Six things about … Jacek Olczak21 Jan 2019 · 3 min read
1. Growing up in Poland showed Jacek the power of information to change human behavior.
“When I was growing up, Poland was a Communist regime; we experienced shortages of all kinds—I remember the coupon-ration system in place for cigarettes. Information didn’t flow freely at all.” But things changed radically after the regime change, Jacek recalls, with broader product choices and more information for consumers. “This let me make better choices in my own lifestyle—and showed me that knowledge is everything. Give people the right information, and they will make better choices.” As a pragmatist, Jacek believes that even if PMI stopped selling cigarettes tomorrow, nothing would change so long as consumers were not properly informed about the alternatives to cigarettes.
2. He is excited by the enormity of the change of direction at PMI.
“We are going to create a future of change and, yes, that does get you excited.” He accepts that transforming PMI is going to be a lengthy and costly operation. The knowledge that important work has already begun is reassuring though. “Last year alone, in the EU, we offered several thousand coaches to help adult smokers convert to smoke-free products. They were able to offer a helping hand to consumers in the first week or two of conversion to the new product.” Attitudes are changing fast.
3. His 25 years at PMI have given him confidence that transformative change is possible.
“When you have been at a company for as long as I have, and you realize that you are in a position to address the one big fundamental problem the company has—the product—and come up with something that is better for the consumer, that chance to transform the company becomes life-changing.”
4. He is a man in a hurry—and proud of it.
“Nobody at PMI ever stops me in the corridor and asks, ‘Why are we doing this?’ The question I hear, again and again, is ‘How can we do this faster?’”
5. He is not a worrier.
COOs, in the public imagination, are often professional worriers. “They have so much on their plate, there is so much that can go wrong.” But Jacek is determined not to turn into one of those nail-biting COOs who are so paralyzed by anxiety that they cannot take decisions. “The history of commercial progress is that the better product always replaces the previous one.” Even in a company where, throughout most of its history, cigarettes have been the only product and marketing them the only priority, radical change is wholly possible.
6. He is convinced that tax incentives have a key role to play in the smoke-free revolution.
“If you have products that are better for people who would otherwise continue smoking cigarettes, shouldn’t they be incentivized to make the switch? And shouldn’t companies be incentivized to sell those alternative products rather than cigarettes?”
This article was updated in May 2021 to reflect Olczak's new role as CEO, having previously served as COO.