Wednesday

25th May 2022

Poland's richest entrepreneur dies

  • A long and canny business career (Photo: Kulczyk Investments)

Poland lost its richest businessman, philanthropist and person strongly associated with the country’s transformation from Communism to the market economy on Wednesday (30 July) when Jan Kulczyk died after complications following minor heart surgery.

Kulczyk started on his path to fortune as an intermediary in the privatization of the largest state-owned companies in the 1990s.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Today his energy and infrastructure company has assets on five continents. His personal wealth has been estimated by Forbes at €3.62 billion.

Kulczyk started his business while Poland was still under communist rule, investing money from his father.

His first company Interkulpol imported used agricultural machinery from Germany to Poland. A few years later he became the first authorised Volkswagen dealer and earned his first big money selling 3,000 cars to the security services.

He had contacts, good business sense and spoke several languages – something that made him stand out in the beginning of the 1990s.

These skills enabled him to become involved in privatization; buying shares of state-owned companies and then participating in selling them to foreign investors.

The major deals included the buying of minority stakes in Tyskie brewery, insurer Warta and national telecom provider Telekomunikacja Polska SA which he later sold to huge players like France Telekom or SABMiller PLC.

This earned him both a lot of money as well as accusations that he was selling off national assets.

Political controversies

The political climate around him changed in 2002 amid an investigation into the malfunctioning of the biggest state oil company, PKN Orlen.

The investigation revealed that Kulczyk’s influence in the company was far greater than his five-percent share warranted.

He became a symbol of the too-close relationships between business and politics and a central character in rightist media conspiracy theories.

Politicians became more hesitant to make deals with his company so he started to look for business opportunities abroad and became involved into oil exploration in Africa, South America and Asia. Soon after he was doing businesses with India’s richest man Lakshmi Mittal.

Today Kulczyk’s investment vehicle, Kulczyk Investments, is led by Kulczyk’s son, 34-year old Sebastian, who took over the business in 2013.

Kulczyk’s latest idea was to invest into the modernisation of Ukrainian energy plants to sell cheap Polish coal to Ukraine and then buy cheap Ukrainian electric power.

He claimed it would be a win-win situation: Poland helps Ukraine with modernisation and gets cheap energy in return.

Polish stock exchange reacted strongly to the news of Kulczyk’s death. Shares in his chemistry company Ciech fell by 5.3 percent; shares in Serinus Energy by 2.2 percent.

The philanthropist

Kulczyk was also well known as a philanthropist funding Polish sport, young people’s education, culture and heritage.

A 20-million-zloty donation allowed the Warsaw-based Museum of the history of Polish Jews to be finished.

“He was a great entrepreneur with successes in Poland and abroad. It is impossible to write an honest history of Polish transformation without mentioning his involvement,” said Leszek Balcerowicz, Poland’s first post-communist finance minister.

“He is irreplaceable,” said Lech Walesa, a former president and hero of the of the Solidarity resistance movement.

Poland: No paradise for migrants

Poland is to accept 2,000 migrants under an EU plan, fewer than the EU commission wanted but more than most Poles are willing to accept.

EU lobbies Hungary to break oil sanctions deadlock

After the EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen's Budapest trip, Hungary suggested it wants EU funds to offset the extra costs from receiving different oil sources, and the increased energy prices the planned Russian oil embargo entails.

Opinion

Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine - the case for granting EU candidacy

Granting EU candidacy status to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will firmly anchor their ties with Brussels — and enable the EU to secure its place in the Black Sea region, connecting Europe to China and energy-rich Central Asia, bypassing Russia.

Opinion

The EU Parliament Covid inquiry: the questions MEPs must ask

A basic lack of transparency around the EU's vaccines procurement negotiations has prevented effective public and parliamentary scrutiny. It has also made it impossible to answer some of the key questions we put forward here.

News in Brief

  1. Dutch journalists sue EU over banned Russia TV channels
  2. EU holding €23bn of Russian bank reserves
  3. Russia speeds up passport process in occupied Ukraine
  4. Palestinian civil society denounce Metsola's Israel visit
  5. Johnson refuses to resign after Downing Street parties report
  6. EU border police has over 2,000 agents deployed
  7. Dutch tax authorities to admit to institutional racism
  8. Rutte calls for EU pension and labour reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. EU summit will be 'unwavering' on arms for Ukraine
  2. Orbán's new state of emergency under fire
  3. EU parliament prevaricates on barring Russian lobbyists
  4. Ukraine lawyer enlists EU watchdog against Russian oil
  5. Right of Reply: Hungarian government
  6. When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin
  7. Orbán oil veto to deface EU summit on Ukraine
  8. France aims for EU minimum-tax deal in June

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us