An interview with Gabriela Pudło-Chojnacka a businesswoman (CEO of Przedsiębiorstwo Górniczo-Budowlane i Produkcyjno-Handlowe POCH Sp. z o.o. in Zabrze) and a social activist (vice-Chairwoman of the City Council, Chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Zabrze) about developing good managerial skills and achieving targets.She has been just nominated for the True Leader’s Award.
What makes a man become a leader?
I think this is a combination of different situations that makes a man learn or develop a leader’s skill.
Were a leader already in school times?
I don’t know why, but I was noticed somehow. When, for example, in the fifth grade I changed primary school, I instantly became the chairperson of the class, although the children didn’t know me yet.
Maybe it was because of interesting appearance?
Maybe (laughter). I have visited a kindergarten recently at a competition “Got Talent”. When the children came up on the stage their faces, eyes suggested right away who might become a leader in that group. You can see such qualities already in a kindergarten, so I think it is a mixture of qualities that you inherit and skills that you acquire in your lifetime. There are various situations in life when you have an opportunity to be courageous and perform, say something, dominate the group in which you are. When others judge such a performance as positive, they let you “move ahead, and you get more responsibilities. If you are talented and ambitious, you try to meet the group’s expectations and you become motivated to develop further.
A leader is an ambitious person, but from what you have said it seems that it should also be a hard-working person?
Yes, it is a necessity. I think every man is lazy from time to time, but this something you learn. If you nourish laziness, you will never become a leader. When you understand, you do something for yourself, but most of all for others, and at the same time others see this, they will keep on giving new responsibilities to you, increasing the expectations and if you want, you will move ahead.
Shouldn’t a leader also delegate responsibilities?
Yes. I often stress out that it cool to be a leader, but there must be a team which the leader represents, and the leader should use the team members skills by delegating the right tasks to the right persons. A leader must be able to find in the team people with the proper skills to delegate the right task to them. If he or she finds wrong people, the whole work is going to fail. If you can’t find such people, you should use professional support of a coach. In a few years I will retire, so I am looking for a leader who will stand in for me and I also asked an expert for helping me with this.
Is it a professional approach to work with a coach?
Yes, I think so. You should be able to look for advice from others and listen to others, because when you have that kind of humbleness, you get into narcissism and make mistakes. Our coach did tests with our four employees, and then we had to make a special training for them.
There are still a lot of men among leaders, aren’t there?
Yes it is so, but let’s come back again to my childhood. When I was three years old my brother was born and obviously for those times, my parents saw in him the successor not only of the family name, but they also believed that he would be the “drive” for the family. Therefore, I tried to dominate him from the very beginning. He had to listen to me, because I thought he was favored too much, and I didn’t want to let my self-esteem be lowered. I didn’t want to be a good girl who sees a boy as a leader, because it is so in our society that men are naturally perceived as leaders.
Perhaps they are more determined and they act upon rational thinking more. Women put more emotions in this, they act upon feelings more.
What features apart from determination and hard-work have been most useful to you?
The ones I learnt, because those inborn features are there already and you don’t think about them. First of all I think I am overambitious. Sometimes I say to myself: “let it go”. Maybe subconsciously I compete with my husband (Jan Chojnacki, former member of the parliament in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th parliamentary term, businessman). He has always been a leader and motivated me to act, I have also learnt a lot from him. I took over his name and I want it to be taken by others positively. To me a name is a brand which I should look after. If you ask me about the features I have learnt, I think that since the student’s times I have been in a men’s world, for example, I took up the studies at a technical university where there were 120 people, including 12 women. We didn’t have any privileges, but we had to keep up with the scientific minds. Then I worked at a coal mine and again I had to get through and prove that I have the right competence.
Men often think that when a woman has clout then she is aggressive. How did you achieve your goals?
At that time I had to be gentle, I didn’t prove to men that I was better. I remembered what my mother said that you should not fight the management. I also remembered about it when I became the City Council member. I think that you should respect people who were chosen for certain positions, because it was done in democratic elections. Not everyone was thinking that way, and especially not the opposition members … I think that you should express your opinion to your superiors in a diplomatic way, even if you have a different opinion about certain things.
And how long have you been the City Council member, and then the vice-Chairwoman of the City Council in Zabrze?
Four years, and after that I didn’t stand for the position. I managed to stay on the position throughout the whole term, although I knew I preferred to get involved in activities that could bring specific results. I rebelled inside me already before, but I could not let down those who voted for me. My husband told me not to do that because the citizens put their votes for me, so I could disappoint them and had to be consequent.
So it is good when a woman-leader has additional support from the nearest person?
Yes. I can rely on my husband and I will always emphasize this. Of course, I am not saying I don’t argue with him, or that I don’t have other opinion, but I listen to his advice and I often use it.
And what are the biggest challenges in you professional life?
It is always a challenge to keep a company on the market, to develop the customers’ portfolio and to do your job professionally. I admit that the hardest thing with such strong competence is to get new orders. However, I must add that we are recommended to other customers because of quality of our services. Besides, I am not the only one involved in it, but my younger colleagues also.
And what are the biggest companies you work with?
In steel structures we work with such companies as: PORR Polska / Austria, Opel Polska – Gliwice, RSTB – Gliwice, S2M – Stryków / France, Mostostal Zabrze, Zeman HDF – Katowice, Promus – Ruda Śląska, Siemens VAI, Albud – Knurów, MANDAM – Gliwice. We provide laundry services to hotels, for example to Sylvia Gold, and our sewing factory has become a working room for the company MUSES.
Last year you also became the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. What are you responsibilities?
I watch the realization of our targets such as: representing the economic interest of entities associated with the Chamber, doing trainings, integrating and promoting the Chamber members as well as creating and spreading the rules of business ethics. I meet the Chamber members once every three months. The first meeting was held in October 2015 in Szyb Maciej. I invited also some local institutions such as Zabrzańskie Centrum Rozwoju Przedsiębiorczości, Akademicki Inkubator Przedsiębiorczości, ING Bank and Powiatowy Urząd Pracy. The second meeting, the Christmas meeting, was held in December. We had it in a restaurant “Pod Wawrzynem”. This year we met in April at Business Club at the stadium of Górnik Zabrze team in order to see that venue. In June we arranged in the Nowy Theatre a gala on the 20th anniversary of the Chamber’s activity.
What plans do you have for the next years?
To develop the company, and then to hand it over to my successors in a thoughtful way.
Will you remain the owner?
I will still be the owner, but with some time the ownership may also change, because maybe the new leaders take over shares from me. A priority to me is that persons who are now in their 40s could retire after working with POCH. Secondly, for I year I have been the chairman of Chamber of Commerce Division in Zabrze, I still have three years ahead to the end of term. I hope I manage to win more members in that time, and when we are more, my dream is set up a management bureau of this division composed of young people thinking innovatively. Perhaps one day this division will be an independent unit and will get separated from Gliwice, because it would need only 50 members to act as a self-reliant entity and perhaps the young people will succeed in this. My third task – as for a year I have been the member of the Commerce Council acting for the President of Zabrze, I would like to perform that role in a responsible and thoughtful way. My main target is to retire till 13th August 2017 in all good conscience.
What are you going to do then?
Some people are suggesting to me to become a consultant, a mentor, an expert advisor in the company. I don’t what is ahead of me, the future will show …