Capital is only capital until it benefits the society. ESG is the trend of the decade. Interview with Marcin Ujejski, CEO of Blue Timber S.A.
Why did you decide on this particular industry? Do you feel it was the best possible choice?
The timber industry in Poland has two sides. There are strong, well-organised companies with large foreign contracts and small businesses that have to fight for customers every day. Our plan is to do a little consolidation in the coming years for companies that are between these two opposites, creating another important player on the Polish market. The road we’re on is bumpy, but rewarding. The ultimate goal is the main floor of the Polish Stock Exchange.
How did you imagine what being an entrepreneur will be like before you started your business?
We are the second generation to build Polish capitalism. The first one stood before very different challenges than the ones we face today, but they also had very different developement tools.
Companies that built their power organically over the past 30 years, can now be set up several times faster, thanks to the experience of American capitalism. Mainly, using existing market mechanisms and the capital of large investors. My perspective on business development in the initial phase, when we wanted to operate organically, has changed in recent years.
Basing on past experience, we now aim to seek leverage in the form of investor capital, which allows us to grow much faster. It gives us more opportunities and offers investors a chance to maintain and even multiply their investments in a very promising market that is as old as the civilisation itself. Wood is a basic raw material, used by people for thousands of years. In turn, it is now becoming an increasingly luxurious good. That is why I have been repeating the sentence “IN GOD AND TIMBER WE TRUST” for years. This business has a future.
Who are your company’s customers? What are the main difficulties in dealing with customers? Do you always follow the principle stating that “our customer is our master”?
We operate in two sectors – distribution of wood material and wood products. Here, the customers are construction companies and individual customers. You can’t look at the customer through the prism of difficulties, because it is our role, as entrepreneurs, to solve customers’ problems. This is what they de facto pay us to do.
The saying “our customer is our master” was the slogan made by the first group of entrepreneurs who built Polish capitalism in the 1990s. Today, the win-win principle must be adhered to. Customers are supposed to give the company growth, and companies are supposed to satisfy customers’ needs better and better.
In what ways the government makes it easier or harder to become and be an entrepreneur?
The role of an entrepreneur is to work under certain conditions, regardless of what they are. Whether the state helps or hinders, the entrepreneur has to find his or her way to grow successfully. There are many factors by which the state facilitates business. There are also aspects that, in my opinion, should they change, many companies in Poland would develop much faster.
Some time ago, during a discussion with ruling party politicians, I suggested, for example, that a fund should be created to support companies launching on the small floor of the Warsaw NewConnect Exchange, financing the cost of staying on the exchange for five years. This would help debutant companies focus on operational development, without committing time and resources to extensive bureaucracy. I believe that eventually someone will see that this can help companies on the small trading floor grow much faster, as well as attract small foreign companies to the Polish stock market.
Is it possible to do business anywhere, or only in capitalism?
I think it’s a matter of adapting to the prevailing market conditions. It’s hard to say without doubt if and what effect the current semi-capitalism has on business development.
Have you had any crisis situations that forced you to consider giving up on your business and doing something else?
Crisis situations are probably embedded in the foundation of any market success. In today’s world, everything changes so fast that it’s easy to make mistakes. There is no avoiding them. The important thing is to learn your lessons and develop further. I often say that if someone would give me a penny for every moment of doubt, I would surely become a billionaire. Great companies grew because they dealt with crisis situations. They were able to take advantage of moments of weakness to tip the scales. There is no need to be afraid of crises. “With pain comes improvement.”
What is the mission of your company and what is your vision for the company’s further development? What is still left to achieve?
We want to mould our organisation into a mature and strong market player. We are still a little short from becoming a “number one,” so we have an exciting road ahead of us. Blue Timber aims at becoming a significant capital group in Central Europe. We are currently commercialising a project providing services for ESG to companies that are looking for a solution which is an investment, not a cost, on the way to reducing their carbon footprint. This is a start-up that we have been working on for the past few years and we believe it will become the strongest brand in the group in the next decade. ESG doesn’t have to be a cost, it can be a very profitable investment.
If you could turn back time, what would you change about the way you ran your company?
I don’t know if I would change anything, because all the decisions we’ve made gave us experience, which today is our valuable asset. Probably today, starting from scratch, I would make different decisions, but it would be the result of information gathered over the years, telling me what not to do.
Is being an entrepreneur a job, a calling or a kind of madness? Is business a win-win situation or maybe a bloodthirsty race?
It is a bit of everything, all at once. However, I adhere to the win-win principle and always strive for a win-win result.
Do you feel ennobled by your status as an entrepreneur? When does an entrepreneur feel fulfilled?
I am far from talking about fulfilment in business, because I still have many years of work ahead of me. However, I believe that business must give satisfaction even out of the smallest things achieved. Only then it makes a long-term sense.
Should an entrepreneur be humble or the opposite? Or does it depend on the type of business you run?
Humility is an important aspect, in my opinion. None of us is omniscient and we can always make a mistake. But you also need to know your worth, have your own principles and be able to eloquently defend your opinion or vision. The golden mean is probably the best solution.
It is said that an entrepreneur works 24 hours a day. How much of this is true? Is a proper work – life balance possible?
Resting is the most important part of work. When a person is rested, distanced, he comes up with the best ideas. Personally, I am afraid of people who don’t rest. I don’t believe in slogans like “do what you love and you won’t have to work a single day,” because in business we sometimes have to do things we don’t always like, but are necessary for growth. A quieted mind can work wonders, so rest is very important.
Albert Einstein said: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” What are your values in life and business? Can business be responsible, people-friendly and environmentally friendly?
Albert Einstein was right. Business should first and foremost be responsible, people-friendly and ecological. If a business focuses only on profit, it will not survive the next two decades. People’s awareness has increased a lot in recent times. Customers are looking with great interest at companies that take action for the local community or place the well-being of the planet in their strategy. I think this may soon become a more important factor than a price. In fact, this is already the case in many areas.
Are you involved in charity, helping those less fortunate in life? What specific actions have you taken?
This is a very broad topic. If I can, and deem the given initiative sensible, I help. But in my opinion, one has to be careful with help, because not always a way that seems right can really help the other person. The easiest way to help is to engage your finances, but this is not always the right way. When I make a decision to help, it is more often the way of sharing the rod and not the fish.
Are you a happy person? What raises your happiness level the most, now that you’ve achieved so much?
This is also a topic for a longer conversation, but I’ll boil it down to one conclusion – if anything “outside” defines our happiness level, we become slaves to it and risk losing that happiness. It is worth learning to be a happy person regardless of circumstances. It is not an easy path, but in my opinion it is the right one. And I, personally, spend a lot of time making sure that nothing but my own existence defines my level of happiness.
Marcin Ujejski – chairman and main shareholder of Blue Timber SA, managing the brand DrewnoDlaDomu, and the NC-listed company BeLeaf SA. Author of “Mathematical Formula for Success”.
Last Updated on September 4, 2023 by Anastazja Lach