If the past 16 months are anything to go by, Zbigniew Wrobel is on the fast track to becoming one of Poland's most formidable entrepreneurs. Ever since taking over as president of Poland's largest refinery, PKN Orlen, in February, 2002, the 49-year-old Wrobel has been on a mission to build his company into a global force that will, in his words, "conquer the world." He's already off to a strong start. In December, 2002, PKN slapped down $160 million to purchase 495 German gas stations from Britain's BP PLC. For Poles accustomed to having their own assets gobbled up by foreigners, PKN's move was a triumph. Wrobel was congratulated by everyone, including Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.
Wrobel says the network of rebranded stations -- which are expected to be profitable by yearend -- is the first step in his strategy of expanding west. He has plans for his home turf, too. Already the country's largest company, with sales of $7.2 billion, PKN Orlen has set its sights on Grupa Lotos, formerly Rafineria Gdanska (RG), a rival refinery based on the Baltic coast. Thanks to a recent amendment to Poland's antitrust law, PKN has been allowed to team up with British-based Rotch Energy Ltd. to bid for the government's 75% stake in Lotos, which would give PKN a near-monopoly in refining. There's been some speculation that Wrobel may try to push through the deal even without a British partner. Either way, he's confident of his success. "RG and PKN will walk together arm in arm, creating a new value for the Polish economy," he says. Meanwhile, he admits PKN is "flirting" with Hungary's MOL and Austria's OMV in anticipation of further industry consolidation across Europe.
Wrobel's life has been steeped in oil. He received a degree in crude-oil and coal processing from Poland's Silesia University of Technology and started off in the state oil company. He got his training in Western business management as a sales director at Philip Morris Poland, and at PepsiCo Trading Poland, where he was sales and distribution director. "Those jobs were a school of life in international standards for me," he says. But it was inevitable he would come back to the oil patch, which he did by joining PKN in 2002.
Wrobel isn't kidding about becoming a global force. To help Poland's new friends, the Americans, he has formed a consortium of Polish companies to assist in rebuilding the Iraqi oil ministry in cooperation with Bechtel of the U.S.
In his rare free moments, Wrobel sails his yacht on the Mazurian Lakes, where he also dives. A devout Catholic and avid philatelist, he boasts a stamp collection that includes several thousand different issues featuring the image of Poland's most famous son, Pope John Paul II.