SRC Winter Symposium Socio-Cultural Dimensions of the Changes in the Slavic-Eurasian World ( English / Japanese )

Management Culture and Executive Attitudes
Before and After the Economic Reform in Poland

Jan Kaja

Copyright (c) 1996 by the Slavic Research Center( English / Japanese ) All rights reserved.


2. Martha Kowalska

2. 1 Genealogy
Martha's grandparents on the father's side, Mieczyslaw, that is Stanislaw and Waleria emigrated to Germany in the 1920's and, then, in 1927, gave birth to Mieczyslaw. In the beginning of the 1930's they returned to the family farm near Kleczew, a small town in the then existing Konin Province. They expanded their farm using modest savings from Germany. Production from the farm hardly sufficed for their own needs. Waleria died in 1962. Then, Stanislaw converted from Catholicism to Jehovah's Witness and broke contacts with his son. He died in 1964 or 1965. Mieczyslaw was enrolled in elementary school beginning in September 1, 1939, however his education was interrupted by the outbreak of the 2nd World War. He was transported to a farm occupied by German settlers where he spent the whole war. After the war, he did not return home but went to Warsaw where he served in the Citizen Militia for two years. In 1947, he returned to his parents' farm and started to work as an apprentice in a bakeshop in Kleczew.

Martha's grandparents on the mother's (Martha's) side, Joef Siwak (1903-1992) and Joefa (1907-) come from Zlotko village (5 km from Kleczew). Both Joef and Joefa had seven siblings but Martha does not know anything about them. The mother of Martha, Lucja, was born in 1934 and had one sister, Teodozja, born in 1936. During the war, Joef and his family were transported to work in a mansion occupied by German settlers. There, Joefa, Lucja and Teodozja worked at the extraction and drying of peat and Joef was a handyman. After the war, Lucja and Teodozja graduated from a 7-year elementary school in Kleczew. Lucja remained at her parents' farm and Teodozja was sent to a secondary school in Bydgoszcz where she graduated, married and where she works as a bank clerk.

In 1956, Lucja married Mieczyslaw. They gave birth to Barbara (1957), Antoni (1963; he died shortly thereafter), and Martha (1964). In 1958, with financial assistance from Joef and Joefa, Mieczyslaw and Lucja purchased a small plot of land and a one-story house with a bakery in Bytom, Katowice province. After moving to Bytom, Mieczyslaw operated the bakery and Lucja sold bread for less than one year. As the result of flour shortages, Mieczyslaw closed his bakery in 1959 and started to work in state-owned bakeries operated by the Provincial Cooperative of Foodstuffs Producers, "Spolem." He worked in the company until his retirement in 1987. Martha was born in the house with the inoperative bakery in Bytom.

2. 2 Education: 1971 - 1988
From 1971 to 1979 Martha attended an 8-year elementary school. Following a graduation diploma contest in 1979, she was admitted to an economic high school in Bytom. These are Martha's words about the school: "It was a school in Bytom center. It had very high requirements. My mother was even suspected of bribing the manager because two of her daughters were admitted to the school (Martha's sister, Barbara, graduated from this school in 1968 - JK). But the truth is that both Barbara and I were good students back at the elementary school. That is why my sister easily passed the O-level examination and I did not have much problem either although the school was famous for its high level. (ノ) Teachers were very demanding and I believe that all wisdom I gained in my life I owe to that school. Then came the university studies." Martha told me that, at the high school, she liked accounting and economic analysis most. She obtained very good results. In the year of graduation she was selected as a participant of an economic knowledge contest organized in four neighboring provinces by the Economic Academy from Katowice. In the final round, Martha was fifth which was a guarantee of her admission to the academy if she was not admitted because of limited number of places. She did not have to use this privilege because she passed the O-level examination in 1983 very well.

Martha studied in Katowice for two years. She lived with her parents and commuted to the academy by train and street car. At that time, she developed health problems. After comprehensive tests, the doctors concluded that the only chance for her was to move out of Silesian region which was the most polluted part of Poland. In August 1985, her parents decided that Martha would settle in Bydgoszcz where they purchased a house in 1975. They were talked into such step by Martha's grandfather, Joef, who sold his farm in Zlotko and moved to a house with a garden in Bydgoszcz one year earlier. On September 13, 1985, Martha moved to an empty house located in the neighborhood of Joef and Joefa's house. She transferred to the third year of economic studies at the university in Bydgoszcz. Since that time, she studied and renovated her house which had no basic services. Martha invested all money received from her parents in the house and she had to earn her living. Once a month, she worked as a kitchen aid at weddings where her mother's sister was a chief. Martha said that she received a monthly average salary paid in Poland for three days of such work.

In her accounts of her studies, Martha spoke about learning and the renovation of the house. She said she did not participated in academic social life. During Martha's studies there were no social meetings or vacation tours with friends. Martha used her vacations fou renovation of the house. In her summary of that period she said: "But I had the satisfaction that I managed to renovate the house during my studies."

2. 3 First job: 01/03/1988 - 31/08/1988
Martha defended her thesis on March 15, 1988. However, anxious she would not find a job, she distributed her CV all economic schools in Bydgoszcz in January. From one of the schools she received a proposal for work as an accounting teacher. Thus, since March 1, Martha started her job following in the steps of her sister who was also an economics teacher in Bydgoszcz. Martha recalls her work from March to June 1988 as a very difficult time. She taught regular and working students. She started her work at 7:00 AM and finished at 7:00 PM. As she told me, she got up at 5:00 AM and came back home at 9:00 PM which was very exhausting. During holidays, Martha started to think about changing her job.
2. 4 Work in a foreign trade center: 01.09/1988 - 14/03/1989
In August 1988, a friend from studies talked Martha into working in a large foreign exchange center in Bydgoszcz. Martha started her work in that company on September 1, 1988, in the position of documentation clerk. She told me of four motives of her decision: uncertain employment in the school, easier and shorter way to work in the center of Bydgoszcz (6 bus stops within 15 minutes with no transfers); flexible work hours (from 7:30/8:30 AM to 3:30/4:30 PM); and acquaintance with her friend.

Martha considers the fact that she learned the whole formal procedure related to foreign transaction clearings as the only benefit from that work. She claimed she could remember everything perfectly up to date. She also said that after a short period of work, her responsibilities grew because just two persons remained in the files department. Two, including her friend, resigned very quickly. Martha told: "There was just too much work for the two of us. We did not even have time for lunch." However, this was not the main reason for her resignation. The key reason was a refusal to offer any career development opportunities.

At the moment of employment, the manager promised Martha that she would be promoted to a sales assistant if she proved herself in the clerical position. In the morning on March 14, 1989, Martha went to the manager to ask for a promotion and consent for participation in a language course provided by the company after work hours. The manager refused. On the same day, Martha resigned from work. She told me: "Then, because the manager did not want to give me an opportunity to learn and develop, I lost my nerve and I resigned at once." The resignation was accepted.

2. 5 General construction contractor: 01/04 - 31/10/1989
After the unexpected end of work in the foreign trade center, Martha immediately started to browse press ads. There were a lot of them. She selected four companies in the center of Bydgoszcz and decided to visit them all within one day. She chose a general construction contractor and she explained the decision as follows: "I still remember that I entered the company on Friday, at 2:30 PM. I looked around and I found everything quiet. Nobody present. Then I knew it was my company. Remember that at that time I had an ambition to learn a language and deepen my knowledge. And after the period of hard work in the previous company I was awfully tired."

Thus, Martha filled in the required documents and started her work in the Company in the position of independent inspector in April. She was responsible for settling ancillary production at a large contractor active in the public sector (construction of hospitals, schools, kindergartens, etc.). The company had 11 teams responsible for the construction of facilities and one supporting team in charge of transport, supplies and renovations.

For some time, the work was satisfactory to Martha. However, after 5 months she decided that she could learn nothing more in that position. She went to the economic manager to ask for permission to work in all accounting units for a brief period to have an opportunity to get familiar with all rather than just one unit of the company. The manager refused.

In September 1989, while accepting her M.Sc. diploma from the university, Martha browsed notices about contests for assistants in various faculties of the university. She was intrigued by an ad from the Accounting Faculty. She filled in the documents and started her work on November 1. Termination of employment contract with the construction company was based on an agreement between employers and not an arrangement between the parties concerned.

2. 6 Work at the university, a private company, and an auditing course: 01/11/1989 - 01/08/1993
Martha started to run classes under the direction of a tutor, Anna Z. Mrs. Z. talked Martha into working in her own auditing company, "Future," where Martha was employed half-time from February 1990. She also talked her into enrolling in a course for candidates for auditors. In the Polish practice, completion of such a course is required for a candidate for the chief accountant in any large company, equivalent to the position of director general. The manager of the faculty accepted Martha's participation in the course from February 1990 and the university paid 50% of related expenses. Thus, since February 1990, Martha worked at the faculty as an assistant, as an employee of the auditing company, and participated in the course.

In the company, Martha worked as an auditor for various Polish companies (among others, businesses from Czestochowa, Szczecin and Warsaw). In her accounts of that work, Martha said: "The work was very interesting but demanding because of time requirements. There were no free Saturdays or Sundays. Often, I finished at 3:00 AM." She worked in the company until the end of February 1992. In March she had her examination for an auditor. Two times she failed, which she explained as the result of bad habits gained from practice where accounting was somewhat different than in theory. Martha passed the general examination in April and the specialist tests in May. Thus, at the age of 28 she became an auditor which she considers a great success in her life.

2. 7 Consultus: 01/08/1993 - 01/03/1994
In July 1993, Martha received job offer of an auditing company, "Consultus." She was employed in the company on August 1 and after the vacation, at the end of September, she terminated her contract with the university. Consultus was a private auditing company located in the center of Bydgoszcz. The company had three departments: accounting, auditing and tax consulting. In Consultus, Martha was appointed to the position of consultant auditor and was responsible for auditing operations together with the business owner.

In January 1994, Martha was promoted to manager of the accounting department where she was responsible for 12 people who maintained accounts on behalf of various customers. Martha associates the promotion first of all with a PLZ 2 million raise in her salary. She emphasized that in Consultus, in contrast to Future, Sundays were free. On weekdays, she worked from 8:00 AM to late in the night. Martha told me that when she left her work at 10:00 PM, the owner rebuked her for leaving so early. Martha said that "in companies like Future or Consultus owners never understand that an employee may have a private life or that he or she can be young and like to meet friends. This is all because there is work to be done. And there is no compensation for overtime though they promise a lot when they hire a new employee. Therefore, there was a large rotation of employees in these companies."

In the beginning of February, Martha was visited by her sister. Her sister told her that the house of her parents was becoming unfit for living and needed a general overhaul. Replacement of windows alone would cost PLZ 60 million and such investment would be unreasonable because the house was designated for demolition like neighboring houses of this type which had been demolished in mid-1980's to provide space for a residential estate. It was just because of the stubbornness of Mieczyslaw, who did not want to give his house and garden away to the municipality in return for an apartment in a block of flats, that the old house still existed in a neighborhood surrounded by a modern estate. Martha and Barbara agreed that their parents would move to an apartment in Bydgoszcz and Martha would find a job with a company apartment.

In February, Martha started to browse ads in newspapers and send her CV to various prospective employers. Among others, she sent her CV to a large company in Grudziadz where they were looking for a chief accountant. In the beginning of March, Martha was called by Joef W., the former chief accountant in that company, recently promoted to a position on the management board in the head office of a large company in Warsaw with a monopolistic position in Poland. He said that her offer interested him and he offered her a job. After 3 days, Martha called Joef W. asked for a meeting to learn more. After the first meeting with Joef W. in Warsaw, there was a second meeting in mid-March with participation of Jan K., the chief accountant. After 3 days, Martha decided to accept his work proposal.

2. 8 Head office of a large company from Warsaw: 01/04/1994 - 31/10/1996
During the official meeting in the office of the president, Prof. Tomasz P., held on March 23, the president told Martha about the burdens related to the job. He said the company was large and she had no relevant experience. However, if the burden did not discourage her, he accepted her candidacy. In the meantime, Martha concluded that if the company was large, she would obtain new experience and she accepted the job of a chief expert in the financial and accounting department managed by Jan K. She was also promised rapid promotion and a related salary raise. Martha lived in a corporate hotel in Warsaw.

From July 1, 1994, Martha was appointed to the position of an assistant to the chief accountant. The chief accountant had two assistants. The position of the second one was that of assistant financial director. Since December 1, 1995, the head office accepted a new system of employment contracts with managers. From that time, the chief accountant's position designation was changed to "financial and accounting director" and the positions of his two assistants to "assistant directors." Although the designations changed, rank, salaries and responsibilities associated with the positions remained the same.

Martha's most recent salary in Consultus exceeded PLZ 6 million. In the head office in Warsaw, her first salary was PLZ 11 million, increased to 22 million after 3 months. In July 1994, Martha obtained a loan from the Company's Housing Fund for payment to a housing cooperative. In July, she chose a large apartment which she could move into in September. She moved there in January 1995 when the apartment was comfortably furnished. From January 1995 to July 1996, she rented her house in Bydgoszcz. Then, she completed a general overhaul of that house. Her parents are to move to the house when Martha manages to sell their house in Bytom.

Martha associates her first day after the promotion with a pile of documents waiting for signatures on her desk. Since that time, Martha started to manage three departments: General Accounting Department, Reporting Department and Accounting Organization Department. Martha appointed her friend from Bydgoszcz with whom she worked at the university as the manager of the latter. Martha considers a radical modernization of the accounting system as her most significant professional success in the large company.

Martha told me that she started to consider the possibility of resigning from the job already in Autumn 1995. She made the final decision in October 1996. Her reason was as follows: "I learned the company thoroughly and I could learn nothing new. I felt my knowledge was becoming narrowed down to issues related to the company only. In addition, I had no promotion opportunities because it would have to be at the cost of my superior."

2. 9 Own business: 01/11/1996 -
In October 1996, Martha registered her auditing company which operates in Warsaw as a private small business. Its business includes consulting services, maintaining accounts on behalf of companies and financial audits. In November, Martha was happy with her freedom and independence. She hoped that the company would allow for financing her parents' moving to Bydgoszcz. She was not anxious about her finances because, as she said, she had large savings. In addition, contracts with customers from Warsaw, Bydgoszcz and Bialystok would be a secure source of income in 1997. She also said that she planned to employ not more than 4 people. In her opinion, a large company can get out of control and excessive wealth is dangerous in Poland. Therefore she does not dream about an impressive house in the suburbs of Warsaw.


The two examples of careers provide an illustration to explain changes in Poland after the market reform with regard to the types, motivations, and methods of executive careers and executive attributes.

3. 1 Types of executive careers
Under the socialist system, appointment to a position in the Polish United Workers' Party was considered the greatest promotion for an executive. The most spectacular promotion was a transfer of a party member from a managerial position in an enterprise to a managerial position in a committee of the Polish United Workers' Party of the district (municipality since 1975) or province rank. Such careers were typical until 1983. After the end of the martial law, the position of party activists started to decline and since 1990 that type of career started to be treated as a shameful fact from the past. Even people who succeed in the new environment do not like to admit to their former association with the Polish United Workers' Party. On the other hand, they are more inclined to admit association with the United Peasants' Party and Democratic Alliance although both parties collaborated with the Polish United Workers' Party in the years of the People's Republic of Poland.

Since 1990, the most desired type of executive promotion has been to a position of president or member of a management board in a large corporation. These are positions which were unknown in the People's Republic. At those times, the most important administrative positions in state-owned enterprises included those of directors and secretaries in the Polish United Workers' Party.

3. 2 Promotion motives
In Gomulka's *2 times, i.e. until 1970, the key career motivation was prestige and an apartment. At those times, salaries were relatively flat and money did not play an important role because there was not much to buy. Demonstration of wealth could be dangerous because it attracted the interest of authorities.

In Gierek's era, money became an increasingly more important motive. Still, the most important motive was a corporate or cooperative apartment. In addition, there were such motives as coupons for cars, telephones, and the opportunity to make foreign business trips. A coupon could buy a car for a price much below the market price and obtaining a regular telephone was exceptionally difficult in Poland until 1990. In turn, trips to Western countries allowed for saving on daily allowances which, given the market price of hard currencies, was very profitable. At the same time, in the times of Gierek, the fear of demonstrating wealth abated. Therefore, managers at that time liked to invest money in the construction of houses and purchases of dachas and plots of land.

In 1989 the practice of coupons and the magic of the Dollar ended. Money became the principal driving force in promotions. Managerial position started to be associated with good cars of Western makes, luxurious villas in the suburbs and bodyguards. At that time, money became the only prerequisite for access to such goods and services. However, in mid-1990's, some managers started to avoid such demonstration of wealth. This time, the phenomenon resulted from fear of organized crime. Therefore, people prefer to save money in banks and are often satisfied with luxurious apartments in blocks of flats.

3. 3 Executive promotion methods
In the times of Gomulka, a practice started to develop whereby managerial career required an academic degree. Basically, the practice remains unchanged to present. However, at the time of the People's Republic, the type of studies did not matter. The fact of studying was important in itself and the best career opportunities were reserved for PUWP's activists. At the end of 1980's the field of education started to be more important. Graduation from economic studies was the best starting point - this field of knowledge became very valuable in the 1990's.

At the time of the People's Republic, management careers required only graduation. Postgraduate education was a rare practice. The trend to improve skills through various courses and postgraduate studies emerged in the 1990's.

At the time of Gomulka and Gierek, careers depended on membership in the Polish United Workers' Party. All candidates to managerial positions needed to be approved by a relevant secretary of PUWP and such approval was extended to party members on almost exclusive basis. After martial law, promotions also required such approvals but there more instances of people not belonging to the party who received approvals. In 1989, the practice of formal approvals was eliminated although in the case of the top managerial positions approval from specific parties with parliamentary majority or from the government continues to be an important factor. However, political independence stopped to be an obstacle to promotion.

At the time of the People's Republic, a significant role in managerial promotions was also played by informal links, i.e. acquaintances and private contacts. Ambitious managers tried to establish good private relationships with the decision-makers concerned. Such phenomena tend to disappear in the 1990's as a result of two factors. First, social relationships changed. People started to meet less frequently at informal occasions and started to protect their privacy. Today, most managers return home after work and have no time for social meetings. Secondly, promotion started to be increasingly dependent on skills and the professional track record of managers. Therefore, new methods of promotion evolved. For instance, they consisted of submitting attractive CV which put emphasis on experience, education and skills.

3. 4 Manager's attributes
At the time of the People's Republic, managers displayed such traits as absolute loyalty to superiors and modesty. Even managers of large companies were totally dependent on certain organizations, PUWP and state authorities. Therefore, demonstration of individualism and self-assurance was dangerous and could frustrate any hopes for promotion. Accordingly, managers did not differ much from "ordinary" people.

After 1989, the executive's image changed a lot. Now they are self-confident and eager to demonstrate their importance. Cellular handsets became a singular attribute of the Polish manager of today. Also, much weight is placed on to external appearance. Therefore, managers in 1990's are trying to look sporty and stylish to stand out from the surrounding environment.

At the times of the People's Republic, women had few promotion opportunities. In the 1990's the situation changed, particularly after in 1992 when a woman became the prime minister for the first time in Poland. This event gave raise to wave of industrious and independent businesswomen achieving high managerial positions.


  1. Gierek, Edward (1913-), Polish Communist party leader. Born in Bezin, near Katowice, he grew up in France, where, at the age of 13, he began to work in mines. He joined the French Communist party in 1931 and, during World War II, fought the Germans with the Belgian Communist underground. Returning to Poland in 1948, he obtained a degree as a mining engineer (1954) and rose through the Communist hierarchy to become party boss (1957-1970) of Katowice, Poland's most important industrial region. When price increases led to riots among Polish workers in 1970, he replaced Wladyslaw Gomulka as First Secretary of the Communist party. Similar unrest in 1980 forced him in turn to relinquish the post. Expelled from the party in July 1981, he was arrested the following December and "interned" for a year. Microsoftョ Encartaョ 96 Encyclopedia. ゥ 1993-1995 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. ゥ Funk & Wagnalls Corporation. All rights reserved.

  2. Gomulka, Wladyslaw (1905-1982), Polish Communist leader, born in Krosno. Gomulka joined the Communist movement at an early age, and organized youth and labour groups. His party activities resulted several times in his arrest. During World War II he became an active member of the Polish Resistance, and after the Soviet occupation of Poland he was instrumental in establishing Communist rule and was named deputy premier in 1944. During the period in which Joseph Stalin was dictator of the Soviet Union, Gomulka advocated an independent "Polish road to socialism." This position led to his arrest and expulsion from the government and the party in 1949. After the death of Stalin in 1953, Gomulka was exonerated and released from prison. He was readmitted to the United Polish Workers' party, as the Polish Communist party was named, and became its first secretary in 1956; this made him the virtual ruler of Poland. He was removed from his post in late 1970, when he proved unable to cope with a severe economic crisis that gripped Poland in the late 1960s. Microsoftョ Encartaョ 96 Encyclopedia. ゥ 1993-1995 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. ゥ Funk & Wagnalls Corporation. All rights reserved.

SRC Winter Symposium Socio-Cultural Dimensions of the Changes in the Slavic-Eurasian World ( English / Japanese )

Copyright (c) 1996 by the Slavic Research Center( English / Japanese ) All rights reserved.