never walk alone” – because modern Europe needs an active, conscious, and global notion of citizenship, the professor concluded.

Panel 1. Europe and the rest of the world

The first panel, moderated by Andrew Wrobel, editor-in-chief of Emergin Europe, was devoted to European companies entering the global arena.  Adam Krzanowski, president of Grupa Nowy Styl, talked about his experiences and the development of his company, which grew to become a large exporter. He emphasized that he is in favor of globalization, but not protectionism, and that appropriate allocation of funding as well as careful selection and location of industries is at the basis of organizational growth. Government support is not necessary. In order to achieve success one has to check on which foreign markets it is possible to be successful before entering them. Prof. Zbigniew Dworzecki (Warsaw School of Economics) talked about the necessity of understanding the specifics of the market, because this knowledge is currently relatively low. First he said that we need to think about expanding to neighboring countries, e.g. operate on the EU market. Knowledge about the functioning of economies from different regions of the world is relatively low, so entrepreneurs need to deepen their knowledge and experience and then expand to foreign markets. Eamon Gilmore talked about the reasons why Eastern Europe has not been attractive for the West and which factors caused this perception to change: economic growth, increased purchasing power, welfare, and higher availability.  Poland is becoming a more serious player on the international arena, he said, and Europe should unite because multiple countries without a single market have no chance for development. It will be much less difficult and expensive to establish new economic report in cooperation with all the other European countries. Rafał Szczap (Xerox Polska) pointed out the two basic differences between European and American companies: ability to conduct preliminary research and access to funds enabling their further implementation. He also stated that it will be difficult for European entrepreneurs to catch up to the Americans in these areas. He emphasized that, against the European background, the Polish regional ability to take risks is below the expected average. Polish entrepreneurs experience a problem which is mental in nature, as they do not pay sufficient attention to the development of their staff and its resources.

Panel 2. Technology vs. people

After a lunch break the guests had an opportunity to listen to an interesting multimedia presentation given by Josepha Pistrui, professor of management at IE Business School, referring to the notion of fear in business and the methods of overcoming it and dealing with risk. He asked about our chances in a clash with technology and stated that it is crucial to initiate a debate concerning new business models for a technological revolution and the associated mental barriers. Leaders, as he said, should take future events into account and posses the ability to predict.

Panel 2. Partnership as a path to development

The next part of the conference was opened by a very interesting speech. Panel II “New business models in the age of technological revolution” was moderated by Tomasz Machała, Vice President for Publishing at Wirtualna Polska. Michał Kleiber, former President of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Vice President of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, stated that we diverge from global standards in a terrible way – he believed the causes to be the inability to work in a group and lack of the so-called culture of success and its publicization. He emphasized the necessity of helping employees improve their skills with good publicization strategies. In a debate on innovation, Maciej Nuckowski (Xerox) referred to the experience of Xerox. He emphasized how important it is for an innovation to mature before it can change the world in a significant way. Joseph Pistrui hypothesized that we use services to distinguish our products. Companies, he said, use different channels to reach customers, but in the end it is the customer who chooses these channels and the way they use products and services, so this is not something that the companies can decide on. The way in which we consume products and use services is also important. Tomasz Czechowicz (MCI Capital S.A.) talked about the need to develop digitization and speed, giving examples such as Zalando. At the end he stated that digitization should not be confused with innovation. The panel ended on an optimistic note – the panelists agreed that we should do our thing and not worry about politics; if we do not have sufficient knowledge in an area we are interested in, we can cooperate with a partner who does.

Panel 3. Cabeza, corazon, cojones. A good leader – what does it mean?

The guests had the opportunity to listen to a panel moderated by prof. Andrzej Koźmiński,Kozminski University). The panelists discussed issues related to company management in an open model. Władysław Grochowski (Arche) emphasized that good leaders have to choose their employees carefully. He, as he said himself, appoints his work to people he trusts, who are given sufficient freedom for creativity, which results in the development of the company. Andrzej Szumowski (Wyborowa Pernod Ricard) said that leaders should be chosen by their employees, not by a decision of the supervisory board or during a general meeting. A leader should be characterized by bravery, but not bravado, diligence, education, foresight, and audacity – he emphasized that the last feature is more important than all the others. Prof. Witold Orłowski (Vistula University) claimed that leadership cannot keep up with the present revolution and the ongoing changes. “If times and circumstances change, the form of leadership should change as well”, said the professor. Katarzyna Rudnicka (Vivenge) emphasized that when running her company she does her best to make work a pleasure for her colleagues, not an obligation. The main task of leaders and managers in a company is to maintain the involvement of their employees as well as relationships and contacts with each one of them.

Organizer: Executive Club Sp. z o.o.
Co-Organizer:  Cigno Consulting Sp. z o.o.

Honorary Patronage: Minister of Science and Higher Education

Main Partner: Pfizer Polska
Gold Partner: Xerox Polska

Partners: Grupa Arche, Auchan Poland, Audi, Cushman&Wakefield Poland, Elavon, EmiTel, Google Cloud, Kongsberg Automotive, MasterCard, Orange Polska, Polnord, PwC Poland, Raiffeisen Bank Poland, Vivenge

Gala Partners: Grupa GTC, Kinnarps Polska, Lyreco Polska, Polish Vodka Association, PIKA

Security Partner: Konsalnet Holding

Professional Partners: Vistula University, IESE Business School, Kozminski University, Warsaw School of Economics, Warsaw University of Technology Business School

Technical Partner: PRObrand

Media Patrons: Wirtualna Polska,, Rynek Inwestycji, Kariera w Finansach, TOK FM, Obserwator Finansowy, Law Business Quality, Magazyn Madame, PAP Biznes, Polish Market, Business & Prestige,, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, Gazeta Bankowa, Emerging Europe, Poland Today, Newseria, Warsaw Business Journal

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