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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » November 3, 2014
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Selling the Scandinavia Brand
November 3, 2014   
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Norwegian businessman Carsten Nilsen, chairman of the Scandinavian-Polish Chamber of Commerce (SPCC), talks to Ewa Hancock.

You’ve been doing business in Poland for over 20 years, during which time the country has changed considerably. What was it like in the early days?
When I first arrived in Poland in the early 1990s, you could not easily transfer money from abroad. The company for which I worked had its head office in Holland in those days. I had to bring with me to Poland a substantial amount of dollars and I did not have anything to carry the money in. The only thing available was a McDonald’s carrying bag, so I put all the money in it and arrived in Warsaw around eight or nine in the evening. I declared the money as required and since this was quite a large amount, I ended up with four customs officers counting the money. It took them some three hours, because every time they came up with a different amount. By midnight, they had managed to complete the task and they gave me a receipt and said—at midnight—“Well, sir, have a very nice time in Warsaw!” The airport was empty by then, I’ll always remember that. I was a bit concerned, of course, that I now needed to take a taxi into Warsaw at midnight with the McDonald’s bag full of money. But it all went OK.

So you couldn’t just use the banking system in Poland at the time?
It was complicated, especially in the early days when establishing a company. And, of course, bureaucracy made it a bit frustrating. You had to submit so many forms, it all took time and when you had several companies, you had to submit exactly the same forms for each. I remember submitting some 20 identical forms, the only change being the name, and the documents were piling up.

In what year did you start doing business in Poland?
It was in 1992 and those were interesting times. Traveling around in Poland was not easy, the roads were not good then. Luckily, Poland didn’t have so many cars either, so I think I could drive to Gdańsk in the same time I can drive there today and today the roads are much better.

How does the Scandinavian-Polish Chamber of Commerce aim to make life easier for Scandinavian investors? What barriers do they face here?
I think really the only barrier is that Scandinavian companies know so little about Poland today. They still think it’s a difficult country to do business in. On the other hand, we also see more and more Scandinavian companies coming to Poland, which is very good of course. Unfortunately, many of them are just opening manufacturing plants for their home markets. I would like to see many more Scandinavian brands on the Polish market. And, of course, more and more Polish companies now want to go to Scandinavia. They don’t really want to be subcontractors... they want to be the main contractors, which is great.

How can the chamber help them do that?
We are, of course, a place for Scandinavian companies to meet and exchange ideas, and for Polish companies that want to find out about the Scandinavian way of doing business, which is quite different from the Polish way. This is a good place for them to meet companies which are in the same industry, to exchange ideas and establish new contacts.

How long does it take to set up a company in Scandinavia?
It is very quick as it can all be done electronically. But, of course, it helps to have a good lawyer to assist you.
As the chairman of the chamber, how would you like to see the organization develop?
The chamber is growing, even if not as fast as one would like it to. We know there are some 2,000 Scandinavian companies in Poland and we only have 360 members. We would certainly like to find many more Scandinavian businesses, so that is why this year we are planning to open an office in the Gdańsk-Sopot-Gdynia Tricity area. The Tricity is one of the places drawing a lot of Scandinavian companies. The Baltic coast is very interesting to Scandinavian companies. We need to have more events and not just in Warsaw.

This year is the chamber’s 10th anniversary and I think the best thing we did was—some 10 years ago—to unite all the various Scandinavian business clubs. I was a member of the Norwegian one for 10 years, and in the early days we had difficulties getting people to take notice of us. It was more of an expat get-together kind of thing.

Today we have a chamber that politicians and various organizations are aware of. We have great cooperation with many Polish cities which are very keen to attract Scandinavian investors.

Apart from the core Scandinavian countries, do other countries join the chamber?
We’re not bound by the name “Scandinavian.” We are also incorporating Iceland and the Baltic states, but we still like the name “Scandinavian.” “Nordic” or “Baltic” not so much. We want to be “Scandinavian,” as this is what Polish people relate to—the Scandinavian way of life.

If you were to name one major Scandinavian company that has been doing extremely well in Poland, which one would it be?
Well, I think one has to say IKEA. They have changed the way Polish people live. You see the brand everywhere and they have been here for a very long time. I don’t think there’s any other Scandinavian brand that is so well known in Poland.
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