The Warsaw Voice » Business » Monthly - August 28, 2015
Business & Economy
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Global Perspective, Local Needs
Tomasz Lisewski, CEO for Central and Eastern Europe at Dutch technology giant Philips, talks to the Voice’s El¿bieta Wrzecionkowska about ways of balancing a global perspective with local needs.

You have worked at Philips since 2009 and after just five years you became the company’s CEO for this part of Europe. What’s the secret behind your rapid promotion?
I think it’s mostly what I have managed to do at the company so far. I came to Philips from a completely different business but with extensive experience in sales and marketing. In my work to date I have learned that first and foremost you need to understand your customers’ needs and adjust to their expectations. Contrary to appearances, all of us, regardless of the country, are moved by similar emotions.

When it comes to Philips, it’s a company driven by passionate engineers that has been creating innovative products for over 120 years, setting development trends in many fields. My task was to sell the innovative products that the company offers. And this has been achieved. The team has been a great support to me. Without a team it’s hard to think of being successful in business these days. Another thing that has contributed to my promotion is the company policy, which is open to people from other countries. If someone has good ideas, he or she has a chance to climb the corporate ladder. Not all corporations have such an open policy.

During your career, you have had an opportunity to work with many foreign managers in various countries. What traits do Poles have that make them increasingly noticed and chosen for senior positions in global companies?
I have had an opportunity to work in England, Russia and Austria with managers from virtually all over the world. If I were to compare the traits of Polish people and people from other countries, I would say we are a very open-minded nation. Innovation and creativity are in our genes, as for many years we had to deal with many limitations imposed by the [former communist] system. However, these are not exceptional traits that are only reserved to us. I think it’s just that 25 years have passed since the country’s transformation and the new generation, for the first time in Poland’s postwar history, has had an opportunity to gain international business experience. This, in my opinion, is the main reason so many Polish people are being promoted in global business. Besides, Poland is still in the growth stage. It is an example of a success story for many countries, even those in the old Europe, which greatly helps managers of Polish origin.

As CEO for Central and Eastern Europe, you are responsible for Philips’ business on 17 Central and Eastern European markets, in countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria. How you plan to find out about the needs of the local populations? What’s the best way to combine these needs with a global perspective?
These 17 countries have over 130 million customers with very different expectations, not to mention cultural or religious differences. There are often different needs and different shopping habits. All these countries vary in terms of economic growth, the purchasing power of their populations, and price levels. Just looking at Actual Individual Consumption (AIC), which is an indicator of household welfare, we will see that this has been quite stable across Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in the last several years. CEE countries are below the EU28 average, yet the levels reported by individual countries are not very homogeneous. In Slovenia and Estonia, for example, AIC hovers at around 75 percent of the EU28 average and above. In the region’s biggest states, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania, the indicator is in the 50-60 percent range. In other countries the figure is 40-50 percent. Also, price level indices range from around 40 to 74 percent of the EU28 average. Taking into consideration this vast variety, we need to focus on each country separately and learn about local needs and global aspirations. The countries have been divided into three groups: north, center and south. The structure is very precisely built. Of course, I will try and visit all these places, but I have to admit it’s difficult. The outcome, as always, will depend on the team. CEE remains a very important market to us, generating great value. In the second quarter of this year alone we delivered double-digit growth and contributed to an increase in [the company’s] global sales.

Philips has an extensive range of operations and a specific philosophy. Which of the company’s business policies are the most important to you?
The company’s portfolio ranges from household products to advanced lighting solutions to life-saving medical equipment. What is very important to me is that the company creates new quality. Philips products have always been innovative and oriented at improving quality of life. Not everybody knows that Philips Research is one of the world’s largest corporate research organizations. Last year alone, Philips filed over 2,300 applications with the European Patent Office and was the world’s second largest applicant, the largest one among European companies. We develop new technologies and investigate growth opportunities in various fields. Taking part in such a process is inspiring to many people. Many managers even decide whether or not to accept their job based on the employer’s approach to environmental issues, for example. Here Philips is also a leader, setting ambitious sustainable growth goals. The main one is to improve quality of life for 3 billion people worldwide by 2025. We are already more than halfway to achieving this goal. We are also one of the leading companies in terms of the circular economy [a circular economy aims to decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources and ecosystems by using resources more effectively]. In 2014, 81 percent of Philips’ total industrial waste was reused as a result of recycling. The company’s innovation also translates into how it treats its employees. The company gives them a chance to make their ideas come true and this is the core value for me.