REAL ENTREPRENEURS NEVER FEEL FULFILLED. Interview with Piotr Krupa, CEO at KRUK S.A.
When was the idea of starting a company born in your mind? Where did you get the resources necessary for the launch and initial operation of the business?
The whole story is somewhat complex. I started my first business shortly after college with the money my wife and I had left over from our wedding. It was 1,600 zloty. My business partner at the time, incidentally a colleague from a study group in college, allocated the same amount as his share of the founding contribution – he borrowed the money from his parents.
At the time, we were on judicial training and had to spend three days a week in court. In the remaining time we were able to work – after all, we still had to make a living. The problem, however, was that it was impossible to find a job for just two days a week. Therefore, we established a consulting office that wrote various pleadings, settlements, legal opinions, appeals, cassations, etc. on behalf of larger law firms. A sort of legal outsourcing. Both of us had previously been decent or, to put it boldly, even very good university students; we had no difficulty drafting such letters and our skills were always in high demand.
It was the early 1990s, the heyday of the so-called “protected establishments”, as the relevant regulations had just come into effect, and there were many inquiries for legal services for such companies. Our senior colleagues in the field didn’t really want to deal with it too much, so they assigned these tasks to us. After a few months, we gathered quite a bit of know-how on the subject and decided it would be a good idea to write a book based on it.
Then, in 1998, with more publications in mind, we founded a publishing house, which we named Kruk [Polish for “raven”], as we wanted to refer in this way to extremely rare, valuable books, or white ravens, as we say in Polish.
One of the owners of the company that was working with us at the time gave us the idea that we should enter the debt collection business. We liked the idea. Well, and so we launched it, 25 years ago. Today we are the international KRUK Group which, in addition to Poland, also operates in Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain and Italy.
Why this industry specifically? Retrospectively, do you think running a company in this industry was the right choice?
Yes, as I mentioned, it was a chain of events.
It was a very good time, because at that time mobile telephony and satellite TV were entering the market, and so were new banking products. Among our clients was the Polish Digital Telephony Company, the operator of the then telco Era GSM (now T-Mobile), and later also Canal +. Soon later credit cards became a thing in Poland. Everyone was interested in these innovations, which resulted in a considerable number of debtors. Suddenly, the market was in dire need of debt collection services. As a result, in 2003, after a few years of the company’s operation in the debt management industry which was still in its infancy, KRUK already had more than 200 employees, and the company showed a net profit that amounted to about $2 million, or about PLN 6-7 million.
The market was just entering a new phase. One of our clients decided that instead of outsourcing debt collection to us, he would rather sell a whole claims portfolio. That’s how we started buying portfolios, which pushed our growth further.
How had you imagined being an entrepreneur before you started your business?
Before starting the business, I was 26 years old. To be frank, I never had any particular vision of what it’s like to run a company. I simply went about my business and adapted to both the conditions associated with running a business and the laws.
Who are your company’s customers? What are the main problems with customers? Do you follow the “customer is always right” principle?
KRUK’s clients are primarily people who are in arrears, people who are in debt. We know that financial issues and talking about them are sometimes difficult, if not embarrassing – at least in Poland, so we have been confronting myths and stereotypes about our industry for years. We educate the public that professional companies like ours are one of the important elements of the economic system, and we want to enable them to get out of debt through settlement. Our research has shown for years that indebtedness can happen to anyone and can be due to a variety of reasons. However, we leave it up to customers to decide which path to take to get out of debt.
When it comes to treating customers, one of our company’s values, but also my personal one, is “treat the other person as you would like to be treated yourself”. That’s why we respect the choices of our customers – if they agree to a settlement, we break down their debt into installments; if they prefer to go to court, we also respect that choice, informing them fairly what it entails.
Ethics in our work is very important, and the fact that we follow its principles in our business is shown by a number of different awards and distinctions we receive in non-commercial competitions. This year we were among an intimate group of companies in Poland honored with the title of Ethics Leader in the Puls Biznesu and PwC “Ethical Company” competition.
How does the State make it easier or harder to become and be an entrepreneur?
It is relatively easy to start a company and become an entrepreneur, it is much more difficult to keep going. Why? Because you need to keep your finger on the pulse all the time and be aware that making even a small, unintentional mistake, especially within the tax regulations, can cost you a lot.
As for the impediments to doing business, the most trouble is caused by constantly changing laws and short vacatio legis. Sometimes it is difficult to prepare for these changes in such a short period of time, so I urge that entrepreneurs be given time to adjust to the legal changes. It’s also important to avoid retroactive regulations, as this also sometimes happens.
Have you had any crisis situations making you want to give up your business and get on with something else?
There has never been a moment when I thought about resigning. As in any business, you have to be ready for the fact that things don’t always work out the way you want them to. The important thing is not to treat something that goes wrong as a failure. At least that’s how I look at it. Sometimes, I have to take a step back. Revise an earlier decision. I believe that such situations accelerate development, because as a result, you gain knowledge and experience faster, which give you the opportunity to expand in the market. They are what make true leaders solution-oriented and ready to turn a problem into a success. Where do you start when crises arise? The first and most important thing for me is to keep my mind calm and clear. The second thing is belief in a successful solution, but also in one’s abilities. Therefore, if something doesn’t work out, and I have a strong conviction that it is good and should work, I don’t give up on it.
However, it is necessary to analyze why something did not work, what was done wrong. I have this experience from when KRUK entered the Italian and Spanish markets. I was convinced that we could do a “copy-paste” of our main collection process related to the pro-settlement strategy we have put in place. In Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic, we have had great success related to our pro-settlement strategy, which involves allowing people in debt to sign a settlement with us and pay their debts in installments. So I was confident that it would also work in Italy and Spain. However, it turned out that people in debt in these countries are not interested in this product. So I asked myself why it wasn’t working, where we went wrong. It turned out that Italians and Spaniards only want a settlement when they have a real threat that the case will go to court. And since lawsuits in these countries are very difficult and expensive, they were convinced that no one would sue them for a €3,000 debt. So we had to take some cases to court, win them and go back to the debtors with judgments and renewed settlement proposals.
So, in a problematic situation, we looked for a solution and changed our actions, having faith in our abilities all the time. To arrive at such a solution, a leader should focus on the facts and take responsibility for the decisions made. To be able to say: I was wrong. Such an admission of error immediately activates people’s energy for change, rather than defensiveness.
What is the mission and what is your vision for the company’s future development? What else is left to accomplish?
We are an important link in economic transactions. We support our business partners in maintaining liquidity, and to those in debt – our customers – our mission is precisely to uphold the social and legal norms mandating the repayment of incurred financial obligations while showing respect to customers. I am sure that KRUK’s best days are still ahead of us. I know that we will still achieve a lot in the coming years. We are implementing a digital transformation, which is the future of our industry.
We are constantly following trends, the changing environment and market needs.
We are implementing our strategy, verifying it along the way, checking whether something should be changed, because both the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have shown us that we are not able to predict everything.
If you could turn back time what would you change about running your business?
I would probably be more courageous in making investment decisions.
What style of leading people do you prefer? How do you feel about the fact that the fate of many people depends on you?
The KRUK Group is already a large, multinational company that employs a total of more than 3,500 people. We are one big team and everyone is one piece of this big puzzle. Everyone is responsible for his or her area of expertise, is an expert, and everyone has a chance to speak out on an issue. Together we discuss many issues, share responsibilities, but basically we work together for success.
For me, the key is a good team, the right, responsible people.
What predispositions, personality traits, knowledge and skills an entrepreneur should have to succeed in business? Which do you consider the most important?
Knowledge and skills are always useful in business. You certainly need to be bold, have a good sense of market trends and have a knack for picking the right associates. And the most important thing is not to give up and believe in yourself and what you are doing.
Does entrepreneurial status ennoble? When does an entrepreneur feel fulfilled?
I don’t think that the entrepreneurial status ennobles. There are people who simply choose such a path in life, professionally. Well, and real entrepreneurs never feel fulfilled. 😊
Should an entrepreneur be modest or the opposite? Or does it depend on the type of business one has?
I believe that he should be neither modest nor conceited. Certainly, he should always have humility, because in business, you can make one or two small mistakes and business can just go down the drain. And it does not depend on the industry, or the area in which you work. In business, there is no single recipe for success.
It is said that an entrepreneur works 24 hours a day? How much truth is there in this? Is work – life balance possible?
It all depends on the personality. I can tell you how it looks from my side. It is difficult to switch off from work, not to think about the company even during the vacations. Sometimes new ideas come to you even during rest. However, I have time to pursue my passions and additional activities or engage in other projects. I am an art collector, for one thing. My wife and I founded the Krupa Gallery Foundation, which supports and promotes young artists, organizes exhibitions and has ambitions to create a large mobile gallery as part of our Art Partner program to connect the business world with the art world. In addition, not long ago I managed to complete an Ironman for the seventh time, for which I had to prepare in advance. Also there is time for additional activities.
Albert Einstein said: “Try not to become a successful man. Rather, become a man of value.” What are your values in life and business? Can business be responsible, people friendly and green?
I can confidently say that for 25 years now, the KRUK Group’s organizational culture has been built precisely on values. Unsurprisingly, these are values that I also share. Among them are the aforementioned respect for the other person, a cooperative attitude, responsibility, development and simplicity. Everything we do is based on them. I could also add that constructive solutions are important to me: searching for them instead of complaining. Well, and not treating yourself too seriously.
There is no room for irresponsibility in our business; we are a company that operates in the legal field. In addition to that, through financial education, we also seek to raise public awareness of the value of operating professional companies like ours. By enabling debtors to pay their debts in installments, we support their return to economic life. Our advisors take an individual approach to each person. We show what the benefits are, but also the consequences of the decisions made by customers. KRUK is the originator and initiator of the Day without Debt, which is celebrated in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania.
As a company, of course, we also care about our employees, relationships with our business partners, investors and all stakeholders.
KRUK is also involved in supporting various charitable initiatives, such as the Company Run, or cultural initiatives, such as the Paszporty Polityki.
We also monitor and strive to reduce the environmental impact of our business. By showing the parallels that exist between financial debt, which we are well versed in, and environmental debt, we are also trying to encourage the public to change certain habits that have a positive impact on both the household budget and the environment.
Are you involved in charitable activities, helping people who are less fortunate in life? What specific actions have you taken?
Privately, in 2015, my wife and I established the Krupa Gallery Foundation, which supports young Polish artists.
And in 2019, we also jointly initiated the “See Me” Foundation, which supports sick and disabled children.
Understanding the importance of combating the climate crisis, I am the producer of the documentary “Curse of Plenty” by Ewa Ewart. The film was presented at the Monte Carlo Television Festival, among others.
I am also the recipient of the “Vector of Heart” award for my support and assistance to the citizens of Ukraine. I can’t imagine it could be otherwise.
It is worth mentioning that also as the KRUK Group we support charitable activities in each of the markets where we operate.
Are you a happy person? What raises your happiness level the most since you have already achieved so much?
As for the business area in which we operate, I am definitely happy. All I am seeing is great results and even better vision for the future. Well, and the KRUK Group means working with fantastic people.
Piotr Krupa, CEO at KRUK S.A.
Piotr Krupa co-founder and CEO of the dynamically developing international KRUK Group operating on 7 European markets. KRUK S.A. belonging to the Capital Group, has been listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange since 2011.
From the beginning, in his activity (from 1998) he worked to change the perception of the debt management market, which is an important element of the financial system and sustainable economy,
by introducing the so-called a pro-settlement strategy enabling indebted persons to pay off their debts in installments.
For 25 years, managing the KRUK Group, he has been creating an organizational culture based on competence, diversity and equality, thanks to which over 60% of the positions of general directors and top management are women. Organizational culture and standards developed in the KRUK Group have been presented many times as examples of good practices – also as part of international cooperation with financial organizations supporting developing countries.
He is a graduate of the Faculty of Law and Administration at the University of Wroclaw. He completed the court training, he is a legal advisor.
In 2017 he was awarded the Entrepreneur of the Year title in the Polish edition of the Entrepreneur of the Year competition.
Since 2019 he has been the chairman of the University Council of the University of Economics in Wroclaw. He is also a member of the Global Compact Network Poland Program Council, which is a local part of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest initiative supporting sustainable business.
Privately, Piotr Krupa is interested in contemporary art, ecology and sport. Multiple marathon runner and six-time IRONMAN triathlete. Proud daddy of 3 children. In 2015, together with his wife, he established the Krupa Gallery Foundation, which supports young Polish artists. In 2019, they also jointly initiated the creation of ZOBACZ MNIE Foundation, which supports sick and disabled children. Understanding how important it is to fight the climate crisis, he became the producer of the documentary “Curse of Abundance” directed by Ewa Ewart. The film was shown, inter alia, at the Monte Carlo Television Festival.
Last Updated on July 10, 2023 by Anastazja