The new engine plant in Jawor is the first Mercedes-Benz Cars production facility in Poland, and a major project in which intercultural cooperation is both a factor for success and a matter that is close to our hearts. Ewa Łabno-Falęcka and Sven Witzenhause organized the permanent exhibition "Mercedes-Benz meets Jawor" in Poland in order to engage in dialog with the population.
Ewa Łabno-Falęcka works for Mercedes-Benz in Warsaw, where she is in charge of corporate communications and external affairs. She spent fourteen years living in Germany and passionately promotes intercultural understanding. In March this year she was awarded the German Cross of the Order of Merit on ribbon for her work of promoting dialog between Poland and Germany.
Sven Witzenhause has his office in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim. In the External Affairs unit, which is responsible for relations with stakeholders, he and his team work to achieve stable partnerships in connection with industrial projects. He works with colleagues around the world to establish dialogs with local stakeholders.
How exactly does this exhibition intend to keep up good neighborly relations?
Sven Witzenhause: Once the decision regarding the new location has been made, we asked ourselves how we could bring the local people and Mercedes-Benz together. The residents are curious. What exactly is happening here? Who is the investor? Will it affect their lives? It is important to provide answers to these questions at an early stage, and to enter into a dialog with citizens before the ground has even been broken.
Ewa Łabno-Falęcka: Through the exhibition, we are offering the residents of Jawor an opportunity to get to know each other. Our cars are already well-known in Poland. The focus of the exhibition is therefore on our company's long history, the people, and the ideas behind the vehicles. We also present Mercedes-Benz Manufacturing Poland as a new local employer.
And how is the exhibition being received by citizens and other local partners?
Sven Witzenhause: Around 6,000 people have visited the exhibition yet. This is a very good number for a small town like Jawor. Especially because it is not on any of the usual tourist routes. We believe that an opportunity for mutual exchange, which is what this exhibition is, will be successful if the good relationship between people in the region is maintained. This is very clearly the case in Jawor. Through the exhibition and dialog, we have built up a foundation of trust. This is of great help with respect to the ongoing collaboration and future projects – for example the battery factory which is currently being built.
Ewa Łabno-Falęcka: There is one anecdote that shows the impact of the dialog with the town and its citizens very clearly. The road on which the new plant in Jawor was built was originally called Sugar Street, because it used to be the site of a large sugar factory. When work on the construction of the plant began, it was suggested that Sugar Street could be renamed Gottlieb Daimler Street. A survey was conducted of the town's citizens. Despite the significance of the road's name, the town voted for Gottlieb Daimler Street. Thanks to our exhibition, Gottlieb Daimler is no longer unkown in the town any more!
What is the basis for being perceived as a "good neighbor" at our locations?
Ewa Łabno-Falęcka: When we open a new facility, communication with the locals is the most important thing. The first step is to define the target group. We must make sure that everyone affected by our projects is included in the dialog from the very beginning – and also pay attention to the critical voices.
Sven Witzenhause: Successful stakeholder communication must be transparent and honest. For me personally, it is important that we ultimately deliver what we promised. This demonstrates integrity and fosters trust. Building castles in the air is not a recipe for lasting success.
What strengths does your role call for?
Sven Witzenhause: In our role it is important to see the big picture for each project, and to be open to see things from your partner's point of view. This includes a certain willingness to negotiate and compromise, because different opinions and perspectives arise even in the best relationships.
Ewa Łabno-Falęcka: At the same time, we must also be willing to make decisions. We cannot always meet every expectation, so we must stay realistic. If we act with integrity and do what we say we are going to, we can build up stable relationships with our partners.
What obstacles do you encounter in the dialog processes that you manage?
Ewa Łabno-Falęcka: There are some critical voices in any change process. In this case it is because money has been spent on projects, whose success is difficult to measure. This is a reference to our exhibition. But I don't believe that everything of value needs to be measurable. And equally, not everything that can be measured is automatically valuable.
Sven Witzenhause: I think the obstacle is not the critical voices themselves but rather the danger of not considering them. Responding to feedback early enough helps you avoid running into difficulty. And criticism usually dies down as soon as success becomes apparent. And that can certainly be measured in this case, for example, in the large numbers of visitors.
What is particularly important to our partners?
Ewa Łabno-Falęcka: Of course, all of our partners are interested in the collaboration producing a result that benefits both sides. In Jawor, for example, for the exhibition we are working closely with the regional museum, the mayor and the town council. This can definitely describe a win-win situation. The exhibition has become a cultural fixture, and even draws a large number of tourists to the small town.
What is your personal motivation for working toward sustainable partnerships for our company?
Sven Witzenhause: I am mainly motivated by my encounters with the people I am able to get to know through the various different projects. And of course the new places I travel to through my work. I even have a personal connection with Jawor, as my grandmother is from the Wroclaw region. My work on the exhibition brought me back to my family’s roots.
Ewa Łabno-Falęcka: I am Polish, and spent 14 years living in Germany. This motivates me to work on our company's intercultural relationships – not only with Poland. If this is successful, it is not only personally satisfying but also adds value to the company. This combination is the best that can happen.