“ I have been relation-oriented all my life, another person is always my key focus. I put heavy emphasis on getting people to do what they like and realise their own dreams – that makes them more effective on many levels.” “That is the biggest source of happiness – to give others opportunities, to open doors that might have been closed for them or they simply haven’t had the courage to open them by themselves.” – says Marta Klepka, the managing director of Blow Up Hall 5050, one of the most renowned hotels in Poland and the World, as well as the head organiser of the prestigious Stary Browar Club event. She is mentored by the very only Grażyna Kulczyk.
In this captivating interview for Business & Prestige, we shall learn more about the beautiful place she creates, her management strategies, love for people, where she gets her best ideas, what her inspiration sources are, and what roles she would still like to check herself in.
interviewed by: Dominika Job
Dominika Job: As a hotel director, but also an immensely active individual, you’re constantly on the go. How many projects are you participating in simultaneously?
Marta Klepka: Off the cuff, I could name 7 projects I am currently involved in, plus a few others that are under construction at the moment. These are various events, but there’s also my pet permanent project – Blow Up Hall 5050 Hotel, the managing of which brings me enormous pleasure and I love it very much. As a matter of fact, we are currently refreshing it a bit for our guests.
B&P: So another project – renovation?
Yes, a renovation that is a massive endeavour, consuming a lot of time and attention, but we are also engaged in different projects. I daresay, an event which is scheduled for a particular day must be preceded by a huge preparation process. We had to take part in numerous appointments, trips, conversations, emails, correspondence, chats via Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. As we work, we are so digitally connected that one day all our smartphones, iPads and laptops are going to eat us alive (laugh). However, there’s no point in defying this reality, all we can do is embrace it as it is and try to manage and keep up with it. There might be a lot of projects running, but there are also quite many people working on them. What I always find most inspiring is encounters with people and the conversations we share, an interesting contribution, a creative suggestion or idea someone will bring to the table. Though I always laugh that I have to think all the projects over by myself, or metaphorically speaking, to take them for a long walk with me. The worst thing is when I begin planning or problem solving right before bed time, because then I am unable to fall asleep, and that is when my husband enters the scene urging me: “stop thinking and arranging things in your head already, let’s go to sleep”. The best ideas come to me when I am having a shower. Things are pretty similar when I go to my masseuse… I had never before realised that your facial expression could reflect your emotions during a massage, until my therapist told me recently: “Marta, I forbid you to think!” Which made me feel embarrassed as I wasn’t apparently giving any such signals on the surface, and she continued: “Your head is literally steaming with thoughts, it’s evident you aren’t resting at all”. I laughed at myself and was quite surprised somebody could see it that way from the outsider’s perspective.
B&P: You must be constantly operating in full swing since not even a massage can put you to rest and make you relaxed…
It sometimes so happens, that in order to make an event successful, you have to feel it from start to finish – and that’s the way I am. For example, something didn’t add up with a conference for women I was organising with Kasia Stróżyńska. I had excellent speakers, I would arrange the order of appearance for days and still felt that the final effect wouldn’t be as punchy as I wanted it to be. I always invest all my effort to make the guests satisfied, and to make them feel that the time they dedicated to us was worth their while. And then, during the massage, everything fell so perfectly into place that I literally turned the conference’s agenda upside down two days before the event. I called one of the speakers – she was already prepared to give a speech on negotiations and asked her to instead tell people something about the hardships of dealing with men in the legal world (she was a lawyer), and how she dealt with them at college, etc. Since I myself graduated in law, I am perfectly aware of women’s struggle in this reality, that we have always had to prove that we’re equally good, or what is worse, pretend that we aren’t as good as them. This game with men has been going on since childhood. The entire conference was devoted to stories of various women who became successful, but in different aspects. It was fascinating to hear how they gradually achieved their goals. It was such an energy boost for the spectators, that they were literally bubbling with enthusiasm and inspiration afterwards. I did not expect it would turn out to be so invigorating, motivating and, just like between us women, so supportive. But it was the women who pushed me and Kasia to organise the next conference in March. It will basically be a response to the first one. But to be frank, I am still “walking with it”. (laugh)
B&P: It’s a wonderful feeling to know that the conference turned out well and exactly the way you intended, and the event gave rise to a wave of unified, strong women.
The women exchanged contacts and they keep in touch on Facebook. Some of them found new permanent jobs, others took important life decisions. That is the biggest source of happiness – to give others opportunities, to open doors that might have been closed for them or they simply haven’t had the courage to open them by themselves. The myth that women don’t support each other has been debunked again. Contrary to appearances, women give each other tons of support and don’t compete aggressively. There are women who want to cooperate together, support others, help and grow. They motivate one another to work and change for the better. It’s an amazing thing about the female kind. And moreover, they are very well-organised managers. In my lectures, I frequently say that mothers, especially the iconic Polish Mothers, are the best employees in the world and they should be hired without hesitation. I appeal to women, and encourage them wholeheartedly to venture to include their 2, 3 or 5-year experience as professional mothers in their CVs.
B&P: Isn’t it so that women are so supportive for each other because they simply band together against the male-dominated world? Or is it their inborn kindness of the heart that drives them?
I wouldn’t personally generalise it here, it all depends on the individual. What I think, however, is that only women can understand what it is like to be a mother, a caregiver, a homemaker and a hearth keeper. Only they know how to achieve it and they don’t usually delve into matters like men normally do. They don’t analyse everything because they lack time for it. They make faster decisions: one, two, three, and it’s done. They won’t split hairs. Even though it is us women who are usually associated with being analytical and meticulous. It may be so in many situations and is connected with individual personality traits, but I personally don’t know women whose chief aim is rivalry with men. Perhaps more often what we try to do is emphasise something and explain some things to them, in order to reach them faster. We want to communicate faster, to keep the workflow smooth and tasks accomplished.
It seems to me that men nowadays are quite delicate and don’t tolerate criticism too well, not only on a professional plane but also privately. On the other hand, they accuse us of having become so strong and tough. I think it is always best to look for the golden middle, but I of course realise it is one of the hardest things to find. Well, what would we be doing without any problems, though? (laugh)
B&P: When it comes to high ranked positions, is there a difference in cooperation style between men and women? Or does it actually not matter at the end of the day?
Honestly, it doesn’t. It again boils down to an individual person’s character. What matters is their experience and if he or she is oriented at finding a solution or making things harder. I like cooperating with both men and women. I love men and their different approach to various matters, their sense of humour. And also the fact that they focus on completely different things than we do – it can be downright surprising. And I like to be surprised by them.
B&P: In a business setting, has anybody ever tried to prove to you that you were worse because you were a woman?
Nope, that might still be ahead of me. Rather, when I was collaborating with men on parallel positions, we would rather support and help each other.
My boss – Grażyna Kulczyk – is beyond any question my mentor on my career path. She has taught me everything and she still does so a lot. Every single day I learn something new from her. She is a sensitive, strong woman who realises all her projects with people who inspire her and are inspired by her. She is a hard-worker who sets the bar high. I also enjoy working with people who respect work, are eager to come to work and they simply want to work.
B&P: They say it’s not an attitude shared by many employees…
People do want to work, all you need to do is give them the right motivation, find a way with them, show them their strengths and make them see how crucial and useful they are in a particular project. It doesn’t sit well with me when I hear someone say that people don’t want to work. I ask them then: “Have you explored all possible ways to get to those people, to motivate them to work?”. I have personally been managing a team which only just know, after four years of solid cooperation, is beginning to change in terms of personnel. But it is absolutely natural that we tend to change our jobs, move on to other teams, because we simply want to test ourselves in different fields. And that is exactly my motto, you have to keep growing. To me, knowledge is always a safe bet and I believe that employees should improve their skills and learn new things all the time. I’ve been the director of Blow Up Hall Hotel for 4 years and I’ve got a relatively fixed team. When I began my work on this position, I didn’t storm in with a revolution or something, neither did I fire any people. I calmly observed the team at work, changed their posts and gave a new range of responsibilities, and eventually people found their in the new paradigm, adjusting to the situation in a way that was beneficial to everyone. The team consisted of both young people and also those who had greater experience in hotel management than I did. They trusted me, each other, and themselves. They also taught me new lessons every day, and I responded with openness and curiosity. We constantly tried to find common ground to reach mutual understanding. Now, after 4 years of cooperation, two very important people in both my private and professional life are about to spread their wings and fly away. Krzysztof Malec – our event manager and Kinga Durbajło – concierge director. They have worked in the hotel for 6 years, so they had started even before me. They’re very good employees and fantastic people. Quite a chunk of time… I am going to have to confront this, because I am certainly going to miss them, but I will keep my fingers crossed. I could say they are sort of “children” of mine, which are setting off to conquer the big world with knowledge and experience which we accumulated together. I know they can handle this.
B&P: Shedding a tear is inevitable, but I suppose that you’re actually happy that your “children” are growing up.
Yes, and that they want to move on. I’m overjoyed to see them pop into the hotel just to say hi, or to bring flowers, because they know I love them. We exchange emails. Recently, Kuba and Błażej, my concierge assistants who now work abroad, sent me photos on facebook captioned “we miss it all”. It is a proof that this place somehow still manages to connect us.
A few months ago I had to fire a waiter, who I had grown very fond of, but something just went wrong, because people do make mistakes and they have the right to make them. Our paths had to part, and yet he came to me with a long red rose and thanked for everything. The fact that everything went the way it did filled us with sorrow, but we had to cope with it. However, any memories of him always bring a warm smile to my face.
B&P: Usually, it is the coworkers we choose or train who constitute a lion’s share of our success. How do you build your team?
At the moment we are in the recruitment phase. I am not a huge proponent of starchy procedures. Usually I make decisions quickly and I like to feel positive vibes between me and the potential employee. I observe the person’s behaviour, situations in which they laugh and when they venture a remark. High propriety and decent manners play a crucial role in my judgment. The way and the style of their verbal expression, as well as their behaviour is very important in those initial moments of interaction. But I also give people a second chance, because as it sometimes happens, for some reason the first conversation doesn’t work out too well.
In fact, it is not like I am the only decision maker in the process. The candidate also needs to be willing to work with us. He or she needs to have a feel for the atmosphere in our team. Our employees often take part in courses, training and group games – it really helps to build good relations in the team.
I like natural people with a sense of humour, but I also appreciate diligence, involvement and creativity. I’m not a fan of passive individuals who constantly delegate tasks to others or won’t admit having made a mistake. Mistakes happen, and then it is better to come and say: “I am sorry, I screwed up”. I value such behaviour infinitely more than shifting the blame onto others. I also dislike pretending, laziness and receiving no feedback. It can sometimes drive me mad. I need to get feedback, otherwise I wouldn’t know what is going on around me. After all, there are so many issues and people… Our hotel receives over 7000 guests per year, and that’s with just 22 rooms. It is a big turnover. Additionally, there are between 10 and 15 thousand guests showing up at various parties and events annually, so we have to be intensely focused on another person.
B&P: You are the director of Blow Up Hall 5050, one of the best rated hotels in Poland, and highly valued in the world, too. What is it like to manage such a prestigious place? How do you find time to do all this?
I don’t do those things by myself, that has to be stressed. Managing such an enterprise is possible only on condition that you are surrounded by a team of like-minded people who have the same expectations and focus as you do. Our team work resembles the proverbial chain, which is as strong as its weakest link. If one of the elements fails, the entire structure will collapse. All people working in the hotel have to identify with it and live its life. Everyone knows what to do and what their responsibilities are. Everybody willingly goes out of their way to make the guests happy from the beginning till the end. It’s a core principle to remember: the guests come to us as if it were their home and that is the way he must feel. It is our job to cater for their needs, to bring them a cup of hot tea or their favourite soup. We’ve got this regular guest who only eats onion soup. It’s not on our menu, but whenever he arrives, it’s already waiting for him, nicely cooked. That’s the way this hotel is… ours, homey.
B&P: It’s hard to imagine that everything can actually be arranged so perfectly.
It involves a lot of work, because nothing comes just like that. It probably sounds much simpler and more pleasant than it practically is. It requires us to be highly focused and act instantly. We’ve had a number or tough situations, but so far, we’ve somehow managed to overcome all the challenges. However, I emphasise each and every time that the hotel is created by the people and these people need to be properly cared for. I try to care for them and consequently, they care for me in return. It’s a symbiotic relation. We recently had a Christmas party together and most of us shed tears of true emotion. We all share the Christmas wafer, as well as sincere wishes and thank each other for another good year of cooperation. We like spending time together. We’ve also got a tradition of celebrating each others’ birthdays, we all chip in for the gifts, buy balloons, eat the cake and drink coffee. And when the situation is kind of a downer, the cook makes us some mascarpone pancakes to cheer us up. (laugh)
B&P: It’s a unique thing that everything you do to create this atmosphere in work is reciprocated by your employees. They feel that they’re part of a harmonious team, where everybody likes one another and enjoys spending time together.
We do like each other, both our strengths and weaknesses, but If we are to have a row, we will have a row. The “reparatory” meetings are not jolly at all, but afterwards we eat doughnuts and the tension goes down. It’s also great that nobody here takes offence long term. I hate it when somebody’s got a hissy fit, it ruins everything, but women sometimes cannot control it. That’s the way we are, it is our biology and that’s often how it works.
B&P: As a director, do you more often act in work like a close friend – a supporting partner, a mom who will think about everything and take care of everyone? Or perhaps rather like a boss – efficiently managing the potential of her workers and delegating tasks accurately, without the need of building stronger relations?
It is rather my employees who should be asked this question. I think I represent a hybrid of these two styles. I do have good professional rapport with them, but frequently we have a connection on a personal plane. It is sometimes hard to separate, I have been working with some of them for a few years now. I have been relation-oriented all my life, another person is always my key focus. I put heavy emphasis on getting people to do what they like and realise their own dreams – that makes them more effective on many levels. If somebody is ill, they have the right to stay home. The same applies to having a bad day. We can’t pretend that a mother doesn’t have children, so when her thoughts are revolving around her sick child, we must allow it to happen. We help and support each other.
I can’t imagine it otherwise. They also now what’s happening in my life, so I guess that makes me a bit of a mum. But I won’t refrain from being the boss who will show discontent by banging my fist on the table at times.
B&P: Tell me more about the Stary Browar Club. What was your vision and where did you get the idea in the first place? Is it indeed developing the way you originally assumed?
This project has exceeded everybody’s expectations. As the name suggests, the club is an initiative that originated in Stary Browar – the centre for trade, art and business, and that has to be emphasised by all means. I am just lucky to enjoy the enormous pleasure of being the project’s partner and co-organiser. We currently have 2000 members, and we started off with 70 people. This club is an association of the most loyal and devoted clients of Stary Browar. And it is the brands taking part in particular fashions show organised by Katarzyna Sokołowska who invite their guests as well. It is no secret that we also have event partners such as Karlik company, PEKAO bank, or our friends from Andersia Hotel – it is always so soothing to know that our neighbours are with us. The club was initially intended to be about trends in fashion, that there will be stylists and small fashion shows and guests will remain seated. After a giving it a second thought, as I was “walking with the idea”, I came to the conclusion that something was missing and it had to be something different. The club must be a grand event, with a fashion theme of course, but there also needs to be a cultural aspect to it. Later on I thought it would be great to add some charity initiative to it. I concluded it would be some small contribution to helping others. In line with the principle that good has to be shared because it always returns, the club supports Drużyna Szpiku (Dar Szpiku Foundation), we also raised funds for new beds in a nursing home.
Our clients appreciate the Club and attend each new edition with pleasure. It turned out that the Club has become a crucial point in agendas of our local inhabitants of Poznan City, and our members often schedule their holidays in such a way that they can fit the event in.
Stary Browar Club is the product of 200 people’s hard work and dedication, and it cannot be denied. These people include first of all the management and directors board of Stary Browar, a group of 25 models, a team of hairdressers and make-up stylists, the owners and managers of boutiques in Stary Browar, the lighting and the sound crews, as well as my team of cooks, waiters and the entire crew of the hotel. The event consumes 4 days from our lives, everybody works on top gear, with stress and adrenaline levels high – but it’s worth it! It’s a magical time.
B&P: What inspires you to work? What makes Marta Klepka tick? What motivates you to want to do things?
I like it when something is going on. I’ve been like this since childhood. I was the one at primary school who came up with and organised The Festival of Spring, I frequently was the head of class, or the student body president etc. I like doing things and making people surprises. I think it is making people’s dreams come true that truly turns me on.
I enjoy surprising people and I like to make them feel important. Life is short and we have to surprise each other often and give people moments of extreme happiness. Because you can’t honestly say that you’re happy in life – what you have is moments of happiness and you need to strive to attain those moments.
B&P: To summarise, I wanted to ask you for some words of inspiration for our readers, but then, everything you have already said is so incredibly inspiring!
We only have one life and we should live it the best we can. People, conversations, traveling – everything can teach and inspire us. Everybody has to find their own way and find the time to discover what brings them most joy, pleasure and satisfaction.
You can’t invest a 100% percent of your energy in work and nothing else. This energy has to be divided, because indeed, we are only given 1 life and you can’t spend its entirety working or living for others. You have to start looking for yourself in it all – for the sake of yourself and your nearest and dearest.
I recently went to a theatre in Warsaw to give Grażyna Wolszczak a bouquet of birthday flowers. It was supposed to be a surprise. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the spectacle on time, so I waited at the parking lot for two hours until she finished acting and I gave her the flowers after her show. We had soup and spent a mere 15 minutes together, but it was important. Birthdays are magical and they have to be celebrated. However, I wasn’t at home at that time, so there is always a price for everything.
B&P: To end our conversation, I would like you to finish a few sentences. I am most proud of …
The life I’m living. I am very satisfied with it.
B&P: In my job, I like …
“My” Paulina’s Sandwiches. (laugh)
I like it when there’s work to do, everything is rolling, everybody’s happy and smiling.
B&P: I relax …
In a swimming pool, in water. I don’t swim well, so I have to stay afloat, which forces me to focus on nothing else but preventing myself from drowning. (laugh)
B&P: I would still like to …
Try myself in a different role, in the role of a mother.
B&P: And I wish you that with my whole heart. Thank you for this immensely positive conversation.