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The Warsaw Voice » Other » September 17, 2008
The Lower Silesia Voice
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Making Life Easier
September 17, 2008   
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Piotr Freyberg, general manager of the Wroc³aw branch of 3M, an American multinational that produces a vast range of products including adhesives, laminates, electronic circuits and optical film, talks to Przemek Wronecki.

Why did 3M choose Lower Silesia, or more precisely Wroc³aw, for an office in Poland?
Most of our production output is exported, so we were interested in proximity to the countries of the old European Union. Thanks to the A4 freeway Wroc³aw has a very good location and transport links.

How did 3M develop its operations in Poland?
3M started operating in Poland in 1991, opening a sales division in Warsaw. Our goal was to launch the largest possible number of 3M products. Under the company's philosophy, its operations did not just comprise sales and marketing offices but also a customer service center. That's where we devote a good deal of time to training our clients in using the products they buy, and we offer help in choosing the products best suited to their needs. The company isn't only concerned about sales but also about making sure the buyer utilizes 100 percent of a purchased product's potential. Once 3M had consolidated its market position, I started convincing my American bosses that it would be worth launching production. This happened in 2001 when we took over the Viscoplast factory. It was a very good decision, and a second Scotchcast™ factory was set up a few months later. It's worth mentioning that the corporation has 27 branches in Europe, while Poland was the seventh country in which production was launched. The six earlier countries were Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Belgium. Russia joined this group recently. Today 3M holds 40 percent of the global market for light stiffeners. The Wroc³aw factory will provide all of our world production.

What other arguments were there in favor of Wroc³aw?
Another important factor in the development of 3M in a city like Wroc³aw was the scientific resources. We were interested in what universities were in place and what courses graduates completed there. Out of Wroc³aw's 650,000 residents, 160,000 are students. There is every chance that one will find the required number of highly qualified employees. Our decision was also hugely influenced by the positive attitude of the local authorities to us as an investor. I am deeply convinced that it is only thanks to the positive approach of the city's current and past authorities that Wroc³aw has attracted so many and such large investment projects. The strategy of full openness and friendliness towards business is simply paying off. I think it's only due to this kind of attitude that so many global corporations have invested in Wroc³aw.

Did wage levels affect the decision to invest here?
Employee costs aren't all that important to our company. It's only fourth or fifth on our list. Our four Wroc³aw factories employ 600 people. Our production is not labor-intensive, but it does absorb sizable financial capital. The main cost of building a factory is the cost of the production equipment, which is technologically very advanced.

What would happen if any of the investments turned out to be ill-judged?
To start investing in Poland, I had to show the American managers that we were reliable and could draw up a good business plan, and then implement it impeccably. Apart from the factors mentioned earlier, these two are key. The Viscoplast factory I mentioned is an excellent case in point. Of course anyone can suffer setbacks. Obviously someone who invests money and whose project fails will try to cushion the fall. Our corporation makes a huge range of products. If a fiasco should occur, we can replace one set of equipment with another and continue manufacturing-because we have infrastructure, land, production halls, IT systems, and primarily a well-trained team of people who are the foundation of our company.

What is your view of Wroc³aw's efforts to be the location of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology's (EIT's) Governing Board?
I think it was a good idea. But I also think Poland made a huge mistake three years ago in wanting to win Frontex [the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union] at all cost. That was the time to stop and think if it would help our country's development. In particular, that was the time to remember the rule that each new European Union institution would have its headquarters in a new member state, which was why it was very hard for Wroc³aw to win the race. Even so, I still think it was the right decision, because thanks to its drive to win the EIT headquarters, the city promoted itself very well and is sure to be home to one of the Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs). I think the local government is going in a very good direction by vying for participation in projects of European and even global scope. Only such efforts can be expected to bring results. In this case defeat turned out to be a victory because it turned Europe's eyes on Wroc³aw.

What plans does 3M have for its future in Poland? Do you plan to open a research and development center in Wroc³aw?
This fall we intend to start building an aerospace-focused factory. The products will be mainly tapes and adhesives used in the aviation industry. They allow the number of screws used to be minimized. As for a research department, at present there are 30 people at our Wroc³aw factories who devote some of their time to improving our products and working on their own innovative ideas. Of course we plan to put up a building one day that will house an actual research division. It's worth taking a look at the way we train our salespeople. We demand creativity and keen observation from them, and they also have to work a few days on the production line to see how a given product is made. 3M salespeople keep directly in touch with clients and know their needs best. We require our business partners to allow their salespeople to observe the production line. This system works really well.

Does 3M's range include products that can revolutionize people's lives?
It's very hard today to invent a product that could revolutionize our lives. Laboratories are more involved in working on technology platforms. Fluorescent films, a flagship 3M product, is one example; 80 percent of fluorescent road signs in the world were made based on our technology. Every properly designed fluorescent sign had its beginnings at our factory. In an effort to improve safety on Lower Silesia's roads, a short time ago we put up orange signs on the Wa³brzych-¦widnica road informing drivers that they were approaching a school. We recently convinced the Wroc³aw city authorities to develop a municipal information system. The first signs are already up. Warsaw has had such a system for eight years, making it much easier for people to move around town-not just visitors but also local residents. Of course both systems use 3M fluorescent films. Nowadays you cannot expect revolutions involving great technological leaps, but small steps that make life easier.

Piotr Freyberg, 66, married. Graduated from the Foreign Trade Faculty at the Warsaw School of Economics (SGPIS) 1965. Ph.D. SGPIS 1970. Scientific researcher at SGPIS 1965-73. Senior public servant 1973-91 (Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Economy, permanent representative of Poland to GATT in Geneva). Country Manager of Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M Poland Sp. z o. o.) 1991-1995. Managing Director 1995-2005 and Investment Director 2005. Currently Chairman of the Management Board of 3M Wroc³aw Sp. z o.o.
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