– How we treat people depends on whether we can count on them later, in crisis situations. Building good relationships within a company best protects against crisis, says Beata Drzazga, founder of BetaMed S.A., Poland’s largest company providing long-term care and specialized medical services and a mentor to young entrepreneurs.
For many companies, the last three years have been very difficult. First the pandemic, then the ongoing war abroad, high inflation and the changing business environment in many industries.
When running a business, we need to be aware that anything that happens in the market is possible. When opening a company, you can’t expect that there will always be peace of mind. And here, to some people’s surprise, it appeared all at once. For some of them it was something impossible. We were ready for the fact that anything can happen in the market. Of course, no one thought that we would live to see, for example, a war that affects the whole world. Similarly, it was almost unbelievable that a pandemic would appear. And then the already terribly weakened Covid market was hit by further bumps – product shortages, inflation, etc.
What were the results from a business perspective?
The losers were mainly small businesses. Although also among them, there was a percentage of those who could be helped by this situation. Because, for example, they functioned in such a part of the economy, which, with this collapse, was growing. But that, of course, applied to minorities. It is very regrettable that small businesses have been hit so hard. As a mentor myself, I always try to lift people’s spirits, tell them to spread their wings, that it’s worth opening businesses. And I am very sorry that the people who dared to do it just recently, often failed to do so.
How badly have these crises affected your business?
BetaMed S.A., which I created, is the largest long-term healthcare company in Poland. As such, it was less vulnerable to shocks than small entities. On the other hand, the fact that it is a health service has had a very strong impact on our situation. On the one hand, we did not feel the things that affected very many companies the most, but on the other hand, we felt certain other things very strongly. Example: our doctors and nurses work not only stationary in the clinic, but in eleven provinces. We are at home with patients. As the owner, my directors and I quickly had to take various decisions and actions to ensure the safety of patients and staff. We had to convince patients (many remaining under ventilators) not to be afraid to let doctors and nurses in, while reassuring doctors and nurses that nothing would happen to them. Somehow we managed it. With my managers, we quickly came to the conclusion that – difficult – we allocate a great deal of money for personal protective equipment for the patient, for the staff, disinfectants, aprons. A great deal of resources went into this, especially since the companies involved often took advantage of the situation. Prices were 6 or 8 times higher than before.
But what was the most important thing about it?
At a moment of such crisis as we have now, when many bad things are happening at once the most important thing is to talk and close contact with employees. Including how we have treated them over the years. Because people won’t believe someone who didn’t respect them before, who thought that an employee was only supposed to follow orders and do it for the least possible pay, someone who never reckoned with employees. The key is how close we were to the employees and whether we respected them. Did we give them, in good times, the feeling that we are like family. I just happened to do it, because that’s my character. We have 3,200 employees, in addition to the clinic in Katowice, in 91 branches in 11 provinces. With all these people we were very close, we met often, management was flat – the same at headquarters as in each subsidiary. And this gave me a very big advantage over other companies, that being with these people, I could solve problems very quickly, understand quickly what we have to do. Thanks to this, too, during inflation, in addition to being able and required to raise people’s paychecks, I was also able to explain a lot to them at the same time. Inflation affects not only employees, but also the entire company. So I said that although I know that they are being harmed now, so I will raise the payments, but at the same time I cannot raise them indefinitely. That was the most beautiful thing, that people understood this and together with us, with me, made a decision on how much we could afford.
Building this type of relationship in a company or culture more broadly is therefore the best insurance against shock and against crises?
Yes, how we treat people depends on whether we can count on them later, in crisis situations. I remember a dozen years ago there was such a situation: nurses on average earned about 2,000 zloty on the market, The National Health Service increased the rates, so I was then able to offer them increases up to approx. 4.5k zł. I talked to them at the time. I said: I will give you now to earn money, just remember, if it turns out that the National Health Service will reduce these rates for us again, I ask you not to leave, when I will also then have to reduce salaries. And so it happened. In 2008, 2009, when there were reductions, I personally traveled and met face to face with those employees who I had to reduce their salaries. The reaction I received caused me to have tears of emotion in my eyes. I wish everyone such an experience. They said they are absolutely not leaving. I also heard: Ms. Beatko, it’s okay, we remember how it was and thank you.
It was beautiful. If we treat people as friends then we can count on them in bad times.
At the heart of the creation of BetaMed S.A. was the idea of creating better conditions for the care of seriously ill people. Individual, going beyond the minimum necessary. Caring for patients and caring for employees are issues that are closely related. But the ideas you introduced, or are still introducing – on the one hand, for example, numerous additional activities to make life more pleasant for seniors, and on the other hand, constantly new “bonuses”, surprises for employees (packages for holidays, time off for birthdays, shorter Fridays, additional leave to do preventive examinations, etc.). – all this at first at least was not considered a rational, market-based approach…
In addition to raises, showing this interest in the employee, taking care of him is very important. I feel and see it that way. When you run a company – no matter what kind – and you do it with love and passion, it’s very important to convey that to your employees. So that they also love it and identify with this approach, with this philosophy. Because then they feel great people then too. After a few years of running the company at various conferences, I began to share these experiences of mine with others, to say to other CEOs: let’s try to outdo each other not only in who will take what to whom in the market, but in the quality of service and what we can give to employees.
And what were the reactions then?
The first one – that I must be joking, or I take too much heart, and this is not a “business” approach. Who lets people get in over their heads like that? I answered that from a slave there is no employee. I, in fact, could not imagine that it could be otherwise. I wouldn’t want people to walk past me. I didn’t accept that I would be employing hundreds more people, and when I came to the clinic I would see some people hanging around, and I wouldn’t know who the lady was or what the gentleman was. And they’ll just whisper among themselves that it’s probably Mrs. President… Never in my life! I know each person, and I am happy about it, until my heart is happy when I enter the clinic. It is beautiful. Personally, by the way, I hire people, because I would never want to have people around me who only look selfishly at the paycheck, they do not look at what is important besides that.
Meanwhile, it was an independent investigation into what is becoming a standard in business today known as ESG.
When I built the clinic (8,000 square meters – I came up with the design framework myself) then I took a loan to revitalize the area around it. It was a neglected area, overgrown with weeds. After cutting them down and carrying out the revitalization, I wanted to somehow invite people living in the neighborhoods around the clinic. We started organizing various events for the community – such as for children’s day, we also offered, for example, lower rates for rehabilitation, etc. So yes, we took care of the environment ourselves at the time (development of degraded land, disposal of garbage),
about the environment, while caring for employees and for stable development. There were those who laughed at me at the time – that I was making up silly things and that one does not look emotionally at all in business. The only thing that matters is the numbers to match. And please, now, in these times, this is the most important thing.
Because it is an investment that pays off. Goodness comes back to you when you need it?
Yes. But I never thought so much about it coming back to me. This is something one does simply because one is human.
Other than BetaMed S.A., the other business projects you are involved in are from a variety of industries – from fashion house to electronics retailing. How many are actually there at the moment?
I recently opened three more.
Nine. But some I close, others I open.
Something connects them – besides the fact that they belong to Ms.
Above all, that everyone is a challenge. I love challenges, news. I don’t like to stop at just one area. E.g. I have been very interested in artificial intelligence for three years. I am a co-organizer in Paolo Alto in Silicon Valley of a conference on new technologies. It is a great pleasure for me to participate in the economic mission – cooperation with the state of Nevada. Another of the companies I opened deals with real estate in Miami and Spain. And the last one is called Global Impact by Beata Drzazga. In this way, I want to concentrate all my activities under one banner. In the case of owning more than one company, of course, the most important thing is the first one to watch. For the next one, you have to count on good managers and they have to be able to pull it off. Hence, some of them go better, some of them go worse. But it is not a tragedy for me.
Particularly satisfying is inspiring others to take action – which is what you do, among other things As a mentor for young entrepreneurs starting out.
Developing and running an enterprise of some kind always involves that once it goes better once it goes worse – this is what I teach entrepreneurs too – not to be afraid. It is necessary to take risks, not to go crazy with loans on the one hand, and on the other hand, when there is some money, do not immediately buy yourself unknown cars. It takes courage, passion and wisdom – to have a strategy, to be a visionary and to realize one’s vision even when there are obstacles along the way. But if you don’t have a vision, you won’t be able to pull people with you. This is important. I teach, first of all, that as I went through life running a business I still encountered various obstacles. And obstacles are a normal thing, do not be frightened of them. Super if you have rebellion in you. Because this is the cure for not giving up when you fall. Of course, lessons must be learned from failure.
What, in your case, was crucial?
Passion, love for the challenge. Even now, with so many companies, some expanding others selling or liquidating, I’m still looking for new things. For me, that key was the energy I have. I’m happy as if I have a challenge in front of me. Sometimes when I feel that it is quiet then I sit at home take a piece of paper and a pen and think about what new thing to do (laughs). What else can I do so that I enjoy it and so that the people around me enjoy it too. And I already have adrenaline. I have a challenge. And new companies are emerging. Or new areas of activity within the existing framework. I am sometimes asked if it is possible to learn to be an entrepreneur. Well, you can’t. You have to be born with certain qualities.
You have to have the momentum to change something, implicitly: to improve the world.
It takes leadership qualities. You have to be brave, have the desire to create something. I’ve always wanted that myself – for example, to be a scientist who invents something. From a young age, I was gazed upon by my aunt, who was a nurse, someone else in my environment was a doctor. It pushed me in the direction of medicine. But also that I have always loved people.
What are you most proud of?
From the fact that I was able to create something from my passion and that nothing has changed me. When I started I didn’t know that this love for a person, which is where it all started, could turn into a great enterprise, a business that, most importantly, makes both employees and sick people happy. It makes me very fulfilled. The most beautiful thing about business is to be human.