I had a delicious latte and an apple muffin this morning at a Polish chain of cafes called Coffee Heaven—far superior to the comparable fare served up in Starbucks or Caribou Coffee.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, ask Jaroslaw “Jarek” Banda, a 32-year-old public relations operative who lives in Warsaw. We talked last night about the remarkable economic transformation of this fast-expanding eastern European nation that his generation has experienced, and helped to drive.
You don’t think of Poland as part of the developing world, but I don’t know a better way to describe what’s happening here. Jarek’s parents grew up under Communism. They are educated people–his father is an engineer, his mother a pharmacist–but they waited for 12 years to obtain the 40-square meter apartment where they raised Jarek and his sister. They ordered a car; it arrived a decade later. Grocery store shelves were frequently bare, Jarek recalled, during the years before the Solidarity uprising that toppled the old regime in 1989.
Since then global capitalism has come to Poland, with a vengeance. Coffee Heaven is an unabashed Starbucks clone, offering $3 lattes, cozy chairs and couches for schmoozing. Their stores are all over Poland, and busy, and the company has since expanded to the Czech Republic, Latvia and Bulgaria. It went public in 2001 on the AIM (alternative investment market) of the London Stock Exchange.
Poland is filled with similar startup stories. I had dinner a few nights ago with David Putts, a former McKinsey consultant who started Poland’s first Internet bank. Poznan, a charming university town founded in the 9th century where the UN just concluded its big climate change conference, boasts not just museums and Gothic churches, but upscale restaurants and branches of global chaines like Zara and Burberry’s.
Like his parents, Jarek got an education, studying at the University of Poznan. He’s now deputy general manager of the Edelman public relations’ office in Warsaw, where he and about 25 colleagues work for such multinationals as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Masdar, the clean energy company based in Abu Dhabi. (Disclosure: Masdar paid my way to Poland so that I could help Masdar host an event during the UN climate conference.) Jarek drives a company car, a 2006 Honda Civic, and he owns his own car, a 2007 Kia. He has traveled to London and Shanghai for Edelman.
Of course, not all the changes brought by capitalism to Poland are salutary. Just up the street from Poznan’s Old Market Square is a particularly garish McDonald’s. Jarek told me that the quality of health care has declined in recent years, and the some people who have been left behind by this new, more dynamic economy lack a sufficient safety net.
I’m writing this blogpost because markets are in disrepute now, for good reason, as the global economy melts down. Let’s not forget, though, that globalization have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty—in places like Poland, India and China—in just the last two decades. We need to find our way to a new brand of capitalism, one that delivers high-quality public goods (clean air and water, health, education, transport) even as it generates private wealth. Ah, but it’s easier to build a Coffee Heaven than a Capitalist Heaven.