Why Finding your Talent is Important with Agnieszka Biała
I wanted to tell the story of when I met Agnieszka Biała. We met at the end of March, virtually. And we discussed many things. Things that are important to women starting out in their careers today. And other important insights to help a young woman like me to get ahead.
Today the pressure that young people feel to achieve is enormous. And equally its just as important to consider you family and private life. And how best to balance it all. It can be overwhelming.
In December I had the chance to speak to someone who could help me better understand how to plan my career and how to overcome challenges.
I heard about Agnieszka and wanted to see if I could speak to her. Maybe learn something that would help me know better how to react to challenges. And change. She agreed. A few months later we managed to speak and I am delighted to be able to share our conversation with you today.
Agnieszka Biała is an experienced Restructuring Expert and Company Director. She is active in the Insolvency sector and works with directors, banks, courts, government institutions. And, most importantly, with people. Agnieszka has appeared in the press regularly in Poland and has been a licenced restructuring consultant since 2016.
Family is Important, but Money and How You Earn it is Too
Agnieszka is also the mother of two boys. The boys were unplanned and appeared at various stages of her education and career. Both of them had a big impact on her life and career. But she counts herself lucky as she has wonderful parents. Who helped her get a good education after the birth of her first son.
Initially Agnieszka had been interested in being an academic. Later she completed an accounting course and started her career as a junior accountant. At the time she was actually interested in studying law. When she spoke to her direct manager about it he gave her some advice:
“Studying law is nice, but its not practical. You have family responsibilities. You have to think how much money you need to earn. And how you will earn it.”
Agnieszka took his advice and started studying economics. She continued working in accounting and things started to look up. It didn’t take long for her to take the next step and sign up at the Warsaw School of Economics (SGH). She explained how it wasn’t easy getting into the university. How the exams were really challenging and it was a stressful time for her. How she had to push herself.
After finishing SGH Agnieszka found a role at a brokerage house in Warsaw. She found that finishing at SGH opened many doors for her, and she was driven by a need to learn. For a few years the new role was perfect. She worked weekends, evenings, as much as she could, to learn as quickly as she could. Everything seemed perfect.
However, one of the things that Agnieszka learnt, was risk. A big part of the role in any banking environment, with Agnieszka it took on a bigger significance. She realized that her risk appetite was different to those around her. That she had an inherent desire to learn new things and to be in new environments.
The job was great. She was happy with the people, the money. Everything was perfect. And Agnieszka felt that she had reached a level of existence that she had always wanted. She had become an ‘expert’ on the market and not just another accountant.
She learnt many things. Most of all she learnt that she likes new things. “I love change, I love new things, new environments,” she explained. “When it comes to risk, I know what my appetite for risk is. And if something is too risky, I will not take it.”
Agnieszka highlighted another important message: “If you’re not ambitious. If you are not going to work very hard. And you are not ready to accept change and new things. You will not find your professional path easily. You will always be a team member. And you won’t be a leader.”
Gaining Respect is Important
In order to overcome any obstacles that might stop you being successful, Agnieszka suggests that you find out what your talents are. Work out what your needs are, understand what motivates you and you will find your professional path easily.
We continued Agnieszka’s story. Following on from her time in the banking sector Agnieszka moved into a finance role at several large international companies in Poland. She explained how she looked for opportunities because she knew that she wouldn’t succeed unless she takes an opportunity offered to her.
“You need a company, you need people, you need resources in order to grow your competence,” Agnieszka shared. “Identify exactly the kind of support and what people you need to work with in order to succeed.
“Because respect comes after success and money. You need to earn respect. Respect for what you have achieved. And that’s how I always act,” Agnieszka emphasized.
Additionally, Agnieszka explained how she has built a can-do approach to her professional life over the years. Now when someone offers her an opportunity, she always says ‘yes’.
Today Agnieszka leads large and often risky projects in large companies on the market. She explained how this is “Because I am not afraid to do it. I know there’s always a solution. There are always people who can help me, because I have built up respect on the market over the years.”
It’s About People
Agnieszka has a role which involves interacting with banks and government institutions every day. Her success often depends on people both within the organization she is working with as well as at the banks and others.
When interacting with people she explained how it was important to understand the importance of the relationship with the individual(s) in the first instance. Then work with the person (or people) to help them understand your expectations and what you require from them. She offers her team support by showing them how to resolve the challenge, and by being there if they need her. Even if a task might look impossible.
“I require people to make an effort, but I tell them what I require in detail,” Agnieszka shared.
When there are issues that cannot be dealt with in person, Agnieszka explained how she will often write short and to the point letters. To the management boards of banks for example. Sometimes it helps, she told me.
If somebody suggests that something is impossible, Agnieszka explained how “I accept the facts, but have my own version. I convince and engage people to my vision and this is often enough” to make that something possible.
Agnieszka had mentioned ‘energy’ a few times at this point. So, naturally, I was interested to understand this better. She regularly alluded to how her energy was finite. It could run out. And she did this again when talking about working with banks, institutions or people. How she often found her energy ‘drained’ throughout the day, and needed to be careful to preserve it and not use it for futile tasks. That she wanted to have a lot of energy, and good energy to be able to better support those around her. And how it was the need to balance her energy with her needs that was important in her daily tasks.
The Importance of Being Straightforward and Honest
How you are perceived by others is another important topic we discussed with Agnieszka. She accentuated how word of mouth is very important in the market. How people talk about you, and what they say about you.
“If somebody is straightforward, is telling the truth, and will keep their word. I usually feel that about them,” Agnieszka shared.
Agnieszka is a straightforward person, and not just because of any ethical code that she needs to adhere to. She is also very trustworthy and reliable. She has to be.
“If I commit to or promise something then it’s going to happen. If there is a chance it might not happen then I will inform you about that,” Agnieszka elaborated. She works to ensure that everybody is always informed about what is happening. She explains how this is “my capital. It’s my reference. I haven’t got any assets in my company. Everything that I have is my expertise, knowledge and who I am, how I communicate with people, how I maintain my relationships.”
For years now Agnieszka has received referrals. She hasn’t had to look for her next project. Word of mouth works perfectly for Agnieszka. She believes it’s the best way to achieve the best recommendations. And thereby also the best opportunities.
As a warning, Agnieszka added how it is extremely important not to make mistakes. Just one small mishap and your capital, everything you have earned, can be lost.
Look for Accreditation
Agnieszka had already discussed how expertise was important. Now we moved on to the topic of gaining recognition through accreditation.
Whilst still an accountant, Agnieszka had already been looking for how to become certified. This is one of the reasons she completed her CIMA qualification (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants). She didn’t need to complete the accreditation at the time, but it did help her open doors later on.
Eventually Agnieszka became an insolvency practitioner. But not just one of the thousands of licensed practitioners. No, Agnieszka wanted to become a ‘qualified’ practitioner. There are less than one hundred of these people in Poland, less than 20% of them are women. Once again it was something new. Normally only lawyers are ‘qualified’ practitioners, but that didn’t stop Agnieszka getting the qualification.
“There was an opportunity to take the grade to be qualified, so I did it,” Agnieszka explained. “And I think that’s the most important thing. If there is any possibility to certify your expertise then you have to take it. Even if it doesn’t have direct influence on your career. It is confirmation that you are constantly learning. Which is appreciated on the market.”
Things like a good education, a well-recognized university and accreditations on the market are very important. And, Agnieszka believes, there is no excuse for not taking an opportunity to learn, to increase and develop your knowledge.
To Find Your Balance, Focus on Your Strengths
Ambitious people do have a tendency to be ‘workaholics’, and Agnieszka shared how at some points in her career she could have been considered a workaholic too. More recently she balances sophisticated vacations with her important duties.
She believes that one of the ways to avoid workaholism is to focus on your talent. More specifically, focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses.
“We have to look for ways that we can use our talents to earn money,” Agnieszka highlighted. Focussing on your weaknesses doesn’t work in the long run. Of course, we always need to work on ourselves to find ways to be better. But we should do this by focusing on talents, she believes.
Unexpected Surprises Will Happen
We discussed how, whilst the above advice is good for those of us starting out in our careers, there will always be surprises that can get in the way of our plans. Agnieszka agrees that we should carefully plan our careers. She also concedes that things can happen that upset our plans.
It can be good to wait with plans should surprises come up, Agnieszka believes. However, she also believes that we must not lose sight of the target.
In a way Agnieszka is a great example of someone who has had to manage unexpected challenges in her life. Her first son disrupted her education, whilst her second son arrived just before she was 40. Her career was going really well at the time. She had a key role in a large international company. But, as Agnieszka is straightforward, she was also open about her pregnancy with her company at the time. Which led to them discontinuing her contract. She was left with no job.
It was at this moment that Agnieszka decided that it cannot be like that. “That’s my future, my wealth depends on somebody else. It should always be dependant on me,” she explained.
Agnieszka’s pregnancy inspired her to setup her own company. After her son was born she started to look for projects. Importantly she insisted on projects only, with no exclusivity. She was happy to give certain amounts of time, expertise or resources to a project, but not all of her time.
Thriving Under Difficult Conditions
This helped her to return to her career plan. Or so she thought. Working with companies who needed help, were struggling with cash, was like crisis management. This was new to Agnieszka. She saw that because she was reliable, straightforward and known for keeping her word on the market there were certain benefits. Benefits in negotiating better terms and improving cashflow for the companies she was supporting.
Agnieszka realized that she was very good at crisis management. And she wasn’t afraid to make decisions. She also started to see that many institutions and companies on the market considered her as a ‘guarantee’ for payments they were due from the companies she was supporting. And they knew that she does always make sure payments are made.
It was then she understood that she didn’t need to be a finance person. She could be something else. With a finance, accounting, and negotiating background she realised that she could do other things. Bigger things.
Agnieszka has stopped working in finance. She has qualified as an insolvency practitioner, one of very few. Especially without a legal background.
“I found my own way to act and to earn money,” Agnieszka shared.
“You have to concentrate and plan your career,” Agnieszka added. “But you also have to accept the facts. That if something difficult happens, you have to find a way to overcome the problems. And you can still have a family.
“Even being a single mother without savings is a situation that can be overcome. If you don’t focus on how bad your situation is, but instead treat it like a chance that you have to make the most of. You don’t only have to pass professional exams, but also life exams. You can’t be a good professional if you can’t pass life exams. It’s like a check for each of us, about whether you are good at solving problems.”
Agnieszka shared how problems are everywhere, including our private lives. But that these problems are not ‘bad’ problems. Everything is for a reason. We cannot just focus on how bad things are. We must not think in this way.
Be a Winner
As we drew to a close, Agnieszka offered one final insight.
“If something comes to us, it’s for a reason. It’s like a test,” she shared. “If you have a new opportunity, just take it and then worry about what’s going on. Because it’s probably good for you. If you say ‘No’ because you are afraid, then you are a loser. Because you don’t even know what you’ve already lost.”
I hope you find it as inspiring to hear Agnieszka’s insights as I did. As I left the call we agreed with Agnieszka that we would be in touch again in the future. I can’t wait till the next time.
Author: Aleksandra Maczka