Aleksandra Friedel

Vice President of the Management Board, Unilink S.A.

Currently, more and more often people managing companies put emphasis on ensuring that their organization fits into a wider 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?

Managing business in a more sustainable way has already become the norm. In my opinion, responsible and effective leadership is, above all, comprehensive leadership. The concept of leadership versatility talks about calibrating your leadership style and using all styles depending on the situation. This is important because we live in a world that sucks: fragile, restless, non-linear and often incomprehensible. Therefore, in Unilink, among others in the area of social responsibility, we agilely respond to changing social needs and adapt activities to the situation. For example, during the pandemic, we supported 3 hospitals by donating 1,000 hygiene kits for their patients. In turn, after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, we donated PLN 100,000 to the Polish Humanitarian Action, helping refugees. In addition, Safety Brokers, a foreign company from the Unilink group, donated 100,000 lei to support Ukraine.

We also conduct cyclical campaigns that positively affect the mental and physical well-being of our employees. We are involved in the initiative of the Humanites Institute of Zofia Dzik “Two hours for the family”, and we have introduced our own principle “Two hours on a birthday”, thanks to which our employees have more time to nurture family relationships. We also care about the health and well-being of our employees by encouraging them to take part in various sports activities or by organizing workshops promoting well-being and a healthy lifestyle.

The culture of knowledge sharing, which we promote in our organization on a daily basis, is very important to us. Hence, for example, a mentoring program that ensures the transfer of knowledge in the organization, while building non-hierarchical, partnership relations in the company.

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

ESG standards allow to standardize activities and are the foundation of development towards responsible business. I believe this is the right direction. ESG activities have been carried out by Unilink for years – we support, for example, local initiatives of our agents, or we initiate them ourselves. In 2022, we published the report “Insurance Navigator – Weather Challenges”, which, on one hand, we created to increase awareness of the threats posed by climate change and motivate Poles to counteract it. On the other hand, we wanted to show that you can protect your belongings, business or health against the inevitable consequences of extreme weather events. Our Insurance Agents play an important, advisory role in this matter. What’s more it is worth remembering about our other project, the Insurance Competition. It is the only initiative of this type in the country, promoting professional insurance advice, sharing knowledge and rewarding “the best of the best”. In the maze of offers and legal complexities, in the changing macro and microeconomic environment, it is the agents who lend the clients a helping hand, proposing solutions that meet needs of their clients. We also went a step further and organized an edition of the Insurance Competition aimed at young people to educate them in this area.

Each company creates its corporate culture, which includes the values seen by different customers outside. Do customers prefer to choose this particular company because it does something good that the customer identifies with, or is purchasing decisions mainly influenced by price? What is your opinion, what trends have you observed, is anything changing in this area?

The “being good” trend has become a permanent part of our everyday life. Consumers expect brands to be transparent and socially responsible. In a situation where the consumer has two brands to choose from for a similar price, he will choose the one that supports the values that are important to him or her. Today consumer is less likely to believe in empty slogans, which is why it is so important that what the brand communicates is reflected in reality. At Unilink, we have been working according to the culture of Accoutability, which we called DBAM. The basis of this philosophy is the trust of the management board towards its employees and the employees’ sense of responsibility for the tasks entrusted to them. However, what is most important in the DBAM culture is making decisions where the information is – not hierarchically. At Unilink, we care about relations with insurance companies or the Polish Financial Supervision Authority, we care about tools and systems, about employees and agents, so that they can take care of customers and their needs. Taking responsibility by companies for the environment in which they operate is a trend that, in my opinion, will develop even more due to the increasing pressure from society or new regulations.

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

In a dynamically changing reality, in times marked by pandemic and war, a sense of stability and security is extremely important, not only in the personal life, but also in business. In crisis situations, we turn to basic values that help us navigate in the world of VUCA/BANI. We appreciate values such as honesty, credibility and trust, which are universal and timeless.

At Unilink, we believe that the truth will always prevail. Our motto “do it right or don’t do it” would not be effective without honesty, openness and calling a spade a spade. I can only change and improve what I can measure and what I have knowledge about and things I want to give a name to.

Due to my strong financial background, I like to rely on KPIs and numbers, numbers don’t lie. Knowing the true picture of the situation, we are able to react appropriately.

Fair play also means being transparent and honest with your colleagues and partners. We appreciate the power of feedback in accordance with the idea of “feedback is a gift”, but only when such feedback is given honestly and with care. With care, i.e. with a positive intention.

The world needs smart and good leaders who want to positively influence their environment. Was there a moment when you started looking for a deeper meaning of your work, an opportunity to do something good for your communities or country? What have you achieved?

To be able to lead people, you need to answer the questions: who am I as a person? What motivates me, what are my behavior patterns?

In order to get to know myself better and gain appropriate leadership competences, I have been exploring the secrets of leadership, decision-making, team management and effective communication for many years.

As a graduate of postgraduate studies at the Academy of Leadership Psychology and Coaching and Mentoring, I consider responsible leadership to be a key issue in managing an organization.

Today, the leader faces enormous challenges. The rapid pace of change, uncertain environment, increasing demands and pressures have increased the need for versatile leaders who are able to cope with a variety of changes and have the ability to solve competing priorities.

I understand versatility as the ability to read and respond to changes using a numer of complementary skills and behaviors, which we acquire by working on our character, acquiring new competences and expanding our perspective. When I know and understand different things well I can perceive more opportunities.

For me, apart from my own development, the development of our employees and associates is also important. I believe that when individuals expand their capabilities, the entire organization becomes stronger.

It all starts with the leader. The broader a leader’s perspective on the world, the greater their repertoire of skills, abilities and behaviors, and the more versatile they are as a person, the more likely they are to lead their people, teams and organizations successfully in a rapidly changing world.

At the same time, I agree with Jim Collins, the author of ”Good to Great”, that the best leaders subordinate their needs to a higher ambition to achieve something bigger and more enduring than themselves.

Aleksandra Friedel is a graduate of the Poznań University of Economics and Business. She has ACCA qualifications. She gained experience in the field of finance in Germany and Great Britain, e.g. global financial institutions as KPMG and Hannover Re, as well as in Poland, in Link4. She has been CFO and Vice-President of the Management Board at Unilink since 2015. Entrepreneur and Business Angel. Precursor and mentor of the mentoring program dedicated to talents at Unilink S.A., initiated in 2021. Privately, an enthusiast of personal development, passionate about leadership and an investor. A graduate of postgraduate studies in Coaching and Mentoring at the Psychoeducation Laboratory at SWPS and the Academy of Leadership Psychology. She is certified LVI allowing to conduct the Versatility of Leadership test. From 2022, she is also a lecturer at the Business School at the Warsaw University of Technology.

Last Updated on February 9, 2023 by Valeriia Honcharuk