We talked to Malgorzata Bieniaszewska, founder of MB Pneumatyka, about pneumatic braking systems, and this is what she said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Malgorzata Bieniaszewska: It goes without saying, that the pandemic has shed a revealing light on the strengths and weaknesses of leaders. I and my team have coped really well with the challenge. Thanks to the flexibility of our management and their remarkable adaptive capacities, we have not only survived, but we have grown both as an organization and as individuals. At the beginning of the crisis, it seemed that we would fight for health as much as for economic stability. The situation has been changing dynamically, though, as such is the nature of the pandemic. Fortunately, as for now, we have protected ourselves and our business against COVID-19 and I hope it will stay that way. Besides, no-one has been laid off, which is quite an achievement at the time of crisis and a particularly important success for our family business.
Today, I have an impression that we have become more open to other people and their needs. Health is, of course, of fundamental importance – the health of the mind is just as vital as the health of the body. We also focus more on our nearest surroundings and organizational environment. In the beginning, survival was the primary goal. Today, however, our efforts are focused on meeting the demand of very dynamic development in the automotive industry.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded MB Pneumatyka.
Malgorzata Bieniaszewska: As far as my career as a company owner is concerned, I am a successor of a family production company. I wanted to be an English teacher, but because of my father’s sudden and serious illness in 2002, I became an entrepreneur at the age of 21. Since then, I turned a garage business into a thriving enterprise operating on an international scale. Several years later, we turned into the only manufacturer of connectors for pneumatic braking systems and suspensions in commercial vehicles in Poland and one of the three in Europe.
My career as a company leader, however, has been much more challenging and rocky. It could be put shortly as “from a tyrant to a leader”. I started as a tyrant at a time when financial benefits were the main way of motivating employees in Poland. I lost many valuable members of my team because I focused more on constant expectations of greater efficiency and commitment than on making sure that the team members knew they were respected. Over time, I began to realize that the development of my company depends on people and the team. It was the beginning of my transformation into a leader. The process took several years and it was a really tough challenge. It was not easy to earn the trust of the team members and make them believe that my efforts are genuine. Consistency and loyalty to the values of human-centered leadership paid off and now I am a proud leader who not only creates new visions for the organization but also successfully mentors the management board and supports the team.
How does MB Pneumatyka innovate?
Malgorzata Bieniaszewska: We are innovators on many levels. First of all, we create our own innovative automotive pneumatics solutions. We have patented, on a global scale, many inventions in pneumatics, dedicated to buses, trailers, semi-trailers, etc. We have an innovative, high-tech laboratory, where our R&D department creates, tests, and develops new products. Our work is mainly about creating customized solutions based on pneumatic connectors, manifold blocks, safety, and drain valves. We do not fight in terms of price, only in terms of quality and our know-how. Thanks to this, our products are supplied to the biggest producers of pneumatic valves, such as Wabco, Haldex, Knorr-Bremse.
We are regional pioneers of authentic and human-centered leadership. The three most important values in our organization are: people, respect, and reputation. They are the pillars of our further development. When I say people, I mean employees, suppliers, customers, the whole social environment of our company. They are all valued individuals, who are respected, empowered, and trusted. Reputation, on the other hand, means building an employer brand based on truth, consistency, and authenticity. Such thinking manifests itself in the approach to students, apprentices, and interns who come to us for knowledge and development. We cooperate with universities, offering internships for young people entering adulthood. We believe that only combining business with science is the way of economic development.
Speaking about education, we often act as mentors for young entrepreneurs and startups who need guidance through the meanders of business. This means a lot to us. That is why I personally take part in numerous conferences as a speaker and share my know-how. We are ambassadors of socially sensitive business. This means that we support our society with many initiatives, such as the radio show “Business without brakes. How to become an effective leader”. Its guests include top leaders of Polish business, who share their experience, inspire and show solutions to many current problems. We also run a Facebook group of the same name, which brings together many eminent entrepreneurs.
We participate in numerous campaigns that help homeless animals and people in need. It is not only about financial, but also psychological and mentoring support.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Malgorzata Bieniaszewska: The pandemic has without any doubt accelerated, or more accurately, forced digitization. And this has shown that crises are not only about an economic collapse, but also about a multitude of development opportunities. We invested in two very important devices, one for measuring in production, the core is a fully automated solution based on the latest technologies, and the other is a 3d printer that allows us to create and prototype newer and newer engineering solutions in a very short time.
We have also introduced a new business model adapted to the VUCA world. Waves of change leave us no time for strategic plans for 5 years ahead, quarterly analyses, and multi-stage, long-term decision-making. We react to changes and analytical data on an ongoing basis, making decisions in an agile and flexible manner. We have learned that times of peace are gone, and entrepreneurs can either adapt to new challenges immediately or be forgotten. We choose the first option.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Malgorzata Bieniaszewska: The most important lesson learned from the pandemic is the awareness that the team was, is, and will be the greatest asset of our company. We fought hard to keep every job, as we strongly believed that this is the only way to survive the crisis. In return, if I may say so, our employees provided us with many innovative ideas. For example, the diversification of sales markets, products, industries, but also customer service methods.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Malgorzata Bieniaszewska: Digitization is a trend that can no longer be stopped. That is why we have adapted to online customer service, even though visits to our clients’ production plants have so far appeared to be a necessity. We have introduced online visits to our organization, economic online missions, etc.
The crisis, however, did not have a major impact on production processes, as the theory of limitations and lean management have long been the basis for the functioning of our organization. On-time deliveries, high and stable product quality are standards that are not even mentioned in the automotive industry. They are obvious. We are currently working on the implementation of VR technology in our organization. This solution will bring many new opportunities to this industry.
And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Malgorzata Bieniaszewska: We are continuing our development strategy and planning expansion into new markets. Today we deliver to all continents of the world, but there are still many countries to which deliveries are not made directly. We are looking for representatives who know the specificity of a given culture and will be able to develop local markets.
At the same time, we are introducing new solutions for pneumatic connectors that successfully compete both on the European and Asian markets. The way to survive is the continuous development of innovation, both in terms of products and management, as well as technology and design.
Your final thoughts?
Malgorzata Bieniaszewska: Peter Drucker said: “You cannot predict the future, but you can create it.” These words have gained even greater relevance over the past year. What can we do in the face of an unpredictable future? Well, we can and we should act. When you specify what you want, make it a reality by taking one small step after another. Reflect on each step before you move to the next one. Each step is a lesson. Learn it. Sometimes it is necessary to adjust your plans, but in the dynamically changing world, it is just inevitable. And that is how I understand creating the future – think of new ideas, start to make them a reality, learn and develop. With this approach, even the biggest challenges can prove to be opportunities and even the hardest times may become the first step to a brighter future.
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