Meeting with prof. dr hab. Krzysztof Obłój

On March 31, 2021, a meeting with prof. dr hab. Krzysztof Obłój was organized by the International Management Center WZ UW in cooperation with the Executive MBA Alumni Association at the University of Warsaw. The professor presented and commented on the research results: Business during the pandemic – research results of Polish companies during COVID. The meeting reached a record attendance of nearly 100 participants, including: professors and lecturers associated not only with the University of Warsaw, graduates from almost all Executive mba at the UW cohorts since its establishment of the IMC WZ UW, and supporters interested in this extremely interesting lecture.

The meeting was started by the president of the EMBA @ UW Alumni Association, Sylwester Wybranowski, welcoming all participants and giving the floor to Dr. Tomasz Ludwicki – director of the International Management Center WZ UW. Dr. Ludwicki warmly welcomed all participants, especially prof. Obłój, the founder of the Executive MBA studies. Taking advantage of this unique meeting, Dr. Ludwicki announced the commencement of the 30th anniversary of the EMBA @ UW program.

Professor Obłój, touched, a bit surprised, thanked for the invitation and welcomed all participants. As he said, he spent a lot of time with some of the graduates during his studies and travels, and he has many memories with them, not only related to the studies.

The proper part of the lecture started with a statement that, unfortunately, the statistics during the pandemic are against business. Professor Obłójl described how some enterprises perform during the subsequent phases of lockdown and thawing the economy on the basis of a study he conducted. The webinar was divided into three parts:

  1. a brief description of the theory
  2. description of the research carried out
  3. summary composed of:
  • what we found out
  • which we know almost for sure
  • what is likely to happen in the world

In a pandemic or any crisis, the most important thing is how the state works. Society is a collection of formal, informal institutions and values. If the institutional environment is healthy, well-functioning, transparent, then its actions improve in a crisis. If, on the other hand, this institutional environment at the exit is bad, weak and not transparent, it will only worsen, thus negatively affecting the situation of citizens.

Prof. Obłój pointed out 5 ways in which businesses react in a crisis:

  • stupor (to stand still)
  • regression (cost cutting)
  • adaptation (using reserves)
  • innovation and diversification (doubling the risk, trying to look for opportunities)
  • exploitation (seizing unexpected opportunities that a crisis creates)

How do companies in Poland behave?

An attempt to answer this question is conducted by prof. Obłój. The study consists of questionnaires containing open-ended questions that give the respondents the possibility of a broader expression. So far, 5 turns have been carried out since the beginning of the pandemic. Questionnaires are modified every turn. Short summaries will be provided below:

1st turn – first lockdown

Closure was not seen as a problem. It was assumed to last 100 days at the longest. Managers reacted quickly and professionally by introducing new communication channels. The adrenaline kicked in and it affected the action. Shields come in that are mistrusted and do not cover everyone, hence the perception of the government as inept.

2nd round – May

The government reports on the good situation, including calming down with tuberculosis vaccinations supposedly to protect the public from Covid-19. The subject of the elections and how to conduct them appear in the background. An interesting extension of the survey this round was adding the question “How are you feeling?” to the questionnaire. This question showed how the pandemic made people think about the meaning of life, the meaning of work, relationships with family, wife and children. The pandemic has proved to be an important hold on the run and time to learn.

3rd turn

The pandemic is tame and becomes a nuisance. Managers are still hoping for a quick end to it, but are wondering what will happen next? In a crisis, relationships become important, also with suppliers and recipients. You can see weaker and weaker control of the situation. Stress, anxiety and aggression increase. There are more and more claims. Some entrepreneurs received shields and they feel relieved. When asked about the most desirable trait of a leader, researchers do not receive one clear answer, but it can be seen that calmness is often indicated. Employees are expected to be loyal and committed.

4th round – October

Emotions drop. Hope for quick profits is waning. Mental reserves and motivation are running out. Everyone is tired.

5th turn – (as you wait, you stop waiting)

Companies have accepted the state of affairs and offices return to stationary work regardless of the disease. This improved the mood a bit. Some companies minimize the risk, while others are waiting for investments until next year.

What have we learned?

Online work has its negative effects on the psyche. Concerns about the mental state of society begin. There are complaints against the government for inept actions. The pandemic was not a time of strategy, but rather of sudden reactions. World trade and investment have contracted the most in over 100 years. There has been an increase in unemployment. Some sectors have collapsed, some have strengthened. Online transactions and communication have grown in importance.

The share of state ownership has increased, but there has been a touch of optimism in recent forecasts. Maybe there will be an economic recovery?

What do we know almost for sure?

There will be a tragic situation in countries such as Brazil and Africa.

We will not fly so often in business. Costly business meetings will be replaced by online ones. We have found that healthcare is very important. Taxes, including those on managers’ wages, will increase. If the pandemic lasts another year, we will see a wave of bankruptcies.

Business will be mutating and changing, and the question of how will consumers react to all this?

What is likely to happen in the world?

  • There will be an economic crisis in Africa
  • The US will isolate itself from the rest of the world
  • China and Russia will build their own order
  • The EU will fight for unity
  • 50% of the population ceases to believe in democracy. Hence? Will nationalism and populism become the new norm?
  • Digitization will exacerbate social inequalities

Professor Obłój describes the economic scenario as not as pessimistic as it could be foreseen. On the other hand, the consequences of the social and political crisis seem catastrophic.

After this extremely interesting lecture, there was a moment for questions and answers, and then for a discussion. The whole meeting ended with thanks and a reminder of the upcoming alumni meetings organized by the EMBA @ UW Alumni Association.