The Warsaw Voice » Other » Monthly - December 30, 2010
Chair of the Year 2010
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The Chair of the Year Goes to Aleksander Grad
Alongside democracy, a free market, and the abolition of censorship, privatization of state-owned enterprises was to be a cornerstone of the new Poland, referred to by some as the Third Republic. The First Republic ended with the partitioning of the country in the late 18th century; the Second Republic existed between World Wars I and II.

Privatization turned out to be a tasty albeit thorny fruit. The popular belief is that private owners are better managers. This belief was accepted as long as it applied to others—not us. “To be a better manager” meant not only that private owners had better ideas but also that they needed fewer workers and wanted to pay them less; it’s their money, after all. That’s something a worker doesn’t like to hear, and trade unions like even less. Nor is a private company a plaything for the kind of politicians who seek to use state-run firms for their own—party or private—aims.

Finally, there’s probably the biggest thorn of all, originating from the previous era, rooted in the way people think, populist and easy to exploit. Private entrepreneurs, according to this mindset, are selfish and devious, maybe even thieving. Or, God forbid, they could be foreigners, scooping off the cream and spiriting it out of Poland. Meanwhile, you get left here, cheated and robbed, you poor fool.

Handling privatization at the government level was (and still is) a suicidal task or one for bomb squads crossing a minefield. And there’s no way to avoid mistakes. Plus, this particular bomb squad is in the line of fire the whole time.

Privatization is an area you cannot describe without mentioning numbers. Each project is positively dripping with numbers, each argument and counterargument is rife with them. I’ll use just two: zl.25 billion—the revenue generated by privatization in 2010, and zl.15 billion—the revenue expected in 2011. Ok, maybe two more: Aleksander Grad completed 400 privatizations in three years, and plans to complete another 150 in 2011.

Grad, the Treasury minister whose responsibilities include privatization, has had a good year. He succeeded in almost everything, including the biggest transactions, record breakers not only by Polish but also European standards. He even managed to untangle and end a serious dispute with Eureko, co-owner of Poland’s largest insurance company, PZU. If the dispute had ended badly for Poland, it might have shaken the budget.

Grad’s greatest success, though, was that he handled privatization in such a way as to win the public’s acceptance for the process. Privatization, both in principle and in individual cases, did not cause such controversy in 2010 as it had in the past.

For 21 years now, The Warsaw Voice has been granting its annual award, the Chair of the Year, to an individual, institution or sometimes even object or commodity that deserves to be seated in a movie director’s chair, because it has had a far-reaching impact on the lives of Polish people.

We believe that Aleksander Grad was such a person in 2010: combative and calm, gentle and tenacious, determined and blessed with negotiating skills.

Aleksander Grad was born May 1, 1962.
In 1987, he graduated from the Faculty of Industrial Surveying, AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow.

In 1988-1989, he worked at Przedsiębiorstwo Usług Geodezyjno-Kartograficznych surveying and map-making enterprise.

In 1990-1997, Grad managed a private business.

Between 1990 and 1994, Grad was a councilor and deputy administrator of Pleśna community in Tarnów county (Małopolska province).

In 1997-1998, he was governor of Tarnów province (until the province ceased to exist following an administrative system reform in 1999).

In 1999, he was a consultant for the World Bank.

In the government of Jerzy Buzek, formed by the Solidarity Election Action (AWS), Grad was an undersecretary at the Health Ministry responsible for the budget, finances and investment in 1999-2000.

On Nov. 16, 2007, Prime Minister Donald Tusk appointed Grad Treasury minister in the coalition government of the Civil Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL).

Grad started his career in politics in the Movement of One Hundred in 1997-2000. Later, he was affiliated with the Conservative People’s Party (SKL) and then joined the PO in 2001. In 2004-2006, he chaired the party’s organizations in the Małopolska region.

Grad was elected to the lower house of parliament in 2001 and 2005 running on the PO ticket in the Tarnów constituency. During his first term, Grad was deputy chairman of the Committee for the EU and during his second term, he was deputy chairman and then chairman of the Treasury Committee. In the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2007, Grad was elected for the third time, having received 29,842 votes in his home constituency.

The Warsaw Voice’s annual Chair of the Year award has previously gone to:
1989—Lech Wałęsa
1990—Leszek Balcerowicz
1991—Jan Krzysztof Bielecki
1992—Hanna Suchocka
1993—Warsaw Stock Exchange
1994—Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz
1995—The Supreme Court’s Chamber of Administration, Labor and Social Security
1996—the passenger car
1997—Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Roman Kluska—the Chair of the Decade
1998—Jerzy Buzek
1999—Bronisław Geremek
2000—Aleksander Kwaśniewski
2001—Adam Małysz
2002—Danuta Hübner
2003—Jerzy Hausner
2004—Marek Belka
2005—Rafał Blechacz
2006—the economy
2007—Donald Tusk
2008—Leszek Balcerowicz and Lech Wałęsa—the Chair of the Two Decades
2009—Jacek Rostowski

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