You have to be possessed by what you are doing

Interview with Beata Bartlay, the managing director of 2B Interface, a recruitment agency specializing in recruiting Polish workers for international companies – predominantly in the UK and Dubai.

2B Interface is a recruitment agency and a winner of many business awards. Last year, the company won the title of the best Debut in Business, and its director, Beatrice Bartley, found herself in the final three in Personality in Business 2007, awarded by Docklands Business Club.

Where did the idea for 2B Interface come from?

BB: The idea came quite unexpectedly, when a couple of years ago I helped a friend recommend a couple of employees. I took care of the travel arrangements, accommodation, I translated the contracts. I did it as a favour. Several days later I received a phone call from somebody asking me whether I would be able to help them recruit some carpenters. It turned out that my friend recommended me to that person! I was so surprised that I told them I was in a meeting and that I would call them back. Needless to say there was no meeting; I needed time to think about it and then I called him back. It was this phone call that inspired me. I still needed another six months to create the basis for the new company: the visual identification, the operational procedures and the business plan.

Have you always been as enterprising as that?

BB: I’ve always been hyperactive and ambitious. I was, what you’d call an ‚every teacher’s nightmare’; on the one hand I would ask loads of questions, on the other, I’d be there with my hand raised, wanting to speak. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been involved in organizing things. Enterprising spirit is something you can notice even in children. You’re either good at solving problems, or you’re not. The majority of Polish businesses in the UK are either small or medium-sized.

There aren’t many large companies. Why do you think that is?

BB: I think it is a matter of time. Large companies started off small as well. It takes time for a business to develop solid foundations, revenue, reputation, etc. Even Chrysler built his first car in his own garage…

Yet it is easier to run a business in the UK than in Poland…

BB: Definitely; especially now with so many banks and offices employing Polish-speaking employees. What also helps is that staff in British offices tends to be more helpful, there are simpler procedures for starting a company and self-assessment, readily available business advice and help, and the fact that in the UK, many things can be done over the phone, online or via post, without the need to go everywhere personally.

Where – in your opinion – do Polish business people fall short when compared with their British colleagues?

BB: We really don’t have that many shortcomings… but what, in my opinion, would need to change is the habit of not returning phone calls, poor time-keeping and delayed invoice payments. Another difference between the two countries is that in Poland, the company’s profit is usually kept secret; over here, it is one of the first topics discussed at business meetings.

In that case, what advice would you give to people doing business with the British?

BB: You need to be reliable, polite, well prepared for meetings and negotiations, and you need to reply to emails. In disputes, you need to keep cool and retain your sense of humour, complement the company, never criticize the competition, and definitely never criticize Poland or the Polish people. A certain degree of diplomacy is always needed.

Is success in business always achieved at a cost of other spheres of life?

BB: It seems so, unfortunately. Success means working 14 hour-days and sometimes nights. When you’re ill, you end up working from your bed with a laptop in your lap and a telephone by your ear. You can forget about holidays and other pleasures. When you’re running a company, you don’t clock out at 6pm. Your business is in your head, it runs through your veins. You have to be positively possessed by what you’re doing. You can’t rest on your laurels. Success can easily go to your head and the day you drop your guard is the first day of your failure. Success is like a beast – you need to feed it with your creativity, commitment and perseverance. Not many people will admit that.

Is it possible to find balance in life while running a business. Have you found it in your life?

BB: It is possible, providing you’ve got somebody supportive, who understands your vision. It’s easy to lose your way on your road to success – it can take its toll on your relationships with family and friends. When you’re really busy, it is important for somebody to call you and ask, ‘How are you feeling today?’, ‘Is there anything you need?’. Luckily for me, I have the support of my husband, Artur, who deserves a medal for his patience (laughter). Also my employees help me to retain this balance. Without Renata, Justyna, Marcin, Monika, Grażyna, Maurice and Clive – my closest associates – I would not be able to do it.

Which Polish person, in your opinion, has achieved the biggest success in business in the UK?

BB: When it comes to success in the media, it would definitely be me (laughter). We are media favourites in the UK. We’ve been featured in the BBC and BBC Radio 4, we have given tens of interviews. Last year, as the only Poles in the history of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, we received the Business Debut of the Year award. This year, we were second in the Developing Business category. ‘The Wharf’ nominated me in the Personality in Business category. HSBS and Sky TV named us one of the best businesses in London.

What is your opinion in ethics in business?

BB: Ethics is the most important factor. In the longer run, it is not possible to run a company without it. It’s a simple principle – treat others in a way you’d expect to be treated yourself.

Who is your inspiration when it comes to business?

BB: Coco Chanel for her modesty and determination, Margaret Thatcher for stubbornness and the ability to act in crisis, Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergei Brin of Google for a genius idea for business.

What’s your recipe for success in business?

BB: A good plan and it’s consistent implementation. Setting yourself achievable long-term and short-term goals. Taking expert advice. Perseverance. Having a back-up source of revenue. Creating a positive image of the company. The ability to win people over. Creating work ethics that will serve as an example to others.

If you were to give three pieces of advice to a Polish person thinking of setting up a business in the UK, what would they be?

BB: Think of what you want to do, with whom, and why is it that you want to it. Prepare a business plan with contingencies for the unexpected. Be consistent in implementing it and don’t let the initial setbacks break you. It is them that will show how strong you really are.

What’s your life’s motto?

BB: ‚Every day on every way I am doing better and better’.

Thank you for the interview, and let me congratulate you on your success in business.

Matylda Setlak

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