Boguslaw Kowalski

President, GRAAL S.A.

Nowadays, more and more often company managers put emphasis on the fact that their organization fits into a broader social context and undertakes initiatives related to corporate social responsibility. What activities do you carry out in this area, how is it implemented, what does responsible leadership mean to you? 

Since I established GRAAL, it has been a company that has been guided by certain values that are consistent with my beliefs and the value system I brought from home. The name of the company itself refers to this system because the “holy grail” is a vessel firmly rooted in a religion with deep symbolism.  Therefore, long before the fashion for corporate social responsibility activities came, we as a company implemented our internal system, which we called “Global Responsibility”. We have defined 8 areas for which we want to take responsibility when conducting our business. These areas include, among others, production from fish that are not at risk of overfishing, selection of suppliers with certificates confirming sustainable fishing methods, care for reducing the impact on the local natural environment in the area of operation of our plants, supporting local environmental and social initiatives. 4 years ago we decided to go a step further and joined the group of companies and organizations that conduct their activities in accordance with international ESG standards. In our case, it was not a revolutionary change in the philosophy of doing business, but rather evolution, systematization of certain activities and including them in procedures.

As for the second part of the question, for me “responsible leadership” is being a leader who sets the direction and makes sure that all employees see that certain values in the company are not just empty slogans, but a real environmental action, the example of which goes from above.

More and more investors and financial institutions choose as their partners those organizations that operate in accordance with ESG recommendations. Do you think that is right? How does the company you manage go beyond the so-called business as usual? What is it doing for the climate, local communities, diversity or what would you like to implement in the near future?

Of course, I agree with this and, as an investor, I also look at the culture of the organization in which I possibly want to invest.  ESG is a kind of global standard of operation and business maturity of a company. This will not replace reliable due diligence, but as one of the first criteria for assessing the potential of an investment, it can say a lot about the organization. To put it simply, it can be said that companies that do not have a problem with financial liquidity and running current operations, do not fight for survival, can focus on environmental and social aspects. In recent years, for example, we have been focusing very strongly on reducing our carbon footprint. My goal is to make our plants “zero emission”, which is why we have introduced the “Zero Waste” program, which is to prevent the waste of manufactured food by identifying critical points in the production process and sealing the system of managing defective products. We are expanding our own sewage treatment plants or preparing to install our own “zero-emission” energy sources for the operation of plants.

Every company creates its corporate culture that embodies the values that customers see externally. Do customers prefer to choose this particular company because it does something good with which the customer identifies or is it mainly price-driven purchasing decisions? What is your opinion, what trends have you observed, is something changing in this area?

In principle, you are right. Customers want to buy products they identify with. It is a kind of manifestation of the views and values they adhere to. By choosing products of companies that carry certain values on their banners, they communicate that these values are also important to them. Examples of such companies and their products can be multiplied, such as the recently famous case of the Patagonia brand, which handed over a controlling stake of the company to two organizations fighting the climate crisis.  Profits are to be transferred to activities related to climate change and the protection of Earth’s natural resources and to the protection of biodiversity. This very clear declaration echoed around the world, clearly communicating what values stand behind this company and certainly a large group of customers appreciate it and therefore buy products of this brand.

However, we must remember that the customer when choosing a product is guided by many variables, not only the compatibility of beliefs with the company that provides the product. I would say that this is the straw that can tip the scales when he has a choice between two very similar products in terms of composition, functionality and price. Customers are able to pay more for brands that in their perception act responsibly or have earned trust, but we cannot consider the mechanisms of the purchasing process in isolation from the price. This is the so-called “cost of loyalty”.

The development of values and ethical principles in many organizations may indicate that awareness in this area is growing. Many managers declare that they put ethics at the center of their activities. Is compliance with the principles of fair play in management a guarantee of stable development of the company?

I think that the GRAAL Capital Group is a living example of the fact that ethics in action helps in running a business. As I have already mentioned, ethical actions towards all stakeholders of the company have always guided us. Our suppliers, customers and employees appreciate the partnership approach of GRAAL. This means that both we and the companies cooperating with us are always looking for win-win solutions instead of maximizing profit with a single transaction. We focus on long-term contacts and I know that sometimes I could take advantage of the situation in negotiations and “force” e.g. a supplier to make even greater concessions, but I also know that we will gain much more as a company in the long term by having a loyal partner,  which will warn us about the approaching commodity hole or price increase, which will allow us to secure production, and vice versa our suppliers feel safe because they know that we will not leave them in need, or we will not withdraw from the declared quantities of raw material. This approach helps in business planning and focusing on other fronts of activities.

The world needs wise and good leaders who want to have a positive impact on their environment. Was there a moment when you started to look for a deeper meaning in your work, an opportunity to do something good for your communities or country? What has been achieved?

Phil Bosmans, the writer and monk, said, “When the work you do doesn’t give you joy, only money, you’re deathly poor.” And this is a very deep thought about the search for purpose in what we do.  This goal is defined by values and what kind of people we are. So it’s hard to talk about moments. The meaning of life is to be a good person, and work simply gives you the opportunity to act on a larger scale every day.

We are one of the largest fish processors in Poland, market leader. For me, food production, and in particular products that are naturally healthy, has something of a missionary spirit. Today, as a society, we are facing a wave of diseases caused by improper nutrition, which have their origins in childhood. I have 6 children myself and their health is very important to me, so I thought that since as a company we produce fish products that contain many useful micronutrients needed to maintain a balanced diet, we should take responsibility for educating both young people and parents in this area. For several years, we have been consistently promoting fish consumption among Poles. We emphasize the health effects of eating fish 3 times a week in any form. We educate in the field of ideas for preparing fish dishes, cooperate with dieticians, develop products supplemented with natural herbal extracts supporting various life functions and finally we have introduced special flavors of fish dedicated to the youngest.In the campaign, we are supported by numerous influencers valued for their activities in the field of promoting healthy nutrition or clean food ingredients.

Have we been successful in this area? I would say that we are at the beginning of the road. We take action, build awareness, our products addressed to children are very popular, but the goal is very ambitious and written out for years. I hope that in a few or a dozen years I will be able to say, reading the statistics of obesity-induced diseases in Poland, that I have my share in their reduction and this will be a real reason for pride and joy.

Boguslaw Kowalski – GRAAL Ltd.

Founder and co-owner of the Graal Capital Group, which owns leading brands in the fish market in Poland. For over 33 years I have been managing the Group’s companies, carrying out the largest industry consolidation on our domestic market. Within three years, he bought 8 companies and successfully combined them into one coherent organism. Currently, his companies supply the Polish market with 70% of cans of fish and smoked salmon and about 40% of ready meals and export products to 38 countries out of 5 continents.  Winner of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award. An outstanding manager with strong leadership skills, combining passion for with an excellent ability to analyze the business environment and seize emerging opportunities.

Last Updated on January 27, 2023 by Anastazja Lach