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Polish entrepreneurs abroad: Forgotten fortunes from the ’90s

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Poland – According to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, over 20 million Poles and individuals declaring Polish ancestry live outside of Poland. These estimates suggest that one-third of Poles reside abroad. Turbulent events in Poland over the years have pushed generations of migrants into a life of wandering, forcing them to adapt to new realities. For many, entrepreneurship emerged as a way to carve out a new life. Even well-known foreign brands with histories dating back to the 19th century, such as Marks & Spencer, Max Factor, or Philip Patek, were founded by Polish emigrants.

In more recent times, Polish entrepreneurs in the diaspora have achieved success. However, their activities often fade from our national perspective over time. What did they do? What happened to them? Why did they disappear? Below is an overview of four less obvious career paths during Poland’s political and economic transformations.

First computers, lotteries, and contract bridge in retirement

Witold Markowicz, after interrupting his mathematics studies at the University of Warsaw, immigrated to Israel in 1964, where he completed his studies in Haifa. Alongside a group of young technologists, he constructed the first Israeli commercial computer, the ELBIT 100. In 1970, he moved to the USA, where he founded the software company Matematica Inc. He designed the first American state lottery in New Jersey and co-founded GTECH Corporation, a company designing lottery systems for state lotteries in most U.S. states and in forty countries across five continents. Its annual revenues reached $400 million. In March 1991, GTECH signed a contract with the State Enterprise Totalizator Sportowy to install 250 terminals in the initial phase at 2,300 existing points in Poland. By the late ’90s, Markowicz decided to sell GTECH. Since then, he has been known as a contract bridge player who wins international tournaments and a patron of culture. For the latter activity, he was awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland in 2015 by President Bronisław Komorowski. Markowicz was one of the first donors to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews “Polin” in Warsaw.

Success through the stock market

Andrew J. Filipowski is a Polish-American who made his success in the high-tech industry. He was born in Chicago to a Polish family. In 1979, he founded DBMS Inc. which he headed until 1987. In 1985, he founded Platinum Technology, a company that implemented databases in software management, listed it on NASDAQ. Platinum Technology became the world’s eighth-largest software developer. He then sold it for nearly $4 billion to Computer Associates. He is currently chairman of SilkRoad Equity, a private investment firm.

Coal and electricity

Wieslaw Wesley Michalczyk moved to the US in the 1970s and made his first serious money there. After the fall of communism, he invested some of it in Poland. He chose industries that he learned about during his American business experience – power, coal and oil. According to media reports, he also mediated several defence contracts in the following years, which earned him the ominous-sounding title of “arms dealer.” However, the specific extent of this activity of his is not known. His most famous investment and last investment in Poland even made it to the front pages of newspapers. It was a high-voltage line connecting Poland and Belarus. Executed by the Anaconda company, the line was eventually sold to Enea. The deal became the subject of political fights and between the old and new management of the company. After publications on the subject, the businessman disappeared from Polish economic life, although outside Poland he can still be found in energy investments.

Angel of Business

Tad Witkowicz, actually Tadeusz Witkowicz, was born in 1949 in Kodno, eastern Poland. In 1966, he moved with his family to Canada, where he achieved a degree in physics. His career was a classic example of the American dream, “from rags to riches.” After working in the telecom industry for several years, he decided to go into business for himself. He founded the software company Artel Communication, later listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange; his startup was later bought by the 3Com conglomerate. He repeated the story with Cross Comm, which he sold for $351 million. He later created a third software company, Adlex, which was purchased by Compuware. Since then, he has been involved as a “Business Angel” and, through the Otago Capital fund, has supported innovative companies at the seed stage. He described his rich career in the book “From Misery to Money or From Bug to Wall Street”. These days he is frequently visiting Poland, where he conducts seminars on business and gives guest lectures at universities, including Jagiellonian University.