Stadler operates three sites in Poland. What was the motivation to build a production and service location in Poland?
Poland is a country of railways, with 22,000 km of infrastructure. The infrastructure and the fleet are ageing and need to be renewed, which means there is huge potential. This is why Poland represents an important market for us. After winning the first call for tender in 2006, we built a production site in eastern Poland. Since the other calls for tender we have won since then involve the maintenance of the vehicles, in 2006 we also opened a service business.
What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of the Polish market? Can you tell us about your experiences, failures or lessons learned?
As I mentioned, in Poland there is huge demand for rail vehicles in the form of both trains and trams. Public transport needs urgent improvement. Almost all the projects are mainly funded by EU funds for infrastructure, which is an interesting perspective for us.
We also face very strong local competition, however, which often wins calls for tender with rock-bottom prices and extremely short lead times. Rock-bottom prices affect quality, however, as well as the life-cycle cost (LCC). That's the environment we're moving in and we have to be able to deal with it. There are no compromises with regard to quality at Stadler, so we have to convince customers of the long-term nature of our solutions.
What are the differences between Switzerland and Poland as production locations?
There is essentially no difference between Switzerland and Poland as production locations. We have the same processes and we produce rail vehicles of the same quality.
Developments in Poland are opening up interesting business opportunities for Swiss companies, particularly those in the MEM sector. What opportunities do you see for Swiss SMEs?
I see some extremely interesting business opportunities for Swiss companies in this sector within Poland. There is a very big domestic market – Poland is the biggest country in central Europe. An investment in Poland with "Swissness" is attractive, points to quality and can also represent a "gateway" to other central European markets. It's worth noting though, that in Poland these days engineering activities are expected alongside production.
As a Swiss entrepreneur in Poland, what is your advice to Swiss SMEs wanting to get a foothold in the Polish market?
As in any other country, as an investor you need to adapt to the local circumstances. In Poland, the human factor plays a really crucial role and should not be underestimated. It may sound somewhat banal, but it's essential for success in this country.