Katarzyna Zawodna-Bijoch, President and CEO for Skanska Commercial Development Business Unit in CEE. Interview with CEO.

What are your predictions for the Polish economy in the light of recent global events?

History shows that, as we are a large country with a significant domestic demand and a diversified economy, Poland does not do badly in the face of crises. Of course, we can expect some difficulties, details of which remain to be seen, and downturn in some sectors, but I believe we will quickly turn around as a society and economy.

How do you see your company’s situation over the next three, six and twelve months?

I expect that home office will become a permanent part of the work culture, but certainly will not replace regular offices completely. I am convinced that hybrid work – part in the office, part remotely – will become the new normal, even after the pandemic. The role of the office is changing, but it is of key importance in building a sense of belonging and culture of the organization, so in this respect it is absolutely irreplaceable. The office is a place where employees meet in person and can work out creative solutions, inspire each other and build relationships. These aspects are invaluable from the viewpoint of the company’s long-term development. 

During the previous crisis over a decade ago, Poland was a “green island” because international corporations recognized its potential and started to move their service centers here. Today, it seems that, once again, we will benefit from companies looking for a safe place to do business. Poland has many advantages in this context: cultural proximity, membership in the EU with a stable legal and tax system, and an extensive office and fiber-optic infrastructure. Our region has passed the working-from-home test with flying colors in recent months, enabling companies to continue to do their business with virtually no turbulences associated with changing the way they work, which has not always been so smooth in other parts of the world. Therefore, today, some companies are already moving some operations from more distant and less stable business locations.

These two important trends should be well-balanced in the long perspective. I think we can look at the future of the office market with healthy optimism, as lower demand related to working from home is combined with more extensive social distance regimes, the changing role of the office from a place that is strictly used for work into a place of creation, particularly as concerns organizational culture, and relocations from offshoring to nearshoring.

Today, more than ever, tenants wish to ensure the health and well-being of their employees. For several years now, these goals have been incorporated in Skanska’s product strategy: “People and their well-being are at the heart of our operations.” One way to manifest this approach is the comprehensive WELL certification addressing these issues in great detail. These days, there is additional focus on non-contact solutions that reduce the risk of disease transmission. They are the future. Fortunately, these features are already present in our buildings thanks to the Connected by Skanska app. We are extremely focused on innovations that have been serving people and the environment for several years now.

As you can see, thanks to excellent foundations, we were able to quickly adapt our offices to the new reality, as confirmed by, among others, the WELL Health-Safety Rating certificate for which 9 Skanska office investments in CEE have applied. 

Modern, sustainable and human-friendly offices have always enjoyed and will continue to enjoy popularity. I see a greater challenge, however, for the offices in older buildings, as they will need to adapt ventilation and air-conditioning systems, and comply with social distance regimes in their space arrangements.

What would you like to change or improve in order to do better business in Poland?

I think that the most important thing from the viewpoint of every business is the predictability of the business environment, with all its legal, tax and economic aspects.

What is the worst thing that you think could happen to your company in the market environment? What are you afraid of?

I would like Central and Eastern Europe, including Poland, to be continuously perceived as a good and safe place to invest international capital. This will be possible only if CEE countries are seen as having strong democracies and stable economies. Foreign investments are still very important for Poland, and this will not change anytime soon. The image of the entire region is of a great importance in this respect. The inflow of external capital is critical for our development.

What is the hardest situation you had to face in business?It was definitely this year’s March. For me, this was like driving a car after dark and in heavy rain. We had to slow down and closely consider every move because we could not see what was going on around us and when the next turn would appear on our road. The pandemic affected our lives, health and sense of security – basic human needs, not the financial sphere, as in previous crises. This was extremely difficult for us all. These were

unprecedented events on a global scale that could not be compared to anything else in the past. Luckily, at Skanska, we have a fantastic team and, thanks to the commitment of all employees, we were able to adapt efficiently to the new reality, keep our jobs and continue to do business. I am very happy about this and very grateful for this to members of my team and all the employees.

What does leadership mean to you?

I believe that, first and foremost, a leader must have a vision with which they can infect the organization. A leader is both an HR officer and an inspirer because leadership is all about working with people. I think that a leader should support people to be the best version of themselves and help them grow. Therefore, they need to create an environment based on stable values and mental safety. Depending on what is happening in the organization, the leader adjusts their role. In difficult times, they should pitch in and work hand in hand with their people. In good times, they stand on the sidelines, observing, removing obstacles that could stand in the way of their team, inspiring and helping employees grow and enjoy their success. This is how I see my role.

What is the secret of managing such a large organization?

The most important thing is trust. It is hard to build anything without it. Today, it is essential for effective management. Nevertheless, it is important to involve employees in decision-making and allow them to take responsibility for their actions. This gives employees the space to do great things. An organizational culture based on values definitely supports this. At Skanska, we see a huge potential in diversity within the organization. We value different opinions and different points of view. We try to build teams consisting equally of men and women, people of different ages and of different education. At first glance, diversity often seems to be an obstacle, as it takes time for everyone to say what they think and agree on something. Ultimately, however, it is diversity that allows us to work out the best possible solutions. In my opinion, companies that want to succeed should create conditions for safe and creative questioning: this is the way of progress, development and innovation. 

What do you think of AI?

Although it is slowly becoming part of our everyday life, we still know little about it. This is certainly the future, but it seems to me that, in the era of the general turn towards AI, we are not discovering enough potential within ourselves. The human brain still hides enormous resources, and we should explore its possibilities just as intensely. The whole sphere related to AI will bring many new opportunities, but also new threats to the world. It is important that legal regulations keep up with developments in this area.

What technological trends will determine the future of business?

The real property industry that I represent shows relatively little innovation. We still have plenty of room for it. I would focus on those solutions that support sustainable development, as they will help us create spaces beneficial for their users and for the environment. Skanska took this direction many years ago. For us, innovation should meet specific objectives: improve safety, increase productivity or solve a problem for people (users of our buildings) or the environment. Certainly, it is best if our innovations combine all these objectives.

Could you share a piece of advice given by a role model that has changed your life?

“Anyone who thinks the sky is the limit, has limited imagination” so we all can do more than we think.

Who has taught you the most in life and business?

In life, my dad has always been very important to me. He has taught me to respect people, the world and the environment. I always heard a lot about values at home. My parents have told me many times that if I live according to my values, no matter what happens or how hard it gets, I will always manage. They taught me that it is not the financial or social status that defines my value, but that every person deserves respect and dignity. I think this shaped both me and my sensitivity to others.

In business, I have learned a lot from Nicklas Lindberg who supported my growth as a leader at Skanska. The most important thing for me has been his trust and the fact that he has given me freedom to make decisions and choose solutions. When I was taking my first steps as a leader, Nicklas often believed in me more than I did. I am very grateful to him for that. He was the first who gave me wings in my professional development. Thanks to him, I have learnt that by being authentic I can achieve a lot and I can sleep peacefully.

What is the best and most inspiring book you have recently read?

I read two books recently that have stayed with me. The first one is “21 lessons for the 21st century” by Yuval Harari. It shows that everything in life is relative. It seems to us that today’s world is unique and that this is how it should be. Harari shows that it will probably be like this for a little while. Another book is “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling. Facts prove that we see the world more negatively than it really is! The role of facts in our lives and in making decisions is extremely important.

What values do you follow in life and business?What matters to me is the broad area of ethics, diversity, authenticity, respect, even humility, towards other people and the environment, and simply being fair. I often think that in the context of human history, I am only here for a moment. I wonder how I will be remembered, what someone will say about me in 30 years, or whether my children will be proud of me. These are my highest values, and I really believe that I can make a difference in this world,

even though many people consider me to be an incurable idealist. I believe that everyone can be the change they expect in the world. After all, great things start with small actions of individuals. Living according to my values is extremely important to me, even though it sometimes manifests itself in small things like segregating waste, teaching children about diversity, or supporting women in the fight for our rights.

What makes you feel better? What are your proven methods to fight stress?

Children. They show me that, apart from the very important everyday business world, there is a world of building blocks, singing and playing together on the floor. Children give me a different perspective that helps me break away and catch my breath. Whenever I can, I read books and simply listen to music, as it calms me down very much, almost as much as walking in the forest, cycling or playing with children.

Last Updated on January 13, 2021 by Łukasz