Maryline Bertheau-Sobczyk is CEO of Valians International. She lives in Krakow and has been involved in business co-operation between Poland and her native France for the past 20 years. The Krakow Post spoke to her about her experience of the city, both as a leading figure in the business community and a resident.
Krakow Post: What is Valians International, and what does it do?
Maryline Bertheau-Sobczyk: Valians International is a consulting company offering operational business services and support in Eastern Europe, mainly for French and francophone companies. This business allows us to offer our knowledge and know-how of Eastern European markets to foreign companies who need trusted partners to enter these markets with success. I’ve split my time between France and Poland for the last 20 years, so it seems quite logical for me to be involved in this business, and I take great pleasure in it.
KP: What are the main challenges faced by French businesses operating in Poland?
MBS: Language and cultural approaches: French companies are often very cautious and need to be very prepared and sure they can do business before entering a market. Polish companies are more practical and are ready to do business quickly, even if they are not sure they can make a success of it. Because of this, they often prefer the German or Italian approach. Also, the culture of the older generation of Poles, developed under Communism, is not always easy for French entrepreneurs to understand.
KP: What are the advantages of doing business in Poland/Krakow?
MBS: A large market, a rapidly expanding economy, huge investment projects, and a highly skilled and well-educated workforce at the heart of Europe. Krakow is an interesting place for business too, not just because of its cultural attractions, but also because of its proximity to Katowice (will we call it Krakowice in 30 years?), a major industrial centre closed to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Poland still needs to catch-up with Western European standards but Poles are very open to moving forward and doing business despite (or perhaps because) of the heavy weight of their recent history. This is probably why Poland has come through the global crisis with flying colours.
KP: What are the greatest success stories in the field of Polish-French business co-operation?
MBS: Probably France Telecom – the biggest foreign investor in Poland – but also the supermarket chains (Carrefour, Auchan, Intermarché, Leclerc), and the more than 1,200 French capital companies operating in Poland from the large, like St Gobain, to the small, like Rector.
KP: There are many historical links between Poland and France, stretching back to King Henryk III in the 16th century. Are there similarities between the French and Polish views of the world?
MBS: I would say both nationalities are patriotic, although they show it in different ways. The French are proud of their history and culture and often think that people should respect them just because they are French (a kind of superiority complex)! Polish people show their strong patriotism more overtly – by flying flags on national days and through fanatical support for their sports teams.
KP: Where do you relax in Krakow? Do you have a favourite restaurant or cafe?
MBS: I relax everywhere because I love this city! It’s so beautiful and charming. I like to discover new places by bicycle, going to Tyniec for example along the Vistula River. I love to discover new restaurants and cafes in Kazimierz. The last one I discovered was a French Brasserie, just like in Paris! And in the Market Square, the café in the National Museum at the Sukiennice, on the first floor, has a fantastic view.
KP: Where does the French community in Krakow tend to meet, or go out to enjoy themselves?
MBS: The French consulate regularly organises business and cultural events. I would probably not be original by mentioning bars and restaurants in the old town and Kazimierz.
KP: Will you be celebrating Le Quatorze Juillet (Bastille Day) in Krakow?
MBS: Of course! There will be a party organised by the French Consulate in Villa Deciusza.
KP: If you were Queen of Krakow for a day, what would you change?
MBS: If I had just one day, I would need a baguette magique (magic wand)! I would probably build more parking places (underground!) and install more ticket machines for parking and public transport tickets, that take credit cards as well as cash. I would renovate the façades of a lot of beautiful buildings as well.