17 Nov An inspirational story of leadership
It is the 20-year anniversary of NFM in Poland and it is fitting to share the story of its growth with Małgorzata Dombrowska, the Chief Operating Officer who made the impossible, possible.
Things were certainly not easy for me growing up, as an only child in a modest household without a father. It made me a stronger person who was determined to succeed. I loved the outdoors and found my place in a Scouts group where I quickly became a leader.
I went to the Technical University of Gdansk and earned a degree in management and marketing. I am also an engineer and have a Masters degree in science. Life was so busy with study and part time jobs, I did not even celebrate my University graduation or my Masters graduation. Life simply, went on but I did manage to find time for my love of being in Scouts.
In 2001 at age 26, I was working in the IT industry when I saw a job advertised in the local newspaper. It was a very small advertisement for a Production Co-Ordinator position at a Norwegian company here in Poland. I was quite happy in my job, but for some reason, something told me to apply, so I did.
Shortly after, I spoke to Walter Øverland (who is one of the founders of NFM and is currently the CEO of the company). We had a nice conversation and shortly after, he invited me to Norway for the second interview. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it happened so fast and my mother was worried. She told me, “You cannot go to another country for a job interview. That sounds dangerous”.
Looking back now, I understood her concern. An offer like that simply did not happen at that time, but I wanted to go anyway, so I did. The interview went well and I was offered the job that I immediately accepted.
At that time the company was called Norsk Forsvars Materiell (Norwegian Defence Materials) and they only had production in Norway but decided to source some of production service in Poland through some friends’ network as it was more profitable.
The company they found was located in Słupsk, but there were always delays and problems. It was almost as if the company at the time had no interest in changing their business model. They were even conveying information to people in Polish but then translating this in a completely different way in English. It was confusing and they were blaming the problems on the staff and money. It simply was not working, so I was asked to find new production companies and in parallel to open our own production facility.
A new start
I do love a challenge but this was very new to me. I knew nothing about sewing materials let alone anything about the defence industry but leadership is leadership. My job was to get things done, to build and manage a team and this I enjoyed.
We found an available empty furniture shop in Potęgowo, which became our first location.
It was run down, the walls were extremely dirty and the toilet disgusting, but the size of the building was ideal for us at the time.
So, we took it and after two months, we got it ready for production. On the 3rd of April 2001, we then founded NFM Polska in Poland.
I remember to this day the conversation I heard of Tor Bakke (one of the founders) in a taxi in Poland. He was calling Norwegian colleagues and said with pride “I have just established NFM Polska!” (in Norwegian obviously).
Juggling work and motherhood
Soon after, we realised that it was simply too small. I was working 16 hours per day, 6 days per week so I wasn’t making many friends and I missed home. My boyfriend was very supportive (he is now my husband) but I was still lonely, so I decided to get a dog who I called “Mysza”. She came with me to work and was barking a lot but she understood who the boss was. When Walter told her to “gå og legg deg” (which means go lie down) she would do it every time. That was hilarious!
Walter in our first office that after some years was transformed into a canteen.
The day after I gave birth in hospital, I was working on my computer. When I left hospital, I would have meetings with my young son at the office with a nanny. When there was a break, I would go out to breast feed and then go into another meeting. This was not ideal, but it worked and after a short time, it was routine.
It is relevant to note here that during this transition, I was pregnant with my first child. It was bad timing. Lots of things were happening and I needed to be in charge to make sure everything was going according to plan. But, nature had a way of getting in the way and so my son decided to arrive early. That was kind of a good thing because when I went into labour, I actually had the day off to do some things.
Business was going very well and we needed to expand. The mayor of Potęgowo approached me and offered NFM cheap land. He really appreciated the fact that NFM employed many locals and wanted to keep us in the area. After some considerations, we accepted a large block where we built a factory. However, as we were building it, we realized immediately that it would not be enough. NFM was expanding at such a rate that we needed more.
“In that situation, I had no problem with the staff seeing my breasts. After all, its natural and babies need feeding”.
Margaret with Jan, 2006
Like I said, business was expanding rapidly and so NFM ended up purchasing some land in Lębork where the current facilities are. I really wanted to keep the staff from the other location, so I offered free bus trips to and from these places. It worked well. The staff were happy.
Speaking of staff, I am so very proud of them. They are like family to me. An example of their commitment was Christmas last year during COVID19 when we had a large order from South America. There was a very short time where we had to deliver a massive order and it was at a time where many were going on holidays. I asked everyone in the organisation if they could volunteer to help out because it was urgent.
To my surprise, people from every section of the organisation offered to help pack and make ready goods for this customer. I was proud. It is the norm for NFM to come together like that. When there is a need, we make it work.
In the early years, business was very ad-hoc. We never really knew when orders were coming in and one time I needed to lay off quite a number of people because there simply was no work for them. We even decided that management’s salaries would be suspended which was helping the business survive.
It was very sad and hard to let people go and luckily we got a big order two weeks later so I could hire them all again. That was a stressful way to do business and thankfully how, we have a lot more long-term contracts and so staff requirements are much easier to manage.
Current operations and the future for NFM in Poland
We now have very well organised facilities here in Poland and we continue to grow at a controlled rate. There are 1.5 hectares of land available to us that we will use in the near future, as well as two new buildings currently being built.
We are Europe’s largest producer of defence equipment and this is due to our structured and very capable facilities here.
I look forward to the future and believe that many things will be automated keeping us in-line with modern technologies and have a message to the wonderful NFM staff: I love you guys!
I often gather with my friends and we play guitars are sing old scout and rock songs. I am not the best guitar player in the world, but I like to sing.
My children are: 15,13,9.
72% of employees in NFM Poland are women.
Adam: What do you see happening in the next 10 years?
Małgorzata: More grey hairs.
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| ABOUT NFM |
NFM, founded in 1996, designs and produces protective equipment that enables the user to deploy to full capacity during combat, while staying protected.
Based on our Scandinavian heritage of craftsmanship, we continuously implement a holistic and innovative approach to protection with the end user in focus.
Today, NFM has contracts with over 50 military and law enforcement agencies worldwide.
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