“Rail is going through a renaissance”: Katarzyna Kucharek, CEO, PKP Group Foundation
In an interview for Global Railway Review, Katarzyna Kucharek, Chief Executive Officer of the PKP Group Foundation, shares her experience of Poland’s evolving rail industry and, in particular, her admiration for those who work in the sector.
How did your career begin, what position do you currently hold and what does your current job involve?
I began working in the rail industry after graduating and was employed by the manager of the national rail network. There, I gained professional experience, especially in improving safety at rail and road crossings, and began developing Public Relations skills. My first position was Specialist and my work was always related to social projects. Three years later, I took the independent position of coordinator for social campaigns and, a year later, I created a team responsible for conducting the largest social campaign in the rail industry. The goal of this campaign, which still exists, is to eliminate accidents at crossings.
We’ve worked with other companies in the industry, the media, public figures, and even celebrities to achieve our aims. Thanks to this work, I was able to establish cooperation with working groups operating within the international arena. I have met many wonderful, smart and passionate people from whom I could draw inspiration and best practices. Come to think of it, I have had a textbook career: specialist, coordinator, head, director, board member and, currently, president. The PKP Group Foundation was founded in 2013 by PKP S.A., an entity exercising ownership supervision over the PKP Group of companies. I have been a member of its board since 2016. Generally speaking, I run a small business with a very wide range of activities, ranging from safety, innovation and tradition, to providing assistance to those with disabilities and members of the general public which may require it for various reasons.
What aspects of your job do you find the most challenging/rewarding, and why?
I really enjoy challenges and some healthy competition. I like to set the bar high for myself and approach every task very professionally. I like to gain new experience, which is why I willingly take on new tasks and easily adapt to dynamic changes. In my opinion, the biggest challenge I faced was many years ago, when I had to create a team from scratch. I was able to convince my superiors to support such an organisational change. The sphere of work we did turned out to be so important that I gained the full support of my superiors. During that period, we received many distinctions and awards for our activities. The creation of new positions was always a challenge. However, there are many obstacles in my job and they motivate me to act. Becoming President of the Management Board of the PKP Group Foundation was an important step in my professional career. We also carry out charitable projects and deal with various issues that tug at the heartstrings and require a cool resolve. This work gives me a lot of satisfaction, and I am always pleased to hear good feedback about my team’s work and our activities for the benefit of others – this is probably my biggest reward.
In one of the conference rooms, the walls are adorned with the many certificates and awards we have received, and even artwork from children we have helped. Every expression of gratitude is touching and certainly motivates you to continue working.
What is it about the rail industry that you are most passionate about?
Working in the rail industry provides many development opportunities and, above all, attracts enthusiasts
Working in the rail industry provides many development opportunities and, above all, attracts enthusiasts who love this railway and are dedicated to their work for 24 hours a day. What fascinates me the most about this job are the people for whom work is not an ordinary duty which they do from 9 to 5, five days a week – for railwaymen, their work is a service. Many employees are enthusiasts who collect railway souvenirs after hours, build mock-ups and models of trains, record videos of train journeys and take photos; their whole life is connected with the railways. What distinguishes railwaymen from other professional groups is solidarity and the need for mutual cooperation and unity. This is very important and creates a unique community that shares the same values. This fairly widespread structure has found a place for the PKP Group Foundation, which is connecting people whose common denominator is the railways.
What has been the biggest achievement/proudest moment so far in your rail career?
I believe that the most important moment is still ahead of me. Each award, promotion or distinction was a moment when I felt pride; it confirmed that my work has sense and is appreciated by others who are my role models or authority figures in the industry. However, my activities at the Foundation give me many reasons to be proud. It’s hard to describe in words – it’s something you feel. I will go so far as to say that this work really makes a person. It touches many tragedies, disappointments and poverty. It’s a great feeling to be able to contribute your small part and change the world for the better.
How has the rail industry evolved since you joined? What have been the biggest changes?
Rail is now going through a renaissance
From my first steps in the industry, until now, I can easily see that the railways in Poland have significantly changed and evolved. I will not describe the changes that have taken place in the industry over the past 13 years, because it would require a separate article. However, what I have noticed most is the direction and dynamics of development. Rail is now going through a renaissance. There is an increase in investment, both in the modernisation of railway lines and railway stations. New technologies are used, sustainable and environmentally friendly transport is emphasised and, above all, corporate social responsibility has become an important issue.
Who within the rail community has been an inspiration to you, and why?
People are my greatest inspiration. I attach great importance to who I work with. It is great luck when you have a wise boss who trusts you and gives you a free hand in carrying out your tasks. When results are what count and that’s how you are evaluated, this approach gives you wings and courage to continue taking initiative.
What can be done to diversify the workforce in the rail sector? What advice would you give to those thinking about pursuing a career in rail?
People are the most important thing in the rail industry, so it is important to develop relationships with others
I know from my own experience that you need to be brave and not afraid to implement your ideas, even if you feel that you are stepping out of line. You have to fight for your beliefs. People are the most important thing in the rail industry, so it is important to develop relationships with others. You have to be open, help others, but also learn to ask for help.
No matter which area of the railway sector you work in, with a little bit of will and luck you will find your place and passion. I recently read that, “Small people compete. Big people work together. Great people help others.” – I wholeheartedly agree with this.