For over three decades, Władysław Grochowski, entrepreneur, owner and president of the board of Arche, has been successfully combining business successes with philanthropy.
“Helping others should be a constant ‘part of the game’ in business,” Grochowski says. Arche, his developer and hotel management company, is providing thousands of accommodation units for the needy, mainly mothers with young children, fleeing the war in Ukraine. The company has allocated PLN 5 million to help provide accommodation and free meals. It is also preparing other facilities for long-term stays for refugees and supporting people to find work. For example, as part of helping women from Ukraine, “Garmaż od Ukrainki” was opened. This culinary project in Warsaw is a pilot program introducing products for regular sale in shops and restaurants and launching production at hotels of the Arche chain across Poland. Arche has for many years been searching for forgotten architectural gems and renovating and transforming their ruins into top-class hotels and housing estates. The company currently manages 17 facilities with 3,500 sq m. in floor space and will soon have 20 under management. It has also built over 10,000 rooms, flats and houses across the country and is constantly growing, for example opening a factory in Siedlce – ARCHE Prefabrykacja. Grochowski. It plans to have a total of 100 branches in the group’s portfolio by 2030. Adam Białas asked Mr Grochowski about the key issues we and his company face today, his inspiration and assessment of the current global situation.
In this difficult time, optimism and faith in victory are extremely important. As Ulrich Tölle, a spiritual teacher and writer, used to say: “In every crisis there is an opportunity …” How do you assess the current situation?
“I have been deeply touched by the tragedy of Ukraine and the suffering of its inhabitants caused by the worst instincts of people with military power, but who are also deprived of conscience. We help refugees all the time and encourage all to take a common stand to fight for freedom. This is the greatest human treasure and attempts to take it away are a crime. We are currently facing great human tragedy and despair. There is no time to wait – we must act, make commitments that we can fulfill immediately. I do what common sense dictates and what I would call my conscience. I believe this is my duty and that of people who follow similar principles in their lives. I think rationally, calculate precisely, plan for fast development and try to act efficiently. No big words or lofty theories, but pragmatically and specifically. Helping others should be a constant ‘part of the game’ of business. Power resides in society, and this is all the more true the greater the opportunities for development a society has. The more of us there are on this track, the better the world will be. The good that I talk about will often spread and strengthen quickly and then come back to us. Everything depends on us. Russia’s aggression is an attack on the most valuable human good, freedom, the right to a safe life, for one’s family and surroundings. This criminal attack should be resisted with all strength, because the defense of freedom is a priority for all honest people. I am not talking about extending the war, because that would mean a deepening of this tragedy. I am referring to the condemnation of the aggressor and the genocide committed by him. The world has protested against the attack on freedom and it’s great that so many billions of people think alike. The moral and ethical principles that I am talking about have often worked automatically at Arche. Our hotels are full of 7,000 refugees, mainly women with children. We try to create a substitute for a home atmosphere, giving people a sense of security and the sense of being surrounded by friends. I would like to sincerely thank our hotel employees, volunteers of the Lena Grochowska Foundation and everyone associated with our organization for helping. They don’t count the hours, they don’t look at the calendar, they work non-stop. The Foundation has always been very efficient, but it has surpassed even itself in this crisis situation. Sometimes we do more than we are capable of and will continue to do so. However, I am optimistic. Freedom is stronger than the evil that tries to suppress it. The victims, suffering and destruction will not be wasted, they will not be forgotten. Freedom will surely prevail. Her strength will overcome everything.”
What about the fierce economic and business struggle?
“It is a mistake to believe that in business you need to defeat, or preferably eliminate, a competitor. It is only in the movies that we see a winning company’s directors quaffing champagne after a rival is annihilated. In life, such a fight costs money, creates bad energy and leaves toxic residues. Competition in the economy is obvious and necessary, not in the form of hateful struggle, but in the form of new concepts and sensible compromises. We apply it and thanks to it we develop. The Arche Group is not growing because it has destroyed someone and pushed them out of the market, but because we have developed and implemented an innovative way of operating that simply works better. It’s called the Arche System. “It would take too long to go into all its details, but we can mention just a few essential elements. We believe that our offer must meet the client’s needs, both the obvious and sometimes covert ones. Everything we do should bring them satisfaction, make them reflect pleasantly and encourage them to return. More and more people who are tired of mass shows begin to appreciate this uniqueness, the atmosphere that prevails in our hotels. They are not only a place where you can sleep comfortably and eat a great lunch or dinner. There is always something going on there. Concerts of local and famous artists, meetings with interesting people, learning about local history. All this is organized with a smile, without any intrusive teaching or official clichés. Some hotels are located in former palaces, others in old industrial buildings. There is even a hotel housed in a former convent. Everywhere the newcomers feel at home. There is no room for a fight here. We value a smile, all friendly gestures and diligent work. This is an original system, organizationally unique, achieved without conflict and without causing harm to anyone, thanks to the openness to other people, trust and hard work.
What is the most difficult part of these challenges?
“We bring back to life objects whose glory days have long passed, some of which are already falling apart. The state is today constructed in such a way that it either actively interferes in economic activities or indirectly, via its own inefficiency, makes effective management very difficult to obtain. Nothing will save them and only the ruins covered with feral green will remain. I have the right to expect friendly interest from officials and their quick and reasonable decisions. I hope that I will be able to focus on what is most important and the most difficult: to save the monuments of our past. And this is not about building concrete blocks. In order to physically rebuild the load-bearing walls, cover the ruins with a roof, renovate the interiors and adapt them to modern needs, hundreds of papers have to be dealt with. “I do not accuse officials of bad will, although sometimes I have the right to suspect it. It is about a maze of contradictory regulations that we constantly have to confront, often thoughtlessly issues that need amending again and again. The concept of justice has disappeared from our legal arena. There is no place in it for logic, common sense or simple knowledge of life. Only the court ruling counts. And this is usually interpreted in such a way that the bureaucrat does not get into trouble. If he unjustifiably turns down a project and after ten years is eventually defeated in court and must pay damages, no-one will say a bad word to him. But if he makes a positive decision, then he may have trouble. He will be exposed to the question of why or even allegations of accepting material gain. All trouble. It is more convenient and safer to refuse.”
Could simplification of bureaucracy help rapid development of Poland?
“Yes, I can see great opportunities, but also a sea of nonsense. We ourselves created the state of law and official customs of the state, which bind our hands. We want to and we have to develop faster. Poles have the right to prosperity, not in 50 or 100 years, but now. We are a wise nation, we can and we want to work hard, what should we wait for? But how can you build prosperity when your own country is often hostile to its entrepreneurs? After all, we create the money. We provide jobs, pay taxes, and strive to make things better. We can do more, produce more of this money, if the state would join this process as a friend.”
And looking globally – what are the threats to the economy?
“The economy exists to serve people, not to mindlessly and irresponsibly create monstrous wealth for a small group and to maintain the unimaginable poverty of billions of people. If we do not take up this problem and carefully and responsibly solve it, we will face great catastrophes on a global scale. The migration of tens of millions of people, wars for water and food, bloody conflicts on every issue. I believe that this will not happen if we do not lose our freedom and willingness to cooperate. “I would also suggest a departure from the dictatorship of the question ‘how much?’ that prevails in Western and Polish business today. You have to count costs, you have to create profits, this is the basic mechanism of an entrepreneur’s operation. But all this must be governed by a more important parameter: the question ‘why?’ A highly developed economy, where production takes place on a gigantic scale and in which unimaginable amounts of money circulate, has broken away from the social context. We do not produce to meet the real, justified needs of people, but to deliver goods and services to areas that business itself, often artificially, has created. This dehumanization of the economy is the root cause of all the problems we face now: the destruction of nature, climatic problems, natural disasters, the desperate inequality of living standards in different regions of the world. As well as increasingly apparent fear for the future. “I do not share the view that it just happens and that we must continue down this path. If a teenage Swedish schoolgirl can have such a huge influence on thinking and acting about the climate, we can do more. And then the answer to the question ‘why?’ will be simple and will direct us in the right direction.”