ACCA - The global body for professional accountants

Romek Lubaczewski FCCA, consulting leader for Poland at PwC, helps clients establish shared service centre and business process outsourcing centres around the world

This article was first published in the September 2013 International edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

There are lots of ACCA members among PwC’s partners and employees. But few of them can claim, like Romek Lubaczewski, to have been recruited by the firm not once but three times and to be the first person in their country’s PwC organisation to have become FCCA.

Born in London to Polish parents, Lubaczewski moved to Poland in 1989, when he and his father took advantage of the last communist government’s liberalisation and acquired a car parts business. And then came the earth-shaking election victory for the opposition – kept off the front pages by the Tiananmen Square massacre that occurred on the same day – that led to Central Europe’s first government headed by a non-communist since 1948 and rapidly to the collapse of communism in the whole of the region.

When Lubaczewski met the head of Arthur Andersen’s fledgling Warsaw office in 1991, his Polish was good and his experience as an Englishman of the rapid course of massive economic change was all but unparalleled. That, he says, was one of the most important days in his life, for Duleep Aluwihare, now a managing partner at EY Poland, offered him a job – not because of his accounting qualifications, for he had none, but because of his knowledge and enthusiasm. 

The job was important and so was the Arthur Andersen boss’s insistence that Lubaczewsk begin accountancy studies with ACCA. And while he kept working on his studies, daily work for the firm as a very junior accountant brought him into contact with businesses in transition in all areas of the economy. 

Crucial was his work on preparations for the privatisation – by sale to FIAT – of car manufacturer FSM. FSM had major cashflow problems and Lubaczewski worked on those week by week trying to collect the cash to pay the bills to keep the company afloat. It was that work, which brought him into daily contact with the chief accountants in FSM’s 16 plants, which led to his recruitment for the first time by Price Waterhouse, which had won the contract for the audit of FSM.

It was a year later in 1994 that Lubaczewski became the first of Price Waterhouse Poland’s employees to gain the ACCA Qualification. He remembers that day as being ‘amazing. It didn’t change my life, but if I hadn’t done it I wouldn’t be where I am today. I knew that day that it was a stepping stone to better things.’

Price Waterhouse was then moving beyond audit and tax into consultancy. Lubaczewski went into consulting and recalls: ‘I was pretty much the first employee. They brought a partner from the UK and his first present when he landed was me. Consulting was new, fun and exciting – you were never quite sure what was going to be there the next week.

‘I would never have been allowed in the UK to do the kind of things I was doing. How many accountants in London with three years’ experience get to meet a country’s president? But I could be sitting in meetings just a couple of chairs away from President Lech Walesa and talking about a project we had been working on. And the normal people I was dealing with, people who’d been in accounts for 15 or 20 years, were keen to listen and not negatively disposed to some smart-arsed consultant half their age.’

If you work in consulting at a big firm then as time passes, like many people, you may feel an urge to prove to yourself that what you’re talking about you can literally do, implement and see all the way through. So after close to five years at Price Waterhouse, Lubaczewski let himself be tempted away by the offer of the position of finance director at Tesco Poland, which was about to make the transition from running some small businesses to operating big hypermarkets.

Handling the financial parts of the change was exciting, but there wasn’t quite enough going on. ‘In consulting you work on a project, you implement change, you help them out and then you leave and start another project. That reboosts your energy level,’ says Lubaczewski, explaining his decision to succumb to PwC’s offer to return to the firm.

The last project he worked on before leaving had been preparation for a new business PwC was starting called Business Process Outsourcing. Now he was called back to work in it. PwC was taking on accounting services for two major clients – British Petroleum and International Paper – and Lubaczewski was now in outsourcing, the business in which he has made his name. 

After PwC internationally withdrew from BPO and the BP business passed to IBM and the IP business to CapGemini, Lubaczewski worked with US HR outsourcing company Exult on establishing not just a centre in Krakow but its whole BPO business in Central Europe. He was then recruited by PwC for a third time to take up his current role advising clients in Poland and internationally on outsourcing.

Lubaczewski helps clients establish shared service centre (SSC) and business process outsourcing (BPO) centres around the world – recently in North America, Romania and Ukraine. And big projects often come to him from elsewhere in PwC, particularly from the US. How to pick up and move work, documenting and shadowing work processes, knowledge capture, outsource project planning – those are skills for which the firm now primarily looks to Krakow.

Working on the BP and IP contracts, Lubaczewski and his team invented the outsourcing business in Krakow. ‘By doing it wrong many times we created the methodology that virtually every centre in the city uses today. It’s very similar; the differences are probably 10% or so after nearly 15 years.’

The big question, explains Lubaczewski, is how you bring work from one location to another to do that work. ‘If French accountants are sending information in French, you need French speakers to talk to them and you need an understanding of French accounting practices too. And your people need to speak English as well, because we’re aiming to unify the workload for a client operating in a number of countries and the common language isn’t going to be Polish. But those needs are clear enough.

‘You can say it’s the systems, but that’s not what’s key – it’s the answers to the questions of what information do you put in, how do you know what to put in and where do you take the data from? Everything must be documented in minute detail to take out judgment and put in rules.’

When you document each function you find lots of interesting things, says Lubaczewski. ‘People aren’t doing things they should be doing, they’re doing things wrong, they’re doing things inefficiently. One person in payables creates a summary in Excel as a control, another doesn’t know Excel and so uses a calculator, a third insists she never makes an error. Or somebody doesn’t fill in an expenses form because he’s known Julie in accounts for 25 years, so he just occasionally gives her an envelope of receipts.’

The temptation when inefficiencies are found is to remedy them when moving a process. Never do that, cautions Lubaczewski. ‘There’s a difference between “lift and shift” and “fix and shift”. Even the most common-sense changes create an enormous risk that when you start shadowing in the new location the work being done in the old it doesn’t run as it should. It can take days or weeks of analysis to discover you omitted a 0 or a 1 or a tick in a box.

‘What’s safest is to take the process as it is, even if it’s not the best in the world, document it, learn it and then pick it up, bring it to Poland and run it. And if various processes are being used, sit down with the people and get them to define the one way that’s right for them. Don’t judge it, don’t amend it; take it because it works. So “standardise, shift and lift”.

‘It’s when we’re familiar with running the process that we can think about improving it,’ adds Lubaczewski. ‘That’s fun for the Polish guys: process reengineering, pushing ideas, working out how to be faster, leaner and smarter makes the job quite a bit more exciting and interesting. Then test rigorously to make sure things operate as they should before proposing changes to a client, and make sure the people providing the data are comfortable too.’ 

Some changes are about control, but most are about reducing inefficiencies and improving costs. And front-end investment has to be made here. That’s why an outsourcing operation may not make money on a seven-year deal until year three, and most of the money is made in years six and seven.

Win client confidence by making those improvements and you can look to be given more countries to work in and more processes to handle. Most of the growth in SSCs and BPOs comes from growing the footprint, not new clients, says Lubaczewski. 

Krakow has become, after Dublin, the second-largest offshoring destination in Europe. Lubaczewski’s contribution has been substantial; not least through his chairmanship 

of the Krakow-based ASPIRE association of IT and business process services companies, whose recent conference was reported in this magazine. His overall contribution was recognised by the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to him at January’s first Polish Outsourcing and SSC Awards Gala.

As for the future, he still finds working in Poland exciting. ‘The amount of change we’ve got in front of us is massive in comparison to what’s available in the UK, or France, or America or Germany.’

CV:

2009

PwC, consulting leader for Poland

2005

PwC, partner in PwC’s Advisory Division 

1999

PwC, business process outsourcing manager

1997

Tesco Poland, finance director

1993

Price Waterhouse, consultant

1992

Arthur Andersen, associate

1989

Warsaw car parts business, co-owner

Basics:

  • PwC has been in Poland since 1990
  • It has 1,700 staff in seven cities – 18 audit partners, 17 consultancy partners, 16 tax partners
  • In seven of the last 10 years PwC has been voted the best firm to work for in Poland by the AIESEC student poll
  • Over half its employees in Poland are women. It’s lower among senior managers, but they include country managing partner Olga Grygier-Siddons.

Tips:

  • ‘If you’re outsourcing, go to a place that’s cost effective with a labour pool of the right quality. It’s all about people – this is a service industry.’
  • ‘In one place labour may be cheap and abundant but have very little experience. In a busy place, with lots of shared services and outsourcing centres, it will cost more, but you can steal some staff and buy the experience.’
  • ‘Being first is very tough. Being third or fourth is lovely – recruit a few key people who know what they’re doing and they can tell the other people.’
  • ‘It’s nice to have supportive local government, but it’s better to have 10,000 people popping out of university every year and looking for a job.’

John Presland, consultant

Last updated: 21 Mar 2014