Can you tell us something about your background: Where and how did you grow up?
I was born in Warsaw in Poland, but my family emigrated to Berlin in Germany, when I was three years old. I went to school and studied International Business in Germany. Later I moved to Italy and did my MBA in Milan.
When and how was your family business started? Which generation is currently leading the business?
Our family business Solaris started as Neoplan Polska, founded in 1994 by my father Krzysztof Olszewski. Neoplan Polska was selling, and since 1996 also building under German licence, low-floor Neoplan city buses in Poland. In 1999 we released our first buses under our own Solaris brand. In 2001 Neoplan Polska was renamed to Solaris Bus & Coach and it is now 100% family-owned. My father was the CEO of our company until 2008 and then replaced by my mother Solange Olszewska. In 2015 my parents left the board and now we have an external CEO for the first time.
What is your first memory of visiting / being exposed to your family business as a child?
My first memory were all the buses parking on the ground, I loved to go inside of them and sitting on the driver’s seat.
Can you describe the time when you were prepared to take over the family business? Were you explicitly prepared to take over the business? If yes, how? Is there anything you would have done differently in the transition process?
My sister and me were not formally prepared to take over the family business. We both joined the family business and were holding different management positions, so it was a “learning by doing “ approach. I decided to leave the family business, when I was director of business development to start something on my own. My sister was leading the German subsidiary, but she is currently out of the family business due to her pregnancy. A formal transition process would have been for sure useful to know what to expect.
Can you tell us about one challenging moment and one positive moment from the transition process?
There was no real transition yet, except from transferring a part of the shares to my sister and me.
Do you have a role model? If so who and why?
I admire all the entrepreneurs, who were able to have success in an industry that is dominated by huge companies. So my parents belong to these entrepreneurs, because our main competitors are big corporations like Daimler, MAN, Iveco and Volvo. To achieve something that looks impossible to other people is really inspiring.
In your opinion, what is the best thing about working in the family business as compared to working outside the family business?
I liked working in the family business, because I could work from the beginning very independently and had responsibly from the start. If you work outside the family business this is usually not the case. Besides that, you really identify with the company, because it belongs to you and you have grown up with it.
Did you ever work outside the family business?
During my studies I did several internships in corporations and now I founded two businesses on my own.
Does your family business like to promote the fact that it is family owned and/or run? Why or why not?
We like to promote that we are a family business, because it differentiates us from our competitors. We also think that family businesses in Poland do not get enough appreciation; therefore my mother became president of FBN Poland to change this situation.
Why did you decide, after having been working in your family business, not to join your family business and instead pursue your own entrepreneurial venture?
I always wanted to start something on my own and I knew the older I get the smaller the chances are, that I will do it, because you have more to loose once you have kids, a house etc. So I thought this is nearly my last chance. Besides that, I saw the potential in my ventures and did not want that somebody else will have success with it, only because I did not dare to do it.
What were the biggest personal challenges you faced when you decided not to join the family business as a family member?
On the one hand my parents were sad, when I left the family business, because they lost a good employee, on the other hand they thought you can nowhere learn as much as when you are starting you own business. So they thought, it is anyway a good education and I can always come back if I want. This reaction helped me to stay with my decision. But they also warned me that being an entrepreneur is really tough, because you are on your own and do not have several departments that can help you with your tasks. They were for sure right with this opinion, because everything depends on you.
As a successor in the family business, do you feel like an entrepreneur or rather not? If yes, how do you manage to bring your entrepreneurial vision into the family business?
I definitely feel like an entrepreneur. I always try to bring my entrepreneurial vision into the family business during conversations with my parents and in the advisory board of one of our businesses.
What is your advice for other next generation members who are getting ready to join the family business or likewise those who deliberately seek another career path and have difficulties communicating this with their families?
I think it is always better to get some outside experience, before you join the family business. I joined the business directly after studies, therefore there was always the need to see something else and so I finally started my own business. It gives you also more credibility inside the family, which makes it easier to change something inside the company. If you do not want to work in the family businesses, you should tell it your parents, otherwise you will feel miserable for the rest of your life and this is something your parents do not want, so they will understand.
What is the next big thing on your agenda?
For our current business Owners Place our goal is to be THE online marketplace for family businesses, so if a family businesses is looking for a partner abroad or an interesting business opportunity, it should think of Owners Place. With Owners Place we want to establish another sustainable family business. On a personal level the coming birth of my daughter will be the real big thing.
Anything else you want to add?
If you really want to start your own business, you should give it a try. It is a fantastic experience.