WI: So Joe, what does a chamber of commerce do anyway?
JT: We’re a membership organization whose mission is to foster and support bilateral investment between Poland and Britain. We liaise with ministers, connect people and get them talking. We’ve all sorts of members, and it’s not just limited to big industry players. For example, the Wieliczka Salt Mine by Kraków is a member: 70% of their tourist traffic is British.
WI: What problems are there with conducting business here?
JT: People are frightened off by things like red tape. Many areas have seen dramatic changes, but some haven’t, like public office. It sounds bullish, but I feel some departments suffer from a generational problem and need to employ younger people who don’t remember the old system and the old way of doing things. But economically the country has avoided recession for twenty years, and it’s known as a low-risk market.
WI: THE BPCC is celebrating its 20th year in Poland, and sotoo are you. What was Day 1 out here like?
JT: A shock. It was a cold, grey November and I really thought, “what have I done?” I was in the Forum Hotel and I remember this weird quilt contraption with an oval hole containing the blanket stuffed inside; a hotel bar where “the ladies” outnumbered normal customers; and the hotel restaurant where the waiter asked me if I wanted to buy a car radio before the meal even arrived.
WI: And work?
JT: I was with a pharmaceutical company at the time and on the first day I was cast as villain; I had to sack a sales rep who I caught fiddling expenses – from zł. 10,000 to zł. 100,000. It was easy to follow his trail, he’d just added a zero using a different colored pen!
WI: Twenty years is a long time, even by ex-pat standards.What keeps you here?
JT: Family, friends... Whenever I come back from any trip I know I’ve returned home. And I’m proud to call it home. I love watching this country developing into something better all the time, and I love that I’m living in a country which is, to all intents, the cradle of modern history – from Solidarity to the war. It’s fascinating.
WI: You have to entertain visitors all the time – where do youtake them?
JT: It looks a bit Hollywood, although the Old Town is a must, so too is listening to Chopin in Łazienki. There are also so many important reminders of what has happened historically: the former Ghetto area, etc. But, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve yet to visit the Uprising Museum – the queues are outrageous. Instead, I prefer to take people to real, living places.
WI: Tell us about the restaurants?
JT: In all my time I’ve never had a bad meal in Casa Mia, and of course Bacio is a must. But in general there’s such a burgeoning social scene. When I arrived there really wasn’t a concept of restaurants. I remember a place in Old Town, Świętoszek, whose big boast was Robert De Niro had eaten there. Well, I’m not surprised he ate there, there was literally nowhere else.
WI: Do you have a favorite street out here?
JT: I love Karowa - the little helter skelter street behind the Bristol Hotel; you don’t expect that. Poznańska has developed brilliantly with its café and bar scene, and I love shooting down the Wisłostrada highway: at times, what with the forest either side, it feels like you’re deep inside the country. For sheer change, then Jerozolimskie represents Poland’s progress; not long back the far part of it was just fields.