Heroes and Zeroes by Szymon Janiak


The post was originally published in Polish on Szymon’s LinkedIn profile. Szymon kindly agreed to republish what we think is of great value to our readers.

Today’s role model in business is a psychopath who has made a lot of money walking over dead bodies. I realized this when I met yet another person with an abstract fortune, with whom I really don’t want to have anything to do. I don’t want to bask in their glow, much less maintain such acquaintances, hoping only that it will pay off for me someday. Many of these people suffer from a God complex, they consider themselves superior because they can make money with phenomenal efficiency. And the crowds applaud – because who are they supposed to identify with, if not the ‘best’? And these are supposed to be the heroes of our time? This is our business – attention: difficult word – DEGRENGOLADA (roughly translates from Polish as ‘moral downfall’ – translator’s note).

Szymon Janiak, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Czysta3.VC

All you have to do is pick any media, read the stories about zero-to-millionaires, and then go a little deeper to see what’s behind them. After a while, the pattern will be clear and incredibly repetitive. It doesn’t matter how someone made their money – with the right amount of zeros in their account, the public will forgive everything. All you need to do is set up a foundation, sponsor a few noble initiatives, and you can easily buy yourself a positive image. We have been led to believe that at the end of the day, the amount of money earned is the only measure of effectiveness in business. This extremely superficial approach has backed us into a corner and it is high time to sober up.

At the same time, I’ve met hundreds of amazing people who have built medium-sized businesses. They lead a cool and interesting life, but at the same time, they do it in a way that’s worthy of emulation. They create products that help many people, run family businesses with a great atmosphere, have time for each other, treat people with respect, give up lucrative orders if they are not in line with their values. They see something more in it. What’s important is that they don’t do it for show, but according to their moral compass. Not every company has to be impactful right away, but sometimes it’s just about the way someone runs their business. Such people are a real inspiration for me.

The number of zeros in an account should not be the only determinant of success. They’re just numbers. In business, it is worth appreciating people for the way they act, even if the scale is far from spectacular. At the end of the day, it is with these people that you want to have dinner together to learn something interesting from them.

The comment section had quite some experiences and insights to share:

Intelligence, confidence, discipline, perseverance, diligence, – these are the qualities that are stereotypically associated with successful people. However, many have such features, but only a few build slave corporate-empires where workers are squeezed like lemons, only a few enslave billions of human minds from the level of smartphones, only a few launch rockets to Mars… It turns out that the greatest ‘heroes’ of our time have other ‘qualities’ that allowed them to achieve spectacular success and gain more power than the governments of many countries. It is often a complete lack of empathy and ruthless exploitation of people to achieve one’s own goals. Saying it out loud is very necessary, because it calls a spade a spade and demystifies common incantations such as ‘walking over corpses to the goal’ or ‘to be successful, you have to steal and milk people.’ You don’t have to!! Psychopathy is a disease, not a virtue! It’s impossible to exacerbate the disease, but it’s important to activate the defensive forces and mobilize the truly empathetic and ‘human’ leaders. There are more good ones and they are stronger.

Danuta Żukowska, General Manager CEE at Cachet

I’ve had фтopportunity to work for people like that… I’m a high performer so I can handle a lot of ‘pressure,’ but it always ended the same way: I left the company for another one or came back to ‘my own’ for some time to rest. 

Unfortunately, the zero-based approach is very widespread and at the same time very harmful – it kills the fun of doing something new / innovative and at the same time … It kills the business itself – quick results over building long-term foundations that will withstand market turmoil. Worst of all, people like it (I saw The Wolf of Wallstreet at a movie theater and was horrified at the audience’s reactions).

Money, of course, is the most important thing (after all, it’s a business, not an NGO), but we are people. And we also have other needs than mindlessly striving for as much cash/assets as possible.

Artur Adamczyk, Owner at Artur Adamczyk ActiveADS

I have a different experience with my acquaintances. I’ve noticed that the more zeros on their accounts, the better I work with them. On the other hand, the smaller the capital of a given person, the more problems, manipulations, and misunderstandings. I like rich people because they are more chill, they don’t have to pretend to be experts, they don’t have to prove anything, and they generally don’t care what other people think of them, which allows them to focus on the right things.

Recently I was at a casual meeting and a guy came over in one of his Ferraris. No one paid much attention to his car, although some people at the meeting could only dream of such a car. The guy behaved naturally, and when I asked about the car, he said that it was one of many and actually nothing special. He then added that talking about cars was boring and asked me if I knew any interesting trekking routes in the area.

He didn’t talk smart, he didn’t talk about how to make money, he just enjoyed life. We should learn to be a little more relaxed and not demonize rich people, as we sometimes tend to do. If the bank balance matches the mindset of a rich person, then they really are fantastic people and far from psychopaths.

Luke Sliwa, President at Rex Support Group Foundation

For years now, I have been working on – at least, I hope so – a business culture based on values and honesty. This trust has led more than once to the brink of bankruptcy and taught us to protect ourselves from psychopaths in business. Unfortunately, the reality of today doesn’t allow us to eliminate relationships with violent and oppressive types, where boundaries don’t work. One of the key competences today is the ability to get in and out of relationships, Stoic Assertiveness takes on a new meaning today.

Cezary Ziemiński, CPO at WyMy

The toxic triangle is alive and well: toxic leaders, susceptible followers, and a supportive environment. The model works across a great many organizations.

Agnieszka Ert-Eberdt, Partner and Business Coach at Agnieszka Ert-Eberdt- All About People

I very much agree with many points, and I would argue with a few. I think I can judge pretty well, because since the 1990s I’ve been selling cars to most of the top 100 companies and individuals. In fact, the picture of Polish capitalism it the beginning looked just like in the publication above.

Over time, I founded my own company and now I provide various services to the same people and companies, as well as completely new players. In my opinion, a lot is changing. A lot of such tough players dropped out. Others learn from their colleagues’ mistakes. It must be remembered that despite all the bad qualities, business gathers intelligent people, maybe sometimes only cunning, but this is probably a rarity. I would also be optimistic about the current image of the Polish businessman. I know many cases of huge market bashing and personality changes.

Personally, I believe that transformation is the measure of success. And I guess being yourself regardless of the circumstances is key, because on the other hand, I would put forward the thesis that service providers who only roll out red carpets in front of the aforementioned business people are not respected either.

Also, the fact that we are still developing very well within the EU proves our ability to cooperate.

So, this devil isn’t so terrible after all.

Piotr Gańko, CEO at Range Capital

While I’ve come across data that managers and entrepreneurs have ‘psychopathic traits’ (this would have to be expanded upon), I haven’t come across a statement that the size of the business influences the severity of these traits. I think big business is a bigger picture, so it’s better observed. I know a lot of small business owners walking over dead bodies to their goal.

Ewa Waszkiewicz, Psychologist and Consultant at Pracownia Waszkiewicz


The question is whether progress could be possible at all without such people. I see that we are slowly beginning to understand what is natural for everyone who has lived in a free economy for generations. We have all allowed ourselves in Poland to be ‘poisoned’ with the extremely neoliberal image of the market and its ideals of persons. The process of ‘detox’ will take some time. Eventually, we will understand why there are phenomena such as: trade/industry unions, wellbeing, pressure to implement and respect the idea of ESG or sustainability, etc. Because it’s simply about counterbalancing the phenomena in the topic of this post.

Dariusz Stelengowski, Brand Identity Owner at ING Bank Śląsk


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