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Smooth Sailing

source: Warsaw Voice, 17.11.1996

The other state-owned giant in Gdansk has given its workers a reason to smile.
Drydock, a prestigious maritime periodical, has published its annual ranking of the world's best ship repair yards. On the list is Gdańska Stocznia Remontowa (Gdańsk Ship Repair Yard), the most highly rated shipyard in northern Europe. The yard placed fifth in the world, in terms of the number of ships repaired last year.
Named after Marshal Józef Piłsudski, the yard is a state-owned [ was state owned at that time - website's editor ] enterprise managed by 52-year-old Piotr Soyka, by virtue of a managerial contract signed in 1993.
"In my opinion, every company has its five minutes of fame, and even the best companies won't be successful if they miss their window of opportunity," Soyka says. "Business success requires good conditions, knowledge of the competition and favorable trends in both the Polish and foreign markets."
The first few years of Poland's economic transition were like that for the Gdańsk repair yard. Despite layoffs, the yard managed to keep its best professionals.
"That was natural and appropriate," says Soyka. "In the early 1990s, when radical changes took place in our company, we didn't lose the best people. We didn't squander the first two years of reform. Low wages in Poland offered us an opportunity. Consequently, we became more attractive on the market with low production costs."
Today, exports account for more than 90 percent of the yard's output, compared to just 8 percent in 1989. With each passing year exports grew. In 1990, exports to Western markets increased to 35 percent, almost doubling to 65 percent in 1991.
"We haven't missed the bus," Soyka says. "If someone takes success for granted, they are following the wrong policy. There is enormous competition on the world market. This requires our constant effort to strengthen and upgrade personnel. This year, we have been conducting a nationwide recruitment campaign for skilled and intelligent people. We have made use of specialized offices and headhunting agencies. Most candidates have been tested, and we will hire them regardless of whether they have a degree or knowledge of the ship industry or not. For us, intelligence is the most important criterion in selecting personnel. If someone is intelligent enough, we will hire them."
The yard's workforce is well-qualified. Its number has dropped from 7,500 to 3,000, and its structure has also undergone dramatic changes. At the moment, more than 80 percent of the staff are employees involved with production. As of last year, out of the company's 3,000 employees, as many as 800 completed an in-house English language course.
Soyka comes from a family of shipbuilders. He has a wife and two daughters but cannot devote a lot of time to them. His company is his hobby. "In my opinion, a full-fledged CEO cannot leave the company for longer than 10 days," he says explaining why he takes leave so rarely. This may explain why he is successful.
In 1993, the yard became the only enterprise in Eastern Europe to be admitted to the Western European association of ship repair yards. Now, two years later, everyone is knocking on the door of this prestigious group.
"Constant contact with the competition was very important to us," Soyka recollects. "At first, we had observer status; we wanted to know all about the techniques and people. Now, I'm on a first-name basis with the directors of most ship repair yards around the world."
The start of reform failed to escape criticism. The Gdańsk ship repair yard was the first company on the coast from which several companies were spun off to work as suppliers. "We were criticized for creating companies dominated by former communist officials and seizing state assets. We tried to win people's confidence. We were helped by the unions," Soyka says. Union leaders saw the new companies succeed, and the workforce's wages grew, as did confidence in the path followed by the management.
The condition of the yard's neighbor across the fence, Gdańsk Shipyard, offered additional motivation. Even though a ship repair yard needs hundreds of clients and orders to post a profit comparable to that of a shipbuilding yard, Gdańsk Ship Repair Yard has enough orders for several years' worth of work, while Gdańsk Shipyard, after its recent bankruptcy, only has enough orders to work for another few months.
Mariusz Popielarz, Gdańsk (17.11.1996)


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