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The Warsaw Voice » Other » March 12, 2008
Ireland in Poland
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March 12, 2008   
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Con Murphy, chairman of the Irish Chamber of Commerce in Poland and managing director of PM Group Polska, an Irish-owned architectural and engineering (A&E) and construction management company, talks to Ewa Hancock.

Why do Irish companies come to Poland?
Irish businesses have been anticipating a slowdown in the economic boom and the natural inclination is to look for business abroad. There are several options to consider: Western Europe, where often it is very difficult to expand, particularly due to language barriers and because these markets are very mature; Central and Eastern Europe; and of course Asia. For many reasons, Central and Eastern Europe is the most attractive market, and this primarily applies to Poland. Why Poland? Because this is a large market with considerable potential and a well-educated work force, many of whom speak good English, especially those with further education. Cultural similarities also play a major role. These include both countries' attachment to religious traditions, strong family ties, and a keen sense of humor, although the Irish people seem to show it more often in the workplace. Of course now the two countries are becoming inseparable from each other (in the same way that Ireland and indeed Poland had such long and strong ties to the United States previously) with the amount of immigration to Ireland. In three years Poles have become our largest ethnic group stretching well ahead of the Chinese community which had been our main and only large ethnic group prior to this.

Can you give an example of an Irish success story in Poland?
Actually all our members have been success stories.

I could start off with my own company PM Group Polska, now one of Poland's largest if not the largest A&E companies employing over 250 professional personnel. We had "overnight success" after several years. We have been in Poland since 1997, but we have been profitable only in the last three years. This is certainly due to Poland's entry into the European Union in 2004. The huge influx of FDI since Poland's EU accession and economic growth have made it much more possible to run a business like ours successfully.

It's a similar situation with other construction-related companies like Mercury Engineering who came to Poland around the same time, and C.R.H. (Cementownia Ożarów) who were here even earlier.

We have Polish members also of course, such as Wardyński and Partners law firm and we encourage Polish companies to join the chamber.

Another huge success story is Allied Irish Bank (AIB), which acquired two banks in Poland, Bank Zachodni and Bank WBK.

Poland has become a springboard for many Irish businesses for further expansion into other CEE countries. Many of our entrepreneurs have their head offices in Poland while doing business in other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. This is due in part to Poland's central location but also for language and communication reasons. Many Poles speak several languages, in addition to English, while the ability to speak foreign languages is a weakness of the Irish people (too much time spent learning our national language, Gaelic).

What kind of barriers do Irish investors face in Poland?
We have several members in the recruitment business such as Headcount Solutions, Grafton Sigmar and Job.pl and they are constantly looking to supply personnel for higher management positions and quite often our members' businesses are populated at the top by expats. This is far from ideal but there is a shortage still of Polish business managers. Most Irish businesses would rather see our Polish people leading the business here and of course it is gradually moving in that direction but it takes time.

The high level of indirect taxes is also frustrating. While personal income tax bands are similar there is very poor incentive or provision for pension and life assurance schemes by the government. For instance in Ireland, employer and employee contributions are tax deductible. Trying to make such provisions for our staff here in Poland is very difficult.

Bureaucracy is still a big problem. Ask any of our property development members such as Key Invest, TurnKey Consulting, ORCO or Quinlan Private Golub and they will tell you how long it takes to get decisions from the local authorities. We are really hoping to see an improvement in this area with the new government.

What examples would you give of typical chamber activities?
The chamber is run on a voluntary basis and is event-focused. Our chamber organizes various business mixers for its members and sometimes for the families of our members. We also try to link in with other chambers such as the German, British and Canadian chambers, to mention a few.

March is a very special month for this because of the biggest Irish holiday, St. Patrick's Day on the 17th. This year we are organizing many events linked with St. Patrick's Day including a St. Patrick's Day Business Mixer at the Hyatt in Warsaw jointly with the American Chamber of Commerce that will include a performance of Irish dancing with some dancers from Ireland who have previously performed in Riverdance. We will have a similar event in Wrocław.

Another important event will be the St. Patrick's Day Charity Ball, the largest such event held yearly in Warsaw, the envy of the community and the one which is hardest to get tickets for. This will be held this year at the Hilton (one of our members) and will attract over 600 guests.

The Irish embassy will run several events, some jointly with the Chamber including a family event and breakfast with a visiting Irish government minister.

So it is a pretty hectic week but we are well used to taking it in our stride... and hopefully getting some work done too!
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