WELA in Poland
How did WELA get interested in Poland?
Mr. Loopesko began going to Poland in 1994 working on a real estate development project. Starting in 2001, with an American client seeking to develop European networks, Mr. Loopesko began making bi-monthly trips to Poland. He has now made over 60 trips to Poland since 1994.
The "tipping point", however, was meeting representatives of the firm of GFKK Attorneys at Law (www.gfkk.pl) in 2002. This firm, whose oldest partner is 42 (in January 2014), was the correspondent firm for the Coudert Brothers international law firm (before Coudert’s demise) and represents some of the largest businesses in Poland - the type of clients that a young firm would never have in the West. Their experience convinced the WELA principals that the Polish market was (and is) still very open and that significant market niches (unlike in western Europe and the US) are still there for the taking. Our experiences over the last seven years have confirmed this hunch. GFKK has become a cornerstone of the WELA strategy in Poland.
Why are you concentrating on southern Poland and other "provincial" cities and not Warsaw?
Most people with western European experience think of Poland as a country like France or the UK-namely, that if you draw a 60-mile circle around the capital city, you encompass the majority of the country's economy and economic decision-makers. In our experience, Poland is much more like Germany or the US, with a number of decentralized, independent business centers.
Three such centers - Kraków, Katowice and Wrocław - form a corridor not far from the southern Polish border. Within the less than 200 miles separating Kraków and Wrocław are some 12 million people - more than in all of Hungary or the entire Czech Republic and more than four times the population of the Warsaw metropolitan area. Katowice, where most of the key members of the WELA Polish network have offices, is at the center of the largest urban area between Berlin and Moscow, with approximately 4-5 million people in its "60-mile circle".
Rather than trying to compete with the majority of the other foreign businesses rushing (incorrectly, we believe) to Warsaw, we prefer to sink our roots and develop our networks in the “second tier” of Polish cities. This choice requires a greater effort and commitment, but where we think we will be relatively alone to reap the fruits.
We note that two major Polish express highways intersect in the Katowice metropolitan area, reinforcing the area's position as a major transportation hub.
By leaving the beaten track to others, we believe that we can come up with a "deal flow" and potential Polish partners for our clients that are superior in quantity and quality.
What are your ties to Poland?
Mr. Loopesko has no family or blood ties to Poland, which makes our interest even more convincing to the Poles. Rather, for the reasons cited elsewhere in these questions, we see that more of the best business opportunities over the next 20 years will come from Poland (and particularly non-Warsaw Poland) than from any other Western market - and we've invested our time and money to back it up.
Mr. Loopesko has been in Poland on more than 60 separate trips. He is making good progress in learning the language; we can hold meetings (if not elegantly), and work continues to improve our ability to do business in Polish. He has read extensively about Polish history and culture; Mr. Loopesko has visited 15 of the 16 voivodships ("regions") in Poland. The Poles appreciate the commitment that this investment of time and energy shows.