Profits are should not be viewed as most important. Wladyslaw Grochowski, Chairman of Arche S.A.
“Hotelarz” announced you as the “Man of the Year of the Polish Hotel Industry”. You received this award due to the rapid development of your facilities and numerous activities within the community. What were your beginnings in the hotel industry like? Did you sense that your business would develop the way it did?
No, I absolutely did not expect it. I still don’t consider myself a hotelier, but I fit into the environment very well. I am very surprised, because I am an amateur at this. I never plan too far ahead, I act as if at any given moment, under the influence of emotions, I make decisions completely by chance. I am aware that at any given moment I may make a rash decision based on emotions.
The first hotel was by complete coincidence. There was a small office building in Siedlce and there was nothing going on with it, so there was a hotel built there. Then there was a monument – a palace in Lochow. Then we didn’t have anything to do with any properties in Warsaw, you couldn’t build a residential building, so maybe another hotel. And so it went. I didn’t plan it at all. Perhaps 5 years ago we thought about it more seriously that in fact it might actually be interesting. Then I said to myself instinctively that we want to be the biggest hotel chain. Maybe not the biggest, but maybe the most original. And I didn’t think that after probably 5 years we would actually become the biggest according to the number of rooms. We are on a roll and I am very happy that we are in this place.
How often do you visit your hotels? Do you micromanage the hotel; i.e. get involved with interior design, or do you rather leave such decisions to management?
I stay in my hotels from time to time. In some I stay once a year in some several times a year, but generally quite rarely.
As far as the interiors are concerned, I do give management the overall concept. In the company they don’t always listen to me, maybe that’s why recently I said that I probably don’t need them, because they have their own way, and for me it is more important that the form doesn’t surpass content. For me social design is important, where we leave space for different activities.
I think that our buildings, especially historic ones, are so interesting in of themselves and have such a rich history and specific feel to them, that not much needs to be added. As far as design is concerned, we don’t want it to be an interior designer’s project but a collective effort. We involve various groups of people, including disabled people with Down syndrome or local women – seniors, who know the place and certain local influences and, in addition, professionals such as students of the Academy of Fine Arts, who can open themselves on the occasion. We have very interesting experiences from Gdansk, where there was such a painting open air for 30 people with Down syndrome plus students and professors.
You are known for your love of restoring long-standing objects and bringing them back to life. How do you find these unusual objects, or do they find you?
For several years now we have not been buying such land that was not previously invested. Most often, these are post-industrial, degraded objects, after passages, after fires, after various disasters, and it so happens that these objects find us now. We get a lot of proposals, I didn’t think there was that much in Poland. We choose only some of them and it’s a pity that it’s so few, but our possibilities are limited. We would like much more, because what we do gives us a lot of satisfaction. It has a good public reception and for these local communities. It is always a place where we want to hug whether it is associations, local governments, meetings, festivals.
Now in a time of pandemic, because of what’s happening in the world, we’re looking anew and learning lessons about what we need to do with the environment, with the world for the future, what we’re going to leave for the next generation. I think hotels are a great place to change our consciousness, to do something good to our education.
Is it difficult to acquire these abandoned/abandoned locations? What does such a process look like? What are the legal barriers?
Acquisition is very easy, only along the way there are a lot of problems, of course. Mostly bureaucratic, procedural ones. In all this we are often on our own, we have to use some unconventional ways. Everyone wants to do well, including officials, but our law is so complicated with interpretations that often these officials prefer not to make decisions, they avoid it. Now because of the covid pandemic such procedures are worse. The conservator pays attention to some detail and multiple agreements. He doesn’t see that we are saving the object as a whole, that we are not destroying it. We try to leave as much as possible, we protect it, because maybe in the future, in future generations, there will be a different approach to conservation. We do not make artificial objects. Where we do not need to change, we leave it. We really lose a lot through these procedures. Investors, often enthusiasts, who sometimes come across a wall here, are discouraged.
Currently, we have several dozen of very beautiful buildings, often very damaged, after fires. I think that the need to restore such buildings is enormous, otherwise we will lose our heritage. Often when rescuing such objects there are very complicated procedures to go through. Generally, it happens that it is easier to find funding for such an object than to go through these procedures. I have a lot of sympathy for my employees who deal with these issues, because it is hard and tedious work.
I’ve heard that it’s often the preservationists who block projects. They don’t like something, something doesn’t meet the tough requirements and is stopped.
There are conservationists like that. Maybe it’s not even always their ill will. Maybe sometimes they can’t take responsibility. Unfortunately, it’s often the case with officials that they don’t know how to interpret everything. Our regulations are sometimes so contradictory, so different, as if there is no trust in people, investors. We fund ourselves more problems. I sympathize with the conservationists, of course, but some people are such that they shouldn’t be in this place. There are also certain arrangements in different environments and in different groups. We don’t get into those arrangements for them. They try to draw us in by explaining that they will help us, but this also creates barriers, and so we are free.
I can confidently say many things, I’m 70 years old and I didn’t let anyone buy me or get into any deals and that’s what makes me brave.
Recently you have invested in the Szombierki CHP Plant in Bytom – a historic building from 1920, a glassworks in Szklarska Poręba and a palace in Siemianowice Śląskie. How do you intend to utilize these investments?
I will have to think about it, here the decisions were a bit different. The Szombierki Heat and Power Plant is a particularly well-known case. I had known about it for a few years, but we were not ready for it at the beginning. At first, I was there at least three times, and during my next visit after a year I saw how it was degrading, how the cobblestones were taken away, or how the elevations were falling down, or how the trees for the elevations had grown over a year. After the experience of Cukrownia Żnin, which was a big challenge, I was a bit more courageous.
In the case of Elektrociepłownia we have, of course, a certain basic direction, i.e. culture and education. Perhaps it will be possible to locate a university there, a very creative one, some talks are underway. Inside there are very large halls of various types, be it for big concerts, festivals, theater performances, operas, fairs and so on. And accompanying services, that’s what we do, that is hotels and gastronomy, and of course places for old crafts and manufactures, that’s the added value. After the purchase I found out that about 250 or more people – professors, authorities themselves – wrote a letter to Minister Gliński to save the building. I think that we will have many ambassadors who care about this project. I am very happy that we can take on such challenges.
Siemianowice Śląskie is a different project, because it is the Donnersmark palace in a beautiful green area, with a large park located centrally in the Silesian agglomeration, and there is a need for this greenery. We’ve taken it over from others who didn’t quite manage it for many years. I think we will make about 300 rooms there. There are some very interesting interiors, for example, rooms that used to be stables, so atmospheric and multifunctional.
Szklarska Poręba is still at an early stage. There is a glass factory there which is interesting for us, but it is necessary to change the development plans.
We still have a lot of projects that haven’t closed, we have a couple of projects where we’re done and we’re waiting for preliminary agreements to come back to them. We continue to penetrate Poland to see if they send us anything, but we’re not going to be able to salvage everything we’d like to.
Which of your projects do you find most interesting?
Probably the most interesting challenge will be Szombierki Bytom. For me it’s absolutely unique and it’s an interesting challenge to face. I really like such atmosphere, like in Gdansk Dolne Miasto, where others prefer not to show themselves. This inspires me.
And of course, the Żnin Sugar Factory was our last finished project. The Żnin sugar factory was to be demolished. The Polish Sugar Company could not sell it, no investor knew what to do with it. It had already been initially divided into plots and investors would have demolished it, but at the last moment we stepped in to save the whole establishment. We didn’t remove a single building, regardless of when it was located. Most of them were at the end of the 19th century, but others appeared later. We kind of stopped all this history, time stopped some elements. One of them is the building, left, demolished, but nicely illuminated with a lighting effect. Maybe it’s good that we made sure that the engineers didn’t demolish it somewhere, because they already had the idea that everything was unnecessary.
Apart from that there is also the Uphagen Manor in Gdańsk. It’s a smaller project, but also very interesting – its interior and the whole thing.
Unique is the investment mechanism – Arche System, which allows you to conveniently and safely invest in the purchase of hotel rooms. How to become an investor? Can you say something more about it? (24 min.)
The Arche system consists in joint financing of hotel projects. Individual investors buy hotel rooms, while Arche owns other premises, such as restaurants, conference rooms, service premises. All revenues are added up and, after deducting costs, the profits are divided among the owners in proportion to the owned space.
Before the pandemic, the rate of return reached several percent. In case of smaller gains or losses as during the pandemic, our investors are guaranteed a minimum return of 5%.
We have a large group of investors who like our philosophy of saving historical buildings. Profit is not always the most important thing. In this way we build our brand, we learn good organization and management. As far as historical buildings are concerned, their value will surely grow. As a company we have very ambitious plans. I would like to have 100 hotels in the group in 10 years’ time. We need investors, but we also use bonds and loans. We are currently waiting for an alternative investment company to be registered, also for smaller investors. I am talking about dividend companies here, because the whole profit goes to dividends. This means that you do not have to buy an entire palace or even a room at once. You can enter into such a project with less funding for example from 10 thousand. We have very ambitious plans, therefore we invite investors to cooperation.
Helping another human being is very important to you. in 2014 of the Lena Grochowska Foundation. Its goal is to support people with intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders. Please tell us something more about this project.
The first goal of the foundation was to bring repartees from Kazakhstan. We managed to bring 28 families, we gave them jobs, housing. The project proved to be a great success. Now many families have already moved out, become independent, bought their own apartments and had children. As far as people with disabilities are concerned, some time ago I hired two people for marketing in the Foundation. They had no experience and that’s fortunate, because we did not suggest experience but practice and some conclusions. It turned out to be a great idea. Next people are waiting in line to work in Siedlce. People working there have changed incredibly, they are extremely committed to the work. Their parents do not recognize them. At the moment we have over 50 people employed. They are independent, very solid, hard-working. A huge change has taken place in them. When I am in Siedlce, I always approach them in the morning to cheer them up for the whole day. Their ceramic products sell very well in our hotels but also in the Internet store. We are opening new branches. We organize charity balls to which we also invite people with disabilities. Recently, we invited both disabled persons and presidents of big companies to such a ball. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but the ball was a great success. I think that we need each other. . As far as the latest activities are concerned, we provide housing for refugees from Afghanistan, for the time being those who were brought here by the government in August. We provide training for some of these families. There are a lot of social projects that are created within the Foundation. A few years ago we built a school in Chad in the middle of Africa. We want to organize a branch of the foundation there and open some kind of a medical clinic or hospital.
Another project was born after I published my open letter about accepting refugees. It was followed by some comments on why we do not do anything for the homeless in Poland. We decided that we would try to help the homeless somehow. We have not decided yet in which city, but we are still discussing this matter. Generally, the plan is that we will renovate the apartments and the homeless people will renovate them themselves. In this way we want to give them a chance to get personally involved in the project. We will give them materials, find sponsors, and they will be able to renovate the apartments and adapt them to their needs. These are very interesting projects and I am very happy about them. We do not expect any discounts or subsidies from you – this is my principle.
What can we expect from Arche in the near future?
Of course, all the time we plan to develop, to find our own philosophy of solving problems. We want to have an influence on people’s consciousness, on their education. We try to keep our feet on the ground, to solve problems, especially the basic ones. The paradox is that we fly into space and we still have so many problems to solve, such as loneliness, depression, hunger, wars. Our motto is ‘Arche connects people’ and this is what we want to be guided by. Social projects are very important to us. We want to help the disabled, the sick and the elderly. We focus on local communities. I am glad that very valuable people come to the company and together we work on our brand. I think that my success is that I have a good intuition and I can choose people well. Thanks to that we are very successful. Of course, the pandemic has strongly hampered our industry, but currently we are working intensively on improving this situation. We have many interesting projects in the pipeline, including a beautiful project in Konstancin. These are the areas of Papiernia Królewska – about 60ha, 30 thousand square meters of historical buildings. Currently the area is completely degraded, destroyed. We plan to find investors and renovate this place. I try to think positively about the future. The world produces a lot of gadgets we don’t really need to live, we litter with it terribly. Fortunately, young people know that many of these things are not necessary for them to be happy. They prefer to bet on relationships, development, which makes me very happy.
Last Updated on July 26, 2022 by Anastazja Lach