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Poland's Solaris: a family affair

Solaris, like many Polish family businesses, is still in its first generation, but the family behind it says there is little chance of a public listing anytime soon, as luring investors would see them take their eye off the ball of their core business – manufacturing buses.

Polish nationals Krzysztof Olszewski and his wife, Solange (pictured), returned to their homeland in 1994, having lived for more than a decade in Germany to escape Poland’s authoritarian government. The pair founded Solaris two years after their return. Krzysztof, a mechanical engineer, had previously worked for bus manufacturer Neoplan in Berlin. Solange, however, had to take a change of career path – she was previously a paediatric dentist. She made her mark on the company early by designing its logo herself and the green dachshund remains on the company’s buses to this day. Solange is now chairwoman of the board, Krzysztof is chief executive, and the couple’s two children both work within the company.

Solaris distinguishes itself by custom making its vehicles for clients and currently manufactures buses, trolleybuses and tramways. Solaris was the first European manufacturer to offer hybrid buses, and its latest development is 100% electric buses. Road safety is one of the company’s key business objectives. It has launched a training programme for drivers to help them navigate extreme conditions, and a road safety programme for primary school and kindergarten children. It leads its home market for bus manufacturing and is the leading import bus supplier in Germany. Solaris fleets are present in 28 countries in over 500 cities.

Looking ahead
Poland’s hosting of the UEFA Cup in 2012 had led to several bumper years for Solaris, but it is now seeing business return to normal levels. In September 2014 new European emission standards come into effect, but Solaris – which lists sustainability as one of its key business objectives – says it is prepared for the new criteria. The company has recently completed an order for Dubai and aims to do more business with the Middle East. In an interview with the Financial Times, Olszewski said their vision is to build a company like Siemens or Rolls Royce, because Poland had never had a chance to do this before.

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