12 questions to:

Małgorzata Kloka, CFA

Gosia, thank you very much for agreeing to take part in the 12on12 project and to tell your inspirational story!

We have summer holidays now, so let’s start with your trip around the world – you had a great job and were a well-recognized and respected equity analyst in Poland. One day you decided to go on a trip around the world with your partner. It took a lot of courage. How did it all happen?

Actually, I do not know where this idea really came from. At some point, I realized that my life is mainly my job, which – although undoubtedly interesting and intellectually stimulating – suddenly became comfortable and repetitive. Traveling then seemed to me to be something distant, unattainable, a bit romantic, but also out of reach in my typical corpo-life. The need for change began to grow in me and it turned into a need to travel. And I fueled it, reading travel literature, going to various events and dreaming about what would happen if… This shy need turned into a belief that it was the only right way and a natural step. The only thing left was to count the money, hand in my resignation and get a one way ticket…
What was your journey like? How long were the preparations? Which countries did you visit first and which regions ended your journey?

Preparations related to the practical aspects of this undertaking lasted a few short months and were not overly complicated. They included, among others, picking up the equipment, getting necessary vaccinations and purchasing an airline ticket – one way, of course. However, getting mentally ready, reaching this decision and finding the strength to go beyond the scheme – it took a few years.

Our journey lasted 14 months and started in South America, in the capital of Ecuador. We spent the first few months on this continent – exploring the Andes, the Galapagos archipelago and Patagonia; we were on Atacama and Salar de Uyuni. Then we flew to New Zealand – an incredibly diverse country – and Australia, which – with the vastness and wildness of the landscape – stole our hearts. We then spent several months in Southeast Asia. Kyrgyzstan and Nepal were the last points on our travel map. The mountain landscapes of both countries made a great impression on us and gave us many unforgettable memories.

One of the outstanding Polish reporters once wrote that the journey „never ends, because the tape of memory continues to spin inside us, even though physically we have not moved from our place for a long time”. This statement is very dear to me, because the memories are still alive, this trip stills seems to be close to me, and the experiences that I gathered influences the way I look at many things today.

It is said that travel is the best education – what did this trip teach you and is it an experience for everyone?

While traveling, you can learn many things about the world, but also about yourself. In my case, this experience strengthened the appreciation and the need for contact with nature, taught me greater openness – to other cultures, customs, stories, improved my sense of observation and convinced that the journey is often more important and beautiful than the destination. From these more ordinary lessons – 14 months of carrying all my things in the backpack and a limited number of fashion choices, allowed me to discover that smart minimalism is one of the greatest  lifestyle trends.

Traveling means learning many great things – that people are good and proud of who they are; that they smile a lot and help when the situation calls for it. That animals living in the wild are one of the most touching sights. That food is an important part of sightseeing, and an overnight stay under the sky with a million stars is often a better option than a five-star hotel.

But while traveling around the world, one can also experience sad and bitter reflections: the destructive impact of man on the environment or the problem of poverty and social inequality. Of course, these problems are widely known, but experiencing them at your fingertips makes them more tangible, more real.

Is traveling for everyone? In my view – yes. There is no one pattern, one strategy. Young people travel and seniors do too, very rich ones but also those not so well-off, those who are obsessive planners and who do not know where their bus is going. I think that everyone can develop their own style that works for them.

In addition to travel, you are also passionate about sport – you are an avid cyclist. Where does the passion for this sport come from?

I have always loved sports, at school I was involved in all possible activities, later on I played for my university basketball team. I also love skiing and hiking. I started cycling – first a mountain bike, now also a road bike – a few years after starting my professional career. It all began quite randomly, my friend got into cycling, she had a beautiful bike and looked so amazing on it … well … at the beginning it was probably a positive jealousy …

Cycling has a lot to offer and I take from it what I need. Sometimes it is contact with nature, tranquility, time with yourself; sometimes an intense training, testing your limits, adrenaline; sometimes the touring and social aspect; sometimes pride in making technical advances; and sometimes, well, just childish, maybe a little silly joy of riding through puddles and scraping mud off your face when you get home.

After returning from your trip, you got a great job at Benefit Systems, a publicly listed company, where you took the position of head of investor relations. Could you tell our readers what are investor relations and what are its key the tasks?

Investor relations is a unit in public companies that deals with communication with the capital market – shareholders, fund managers, analysts from brokerage houses, individual investors. Investor relations is an area very closely related to the company’s finances, its strategy and business environment, and recently also with ESG issues.

In my daily work, I meet representatives of the capital market, analyze data – financial and non-financial – and prepare the company’s communication, e.g. related to the publication of quarterly results or other important events.

Investor relations departments often take part in various other processes in the organization – e.g. M&A or activities in the ESG area. In my company, investor relations are combined with financial strategy, therefore I have the opportunity to participate in the processes related to the financing of the capital group.

How would you define good investor relations? Is there one way to do it or should it be tailored to individual companies?

I guess it is hard to find a single method for success – a lot depends on the company, industry or shareholding structure. However, in my opinion, there are elements without which it is difficult to talk about good investor relations. These are openness and transparency in contact with the capital market, ensuring equal access to information, effective communication and in-depth knowledge of the company and its industry – related to financial matters, but also to the value creation process, key investments, risks and opportunities, or the sales process.

For me, listening is also an important part of investor relations. This relates to listening to questions asked at meetings with the capital market representatives, comments and feedback, information about what is important to investors, what they appreciate and what is difficult for them to accept, how they see the prospects for the economy and the stock market, and where they see risks. The capital market is a fantastic source of knowledge – it makes good sense to use it.

How is your job in Investor Relations different from your previous role as an Equity Analyst? How is ‘inside’ perspective different to the ‘outside’ one?

From the inside of the company – it is obvious – you can see a lot more. The analyst only sees the final result of many processes, while being in the center of the organization, lets you observe the  complicated ecosystem that enables the company to create value. On the other hand, equity analysts have the advantage of a having broader perspective because they have a great understanding of the processes and factors – both global and local – that affect the economy.

An equity analyst is a position of great independence – analysts are fully responsible for their reports and recommendations, their market view; they are accountable for their forecasts and investment theses. It is an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. I think that when working in a company, you do not get that much independence – although, in my opinion, it can be achieved in many areas.

Looking at companies from the outside, in the capital market we often evaluate their plans and strategies. Was the mission and vision of Benefit Systems and its focus on healthy lifestyle important to you when accepting this job?

Definitely! I consider it a great privilege to work in a company whose mission – to promote physical activity – is close to my personal values. Sport gives me a lot of happiness, energy and inspiration; I believe the same is true for our customers and users.

The period of the pandemic and lockdowns, which often led to less physical activity, has shown to many of us, how important exercise is – how much it affects not only our physical health, but also our mental well-being. I observe with great curiosity how in many countries, mainly the well developed ones, sports facilities start to be perceived as part of the health care system.

You work for the only listed company in CEE that is a certified B Corp. What does this stand for and why only a few companies get it?

B Corps or B Corporations are companies for which – in addition to meeting standard business goals – it is important to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. The B Corp movement grows out of the belief that addressing key social problems and challenges requires business support, not just the activities of governmental and non-profit organizations. B Corps are companies that want to have a positive impact on their employees, local communities and the environment through their business activities.

In order to get B Corp certification, you must go through a complex audit process, during which various areas of the company’s activities are assessed: Management and Corporate Governance, Employees, Customers, Community and the Environment. Our certification process was time-consuming and was associated with many challenges, but also allowed us to understand our position in key areas of corporate social responsibility. Currently, B Corp consists of over 4,000 companies from 77 countries; Benefit Systems joined this cohort in 2018 as the first public company with Polish origin.

As you mentioned, social issues are a component of the certification. You are also one of the founders and ambassadors of 30% Club Poland, for which I would like to thank you! Tell our readers what 30% Club Poland is.

30% Club Poland is the Polish version of the global 30% Club social campaign, whose mission is to promote gender diversity by striving for at least 30% participation of women in the boards of directors. The campaign was launched in 2010 in the UK by the financier Helena Morrissey, and today it operates in 18 locations around the world. In the UK, the target of 30% participation of women in the boards of companies from the FTSE100 index was achieved in 2018. Unfortunately Poland is far behind – at the end of 2020, this indicator for 140 largest public companies in Poland was only at 16%.

What attracted you to 30% Club Poland?

At least three things attracted me to this initiative. The first is the approach to the subject from a business perspective. 30% Club strongly indicates tangible benefits for companies resulting from greater inclusion and diversity – many studies conducted, among others, by McKinsey or Credit Suisse, indicate that companies whose boards are diversified achieve better business results. The second motivator is the participation in the campaign of a big group of CEOs and chairmen of global and local companies, as well as representatives of the world’s largest investment funds. The third factor is the amazing energy of the group of women who work for this initiative in Poland. I am not an activist type, but the enthusiasm, creativity and commitment of the founders and ambassadors of 30% of Club Poland truly encourage to take action.

Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Benefit Systems and the company’s founder also became a founding member of 30% Club Poland. What does this mean for you as a woman at a senior position in the company? How was the initiative received by the employees?

I am very glad that my employer is in the founding 'thirteen’ of 30% Club Poland. It is inspiring and encouraging for me to continue my activities. After joining the campaign, there was a lot of positive feedback in the organization. At Benefit Systems, we attach great importance to diversity, because we are convinced that it is a way to better understand and address the needs of our stakeholders. In the capital group, women constitute over 30% of middle and senior management, and the 30% threshold is reached at the management board level of Benefit Systems.

Gosia, thank you very much for an honest conversation, great ideas and for your support with 30% Club Poland!

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