Without social capital, we will remain stagnant. Ryszard Florek, President of the FAKRO Management Board

Without social capital, we will remain stagnant. Ryszard Florek, President of the FAKRO Management Board

From vision to realization? What were the beginnings of FAKRO?

The idea for roof windows came about in my childhood. As a child, I spent nights and played in the attic of our family home in Tymbark. Looking through a glazed roof tile embedded in the roof, I thought, ‘If we were to install a roof window with regular glass in this place, you could look at the stars through it at night.’ I was the son of a carpenter, so the idea was feasible. During my studies at the Krakow University of Technology, I dedicated half of my time to volunteer work in the Academic Sports Union. Being the president of AZS was a valuable lesson in team management, work organization, decision-making, often burdened with high risk, and the application of the principles of fair play, so necessary in the global market.

In the early 90s, nobody in Poland knew about roof windows…

During my work and summer trips to Germany, I saw that roof windows made sense and had practical applications. I decided to start the production of such windows in Poland, but not in a small workshop, but in a large, modern factory. From that moment, I began intensive preparations in this direction, focusing on this industry – studying the Western European market, visiting vertical window factories in Germany and Sweden. After finishing my studies and two years of work at the university, together with my colleague from AZS PK, Jacek Radkowiak, we founded ‘Florad’ Building Joinery in Tymbark in the mid-80s. It was a private workshop, the largest and most modern not only in Tymbark but perhaps in all of Poland. ‘Florad’ produced paneling, floors, walk-in closets, gates for historic tenement houses, which were sold in Poland and Germany. We reinvested all the earnings in further development and expansion of the plant, as well as new machinery. These were the foundations for establishing FAKRO, which we founded in 1991.

Today, the FAKRO brand is recognizable in Poland and around the world. How do you build such strength?

I always say that I have been lucky with people. The quality of our products and the relationships we have built with our partners are the result of an excellent team. In our region, people are very entrepreneurial, hardworking, ambitious, kind, and open to each other and cooperation. This is evident at FAKRO. Unfortunately, when looking at the broader scale in the country, social capital is still lacking.

You talk a lot about social capital. What does this concept mean?

It is the society’s ability to cooperate. Through the synergy it generates, societies and individual economic communities can develop. Knowledge, experience, education – human capital is one thing, but without collaboration, commitment, and trust – social capital, we will stand still.

How do you assess the level of social capital in Poland?

Unfortunately, in Poland, it is at the lowest level among all European Union countries. Therefore, nations that have introduced a market economy but have not built social capital will quickly be colonized. It is high time to take care of this.

Why the belief that this really works?

Let me give you an example. In Switzerland, I wanted to convince a distributor of FAKRO windows to also sell our attic stairs. But he refused, even though our price was much better. He explained to me that he sells windows from Poland because they are good, but mainly because there is no Swiss manufacturer of them. However, he didn’t want stairs because they are produced in Switzerland. He knew very well that if he turned away from a domestic manufacturer, his existing customers and suppliers would turn away from him. That’s how it works. The same thing happened in France, where a large retail chain decided to sell our windows. This only happened because no one in France was making such windows. However, they immediately set conditions that payments would go through a French bank, and the windows would be delivered by a French shipping company. This is how it’s done in countries where awareness of economic interdependence is high. Social capital is at its highest there.

So, we Poles can’t cooperate with each other? Where can this lead us?

Countries with a high level of social capital are rich, and those with a low level are poor. If we do not cooperate with each other and allow officials’ beliefs to influence the condition of domestic business, we will reduce our chances of competing in global markets and, consequently, the country’s development. Social capital must be built by all citizens – politicians, officials, teachers, journalists, consumers, every social group.

Where should we start? What is the foundation of social capital?

Purchasing Polish products from Polish manufacturers. It is essential to understand that when buying goods, we send our money in a specific direction. If it flows abroad, it will not return to us. By leaving our money in Poland, we invest in our common, better future. By buying from Polish producers, we allow them to grow, achieve economies of scale, which can make their products cheaper. We give them a chance to compete abroad, guarantee ourselves jobs, and ultimately higher salaries.

You have included these and similar ideas in many interviews, publications, and in the report ‘Why do people in rich Western European countries earn four times more than we do? What influence do I have on this?’ prepared by the ‘Think about the Future’ Foundation…

I founded the Foundation in 2010 to talk about what is important to us and has an impact on our future. The economy, economics, social capital, cooperation, economies of scale, fair competition – these are the concepts around which we build our message.

Are there specifics behind the message?

Of course! Our greatest achievement was convincing Prime Minister Morawiecki to introduce the so-called Estonian tax in Poland, meaning that as long as companies invest their profits in their own development and the country, they do not pay CIT tax. We also had and still have our share in the process of introducing a new subject, ‘business and management,’ into schools. This will help young people understand many economic mechanisms and, therefore, raise the level of social capital.

Ryszard Florek, President of the FAKRO Management Board

Co-founder and CEO of FAKRO, a global vice-leader in the roof window market. Founded by him in 1991, FAKRO specializes in the production of roof windows, attic ladders, and attic finishing elements. In 2016, wooden-aluminum vertical windows were added to the product range. Over the course of 32 years, FAKRO has grown from a small family business into an international corporation with approximately a 15% share of the global market.

A graduate of the Krakow University of Technology in the Faculty of Civil Engineering. He has been repeatedly recognized for his activities. He was awarded the Entrepreneur of the Year 2010 award in a competition organized by Ernst & Young. He was twice honored with the Economic Award of the President of the Republic of Poland in 2003 and 2011, among other things, for his “special contribution to building the prestige of the Polish economy in EU countries.” He is also the recipient of the prestigious title of Entrepreneur of the 25th Anniversary of the Republic of Poland’s Freedom.

He has created a global company and is actively engaged in activities to promote the development of the Polish economy. In 2010, he established the “Think about the Future” Foundation, which focuses on economic development by building social capital and working to level the playing field for Polish businesses in the EU market (more information at www.pomysloprzyszlosci.org).

Last Updated on September 18, 2023 by Anastazja Lach