WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP: Going out on her own

Going out on her own Interview with with Agnieszka Chołuj, the CEO at fit-out company Spaceplan

WBJ sat down with Agnieszka Chołuj, the CEO at fit-out company Spaceplan, to talk about her career in real estate and the current trends and challenges in her sector

Interview by Adam Zdrodowski

WBJ: How did you start your career in the property market?
Agnieszka Chołuj: Right after my economics studies I was offered a job at a new fit-out company, which I helped create and which is, to this day, one of the leaders in the sector. Initially, I worked at the reception desk, which is a great place to start – the reception is the heart of each office and working there allows you to get to know the inner workings of the company.

Then, I was promoted to the position of office manager, then sales person and finally a board member, which also involved buying a stake in the business. When the CEO left the company for a year or so, me and one other senior employee de facto managed it. But then the CEO returned and I had to step back. Having experienced the thrill of managing and decision-making, I found the situation difficult and decided to set up a similar business of my own.

“In the real estate market, there are still very few female CEOs of development and investment companies, and many women a bit down the ladder. So the glass ceiling is definitely still there.”

What did the building of a new company from scratch look like?

I co-founded Spaceplan with my business partner. We were lucky in the sense that we already had the necessary know-how gained at a company with a very similar profile. We did not need to invest much and knew many key clients – as a result, we secured our first major contracts very quickly. Of course, the scale of the business grew over the years, but Spaceplan has remained a boutique company.

I understand that this has not prevented you from working with large clients…

Absolutely – a medium-sized firm can still do great things, but it cannot do many great things at the same time. The good thing about being a medium-sized firm rather than a corporation is that contacts, both within the company and with the outside world, are more personal – I am not one of those anonymous CEOs sitting behind a glass wall. I am involved in particular projects and often participate in meetings with our clients.

Do you think there is still a shortage of women in managerial positions in real estate?

As far as I know, I am the only woman managing a fit-out company in Poland. Of course, there are many women in lower positions in the sector. In a similar vein, in the broadly understood real estate market, there are still very few female CEOs of development and investment companies, and many women a bit down the ladder. So the glass ceiling is definitely still there.

Last year Spaceplan celebrated its 10th anniversary – what are some of the company’s biggest achievements so far?

For one thing, we have completed a number of prestigious projects in recent years, including the fitting out of space for Akademia L’Oréal in the Defabryka building and for HBO in the Ethos building, both in Warsaw. For another thing, we have managed to build very good relationships with many clients, who keep coming back to us. This is something that we are particularly proud of.

What are some of the major trends and challenges in your industry at the moment?

Certainly, the market is becoming more and more competitive. On the one hand, many very small and unprofessional fit-out companies have emerged, and for them the only competitive advantage is a lower price. On the other hand, fit-out services are now increasingly offered by developers leasing turn-key space to their tenants and real estate agencies brokering lease transactions.

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