NB Preword: Interview with the founder of Selena Group Krzysztof Domaretsky turned out to be not quite ordinary. Before the meeting, we warned him that we will not ask about the market, because National Business is studying a man inside a business and business inside a man.
What allowed our hero to expand the company to such a scale in a relatively short time? The figures speak for themselves. Today, Selena Group comprises 30 companies. The holding has 17 factories and operates on the territory of more than 70 countries around the World.
DK: — First question will be: why did you decide to do business back then, in the 90s? What goals did you set yourself? What did you feel?
KD: — In the second half of the 1980s, it was already clear in the former Soviet bloc that the Communist system did not work, that the system lost, especially from an economic point of view. Despite the fact that the ideas were good. I worked at the university as an assistant to the chair of Constitutional law and legislation, was an assistant teacher, taught students. And I earned $ 23 a month. And I wanted to establish a family. I loved my work, but at that time most of the young assistants and candidates (many of us worked on Ph.D. theses) did not have such an opportunity in Poland. On the one hand, we were the young intellectual elite of our people, on the other hand, the system did not allocate enough money to be able to have a family, work normally and so on. At that time, a new system was opening, we still did not even know what it was called.
And this new system of free economic activity opened much more opportunities.
I already traveled a lot around the world, I have been to India, Singapore, Western Europe, I saw differences. I was invited by colleagues from the Polytechnic Institute, they said: “You are a lawyer, and we are engineers, we proposed to create a company, a computer firm”. Then, in 1987 we launched it. And there I earned in a month more than I did in the university for a year. This was a very simple reason why many people, like me, switched from normal work to work in business. That’s the beginning.
DK: — Did you establish a family after you started to earn enough money or did you live without your family for some time?
KD: — No, it was gradual. You know, the last 30 years young people are not in a hurry to create a family, they quickly want to do something. I went this way. Firstly I created a business.
DK: — Having passed a long way, having gained a lot of experience, what would you say to yourself if you were young if this were possible? What mistakes can be avoided? What would you advise yourself?
KD: — It’s difficult for me to talk about mistakes, because I was lucky. I created a firm, the base of which is the average European country, not the largest. Our company is currently operating in 70 world markets, and I can not say about the mistakes that were, but I can say how to avoid mistakes. There are two main principles to avoid mistakes. The first — always ask your subordinates, the manufacturer and the trading company and you will not be mistaken.
I ask not the directors, but the usual basic employees of the firm — sales managers, product managers.
They tell me the truth about the company. And this is the first approach or the first method to avoid mistakes. The second is to always be ready to tell yourself that my approach to the given case, process, product or subordinate was wrong and I can treat it differently.
A manager who wants to have real success must always be able to admit to his subordinates that he was wrong. And it helps me so far.
When I opened the company, I had only four employees, now — 1700. When we started work, we were only a trading company, now we have 17 factories all over the world — in Europe, South America, Asia, now and in Kazakhstan. This approach helps everywhere.
DK: — Then the question is. The most difficult thing in our time is to find quality, effective, loyal people. How do you hire and how do you fire employees? What are the qualities you need to have, so that you accept a person and what are enough to dismiss him?
KD: — The issue of lack of people is a world problem. It does not concern only Kazakhstan, it does not concern only China or Europe, the USA. This is the problem of the whole world. Because the world economy is growing very fast. Just the number of people who want to achieve a good level in this growth, less than the opportunities for growth itself. We as humans could develop faster, but quite a few people are ready to supervise and be leaders in this growth. Therefore, we develop as we develop.
Now about professional qualities. You have to be a professional in your field. I, when I was creating the first factories, I knew that we as a trading company in production do not understand anything at all. Trade managers do not always understand production, this is a big mistake. Therefore, in order to create a good enterprise, immediately hired qualified managers who have been manufacturing for more than 20 years in other industries. And they prompted how to create everything, they were in the lead.
Thus, the first — to look for managers who are professionals in this case. Secondly, what kind of people are they? Are they honest, how do they relate to others?
Such basic qualities that characterize us all, not only managers. If these two qualities overlap — professionalism and a good approach to people — then in most cases everything works.
DK: — How do you lay off people? How difficult is it for you?
KD: — I do not like to do this, but it happens that I have to. If the employee does not work as promised, then sooner or later we have problems. I need to monitor the manager how he performs his tasks and whether he has the appropriate qualities, as well as for those on whom his bad work affects. Hence, he is either professionally weak, or he has a bad relationship with people, despite the fact that he is a good specialist. And this is the basis for the person to fire. But this in a pinch. First of all, he needs to give a chance and say: «You must correct this, this and this.»
DK: — When you were building your first plants, you probably planned how it would look in 10-15 years. Did you succeed in realizing what you intended?
KD: — The world is developing so quickly that I do not know of any manager who would have planned for 15 years ahead. And I can say that I never planned for such a period. Because in 15 years the world will be completely different. And 15 years ago, in the early 2000s, everything was different. I plan for five years, a maximum of seven. You ask about our first plants. We planned only three plants for the beginning — one for installation foam, the second for the production of sealants and the third for the production of adhesives. But our growth was much faster than any of our plans. And the plants were small compared to how everything grew. Therefore, we need other plants, and they were already bigger.
DK: — Why did this happen? Probably you have been analyzed why the growth was faster than the plan.
KD: — In my opinion, no one in the world except China, neither in Europe, nor in Asia, nor in Russia, nor in South America and especially in Africa, expected the economic growth that has been going on in the last 20 years. And we, too, were in a group of people who assumed that there would be growth, but did not think that it would be so great. We did not expect that within 25 years after the collapse of communism, Poland would become a normal, fully developed European country where the economy works well, where people sell goods from all over the world, and we trade with the whole world. And we are a strong member of the European Union. People live much better than they lived 10-15-20 years ago. We did not expect this. This growth exceeded everything that we imagined. As for Selena, apart from growth in Poland, we entered international markets, especially in young markets such as Turkey, Russia, South Korea, Central Europe, Brazil. All these markets are growing very quickly. Some faster than even in Poland. And if we sum up the growth of Poland and all these markets, this growth outruns everything we planned.
DK: — My great-grandmother, her name was Sophia Wojciechovna, was Polish. She worked very hard all her life and lived up to 90 years. This is the only person from Poland with whom I have spoken before you. And now the question is: do you have time to communicate with family, friends? Do you have a personal time or for you work is all?
KD: — I have enough time. As for the family, my wife and I have two sons. One son is 25, the second is 21. They take up a lot of my time. I try to teach them something about international development, explain business in different countries, people, other culture, politics, approaches. They are present in my work, even if they do not travel with me around the world. Secondly, as I said, I worked at the university. One of the qualities of people who worked at the university — they like to read books. And I still love to read. Particularly difficult books, because I studied philosophy. Until now, usually on Sunday, because then another speed, I read philosophical books. And I even support some publishers in the publication of philosophical books. For example, last week I was sent a book «Apology of Socrates», as a gift for helping me publish it. More than half the Sunday I devoted to this book, although I read it, in my opinion, for the third or fourth time in my life. But since the author of the book Plato, reading always brings new ideas and this does not change. So, I read, I ride a bicycle, I live near the mountains. I have time.
DK: — You are a happy man! You are talking about philosophy and Plato. Probably you have heard or read the book «The Black Swan» by Nassim Taleb. In this book that he criticizes Plato for too much systematization. Do you agree with anything from this book?
KD: — It is necessary to consider one thing. From the very beginning of mankind man tried to understand nature, understand the environment, then to understand the galaxy and more — the whole world. Systematization is the main tool to understand this. Man is not the one who made this world, but because the world is not created by him, he does not know how it is done. For example, you did not make the iPhone 7, but you might be interested in how it was done. It is not simple. And to understand how the whole world is made is even more difficult. Therefore, a person introduced something like systematization. Systematization is a tool that helps people understand what the world is.
And from this point of view, Plato and Aristotle did a lot of good, so that after 24 centuries Nassim Taleb could write books.
He simply uses part of the achievements of science, in order for many managers, politicians, ordinary people to show these complex laws and rules in ways that they would understand. The value of the book is that it shows what science already knew a long time ago, but maybe it was not so well transmitted to ordinary people.
DK: — So he is a popularizer of science?
KD: — Yes, yes! It must be remembered that the issue of the case was developed by philosophy in the third century before Christ.
DK: — I readily believe that the whole history of mankind was interested in the question — what will happen tomorrow? I had a friend, I always asked him where we will go tomorrow. He replied: «Stop asking me, because I do not know what will happen in five minutes.» We were then 18 years old. How much he is wise, I realized many years later. I have such a question — how systematic is Selena? Are there areas that still need improvement?
KD: — First of all, we have a lot of work on systematization, and we will never get it, because the world is changing daily. Therefore, no company can be completely systematized, even railways. We are still very far from systematization. Secondly, people also change. Third, competitors change. Fourth, technology is changing. Therefore, speaking of the future, there really is no need to ask the question «what will happen in five years?», Because we do not know the future. But the future must be created. Do, take some ideas, make some decisions about the needs of people, about products, about goods, services that are not yet available.
It is necessary to think, whether it will be useful for people. Will this be of value to them. If so, you should do it.
Because if we, for example, have released the product «Tytan 60 seconds» this year and everywhere in the world they are very interested in the customers, then this morning I am here in Astana and I am looking at different markets, and everywhere there is interest — such a natural growth . But to introduce this product this year, we started developing it seven years ago. That is, in this way we have been preparing the future for seven years. In our laboratories in Poland, Spain or China, we are developing products of the future today. Because some of the products will be implemented for the customer after 2020. This method is a recipe for the future. Thanks to which people will reward us, saying: «Guys, you made a very good product! We all take it and ask even more! «.
DK: — Very interesting. Doing the future. At us in National Business, and we exist since 2003, there is a slogan «To do the present». This slogan has two meanings. The first is to do the present, that is, the present day, and the second — to make a real product, quality. And with this we live. This has not allowed us to enter the markets of many, many countries — yet. But today we will think about what it is like to make the future. Another question, if you can. I would like you to tell a case from life, which made the strongest impression on you.
KD: — There have been many such cases. What always impresses me is my colleagues and workers from around the world who understand their clients very well, but not as clients, but as partners and people. And they try to help them both in business and in life. Coming to some country, for example, to Turkey or Romania, or a month ago I was in Ukraine, or here in Kazakhstan — I see that these people have very good relations with each other. They are not only business partners, but also real friends who, on the basis of what the universe is doing for them, have created some connections that improve their life together. And this will never cease to impress me.
DK: — Maybe this is the meaning of what you are doing?
KD: — Probably, yes. Because even today we were in several markets and at a construction site, and I saw how people work well together. And I was very happy about that.