Solange Olszewska, CEO and co-owner of Solaris Bus & Coach, is one of very few women occupying a top-level position in the European automotive sector. With 2,500 employees and Solaris buses, coaches and trams running in 32 countries, her company is one of the leading bus manufacturers in Europe. But Olszewska still recalls the uncertainty of the 1990s when, shortly after communism fell, she and her husband decided to return to Poland and manufacture buses: “I had nothing and he had nothing so, together, we had enough to build a factory.”
Olszewska’s success illustrates the development of the Polish economy over the 26 years since the country completed its transition from communism to a free market economy. Founded in 1994, her company is an example of the increasing technical sophistication of Polish industry generally – but also shares some of the growing pains of other Polish businesses.
Scale and location
Ranked 24th in the World Bank Group’s recent Ease of Doing Business survey, Poland remains perhaps the most attractive country in the region for investor due to its scale and central location within the EU. With Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Russia as neighbors and sea access to the north, transferring goods is easy. Gdansk, Poland’s sixth-largest city, boasts the second-largest container port on the Baltic Sea. It has become the principle maritime gateway for Central Europe, with container ships with an average gross tonnage of 18,304 handling more than 37 million metric tons of cargo in 2016.
Although trade with Russia faltered following the conflict over Crimea, Poland has recently become the primary gateway for intercontinental rail transport between Europe and Asia. China’s One Belt One Road Initiative sees goods bound for Western Europe come from Chinese megacities to be consolidated in various forwarding facilities – most notably in Poland’s largest freezone, Małaszewicze.