He began with an internship in the weekly magazine “Wprost” and today he is its owner. He is a businessman, a philanthropist, and a supporter of transparency in all segments of public life from politics to media. His professional life is a classic example of the American dream. Together with Michał Maciej Lisiecki, the president of PMPG Polskie Media SA, the owner of weekly magazines „Wprost” and „Do Rzeczy”, spoke Kinga Eva Plich.
Kinga Eva Plich: How was it that your person, which today manages a media empire spreading across the continuum and with one of the most prestige names in media in Poland, started your career?
Michał Lisiecki: It was year 1997. It started like in a movie – a young student comes back to Poland from the United States, applies to college, and wants to work. I drew much inspiration from two biographies of famous people in this sphere – the newspaper tycoon Rupert Murdoch, and entrepreneur-turned-mogul Richard Branson. I found that “the press” is what I wanted to devote myself to, especially as I followed the constant barrage of current information and read very many newspapers. But then a question arose, which many people ask me even today – where did a student got money to create a press consortium?
KP: You are reading my mind.
ML: The answer is very prosaic – part of it I have earned (working in London), and some I got from my parents. I had a total of about 2,000 dollars. My first adventures with the press dates back to my student days, when together with colleagues we distributed the student magazine “Dlaczego?”. Later I entered myself into the student “practice” in the “Wprost” weekly and the monthly “Businessman Magazine”, which were the most well-known titles in Poland at that time. I wanted to learn how to produce a real newspaper.
KP: From trainee, even in the prestigious newspaper, it is still a long way to the career of a businessman. What did you take away from that period in your life?
ML: I’ve learned that the creation of a newspaper is not that difficult (laughs). I remember the current owner of “Wprost”, who showed me how it all works from the inside. Thanks to him, I got to know the editors: Stanisław Janecki and Piotr Gabriel. The latter said that for my project, I need 2 million, not 2 thousand dollars. I joked then that if you do not want to invest with me, then I will one day buy you out. The words proved prophetic – today, that is 20 years later, I am the publisher of “Wprost” and Piotr Gabriel is my business partner as a shareholder in the conservative weekly “Do Rzeczy” published by PMPG.
KP: It sounds like the American dream. What are you planning in the near future?
ML: Speaking of America, I am in the process of entering this market – I am currently opening a platform Machina.com in Los Angeles, devoted to the wide conception of pop culture. There you will be able to get information on virtually all areas of life – from music and culture to politics as well. As one of the first projects of Machina we are also creating the Machina Music Label, in which we promote young European artists on the American market.
KP: Are you going to finance this investment alone?
ML: Just the initial investment. Once the project gets started, we will present the investment offer. In the US market there is needed a considerable financial outlay, and it is impossible without investors. It is indeed inevitable. Please look at the success of the company, the so-called “eng. unicorns / pl. jednorożce” – an appropriate mix of strategic shareholders is often the key to success.
KP: How does it work in practice?
ML: Let us take the music market for an example, which is very unfairly, even thuggishly divided – the artist gets from a dozen to no more than 30% of the profit, the rest is scooped by the label. And we are talking about a major artist, because when it comes to composers and other artists, the profits are sometimes laughable, often merely a few thousand dollars. Although the creators of content in the music industry have opposed this for years it has been to no avail given the tight control the production companies maintain. The Machina project will therefore be an attempt to counteract such an anti-democratic model of profit distribution. It will be an attempt to break this system.
KP: I sense a deeper message.
ML: Of course. In life I am guided by certain values and try to incorporate them into everything I do. I know that democracy and the free market are not the perfect political system but it could be optimized so that it is not prone to as much manipulation. There is the possibility of constant change, evolution, and improvement. Each system must be as transparent as possible and as comprehensible for all the stakeholders. This is true in terms of business to maintain its integrity and especially true when it comes to politics and politicians. We must remember that the politicians do not have their own money to subsidize their activities – they operate exclusively using ours. We need to look at their hands at all times and force them to show them. They should be open. A good example is the activity of Matthew Tyrmand and his brilliant project “Open the Books” – exposing politicians and the many layers of governments spending in the American society.
KP: Does the weaknesses of the system also apply to the business world?
ML: That’s what I am getting at – a system in which so few people control so much wealth in the world; it is illogical and certainly unethical. In such circumstances, the free market is a fiction. The accumulation of huge amounts of capital in the hands of a select group of individuals who then have the ability to protect through anti-competition….in the long run does not make sense. It mostly creates injustice. Take Apple for example – it has enormous resources, but shares them with the artists who contribute to its success, to a small extent – which is as unjust as the original above cited example. Meanwhile, the predicate of business should be transparency, and thus the social pressure in commerce must be in promoting the companies that apply the principle of fair distribution of profits.
KP: Are you also an example of an entrepreneur who shares his profits?
ML: Indirectly, yes. The best example is when you look at my losses after the tape scandal – this disclosure cost me a few million dollars, and my family had no peace for some time. Knowingly incurring huge risks, the editors and I did it solely in the public interest. We run a foundation of “Wprost” Weekly, helping children and promoting other charitable foundations in our media. We have prepared a project that promotes one charitable foundation a month. We will write, why it is worth it to support the specific charitable organization and will encourage others to do thus catalyzing a more philanthropic populace – at least within our readership – which is a considerable one in both size and affluence.
KP: A businessman, a person acting in the world of media, music and politics, a philanthropist – hardly a better summary of the interview. I thank you for the interesting conversation.
ML: Thank you also. Although I am glad that I am not nearly as recognizable as the celebrities with whom everyone wants to have a “selfie” at various events, the nature of my business, of being a man “behind”, allows me to protect my privacy and my family, and on the other hand fully use my time for work and activities that bring good ideas to the front, capital to accumulate fairly, jobs created and from all this; great satisfaction.
By Bartosz Żebrowski