Be careful what you wish for…

MakoLab Blog talks to Krzysztofa Sopek, wife to MakoLab’s founder, Mirek Sopek and a cornerstone of the company.

It’s a glorious, sunny June day and I’m sitting in the London Room in a new office building at the heart of Łódź. This is No. 8 ulica Ogrodowa, where the MakoLab headquarters are located. The company celebrates its thirtieth birthday this year and, in honour of the occasion, I’m about to interview Krzysztofa Sopek.

She is relishing the view outside the window, which presents not only the the gorgeous, regenerated post-industrial building which currently houses the Manufaktura shopping and leisure centre, but also the stunning Poznański Palace, now home to the Museum of the City of Lódź. We’re about to look back on the origins of MakoLab and explore the company’s development over thirty years, as seen from her perspective 

What’s the history behind the company’s name, MakoLab?

The company’s original name was Mako Typesetting and the ‘Mako’ sprang from our son’s name, Maciek. He was born in 1988 and the company was founded in 1989. At the time, Maciek couldn’t pronounce his name. The nearest he could get was ‘Mako’, so that’s what he called himself. We just added ‘typesetting’. Maciek’s proud to point out this contribution of his to the company’s development!

In fact, the company was created out of necessity. Mirek was doing his doctorate at the Lódź University of Technology and, as you can imagine, academe didn’t exactly pay well. We didn’t have enough money to support our family. So his work at the university occupied his days and his evenings were taken up with typesetting.

As I said, that was in 1989, the year that freedom was won. All over the country, people were taking matters into their own hands… and Mirek was one of them. Ever since the moment he set the business up, it’s dominated his life. But I have to say that it’s been an interesting journey.

MakoLab’s a company with over thirty years of history now. Could you tell me something about the early days?

Well, it began as Mako Typesetting. Later on, that was changed to a terribly long name… MakoLab Laboratory of Graphic Computer Technicians.

The working conditions were modest in the extreme, although we were lucky that we lived in the family home left by my grandparents. That was on ulica Praska. At the outset, all we had was a desk for Mirek to work at. With time, we expanded to occupy a room, twenty square metres in total, which enabled our first member of staff to enter the scene. That was Zbyszek Rożenek. Later on, he became a partner in the company. He was very hardworking and his contribution to the company’s development was enormous.

Who was the company’s first client?

The first major collaboration we established was with Framax, a printing house. There were also important typesetting projects for two magazines, “Siódma Prowincja” and “Ziemia Łęczycka” [The Seventh Province and The Łęczycka Region – ed.]. It’s worth emphasising that we’ve always been in the vanguard as far as technology’s concerned. From the very beginning, we invested in high quality equipment. I can still remember Mirek’s joy when he bought our first printer. Once it was installed at the office, we felt that we were a truly modern company!

How has MakoLab developed?

I remember something our mayor, Hanna Zdanowska, said at the opening of our new headquarters on ulica Ogrodowa? “I have nothing, you have nothing, let’s create something together.” That was us when we started out. No external investors. No equity. Just our own ingenuity and hard, hard work, day in and day out, with most of what we earned being invested in developing the company.

At the same time, Mirek has always been the driving force behind our operations. He had the visions and he brought them to life. And they usually worked!

According to a report from the 'Interaktywnie' website, MakoLab is now one of the largest independent marketing and technology agencies in Poland. Back in 1989, would anyone have thought that, thirty years on, that would be the case?

At one point, Mirek sensed the stirrings of a new situation… the Internet. He has a powerful nose for science and has always kept an eagle eye on trends… and he was convinced that this was going to be pivotal in the future. We’ve also been lucky in the people we’ve met… they’re usually creative, full of enthusiasm and ready for conscientious work. All of that came together and became the key to development.

Another thing that I think has been vital is this; no matter what stage we were at, we’ve always cared about good relations. We wanted to surge ahead, but not at the expense of other people. It’s our constant hope that our colleagues have always noticed both our excellent working atmosphere and the fact that, as far as possible, we continually strive to improve working conditions. To this day, thanks to that approach, we have a host of friends from the past and any number of useful contacts.

Can we stay with your ongoing efforts to improve working conditions for a moment? During its past thirty years of activity, MakoLab has moved several times. Do you remember all the previous sites?

When we were in the house on ulica Praska, we were handling so many orders that, at one point, those twenty square meters were occupied by eight people! In 1992, we decided to rent an external space. And so we moved to No. 102A on ulica Piotrkowska. To me, at the time, it was as if we were in paradise. Close to the city hall, on the most famous street in Lodz, with a hundred and twenty square metres at our disposal! It was a civilisational leap foward in our company’s history.

Later, we moved to No. 80 ulica Gdańska, where we occupied several floors, with fifty or so memebrs of staff. Then came MakoLab’s first modern office, in a renovated post-industrial space on ulica Niciarniana. At the same time, we also set up a large office on ulica Demokratyczna and that remained the company’s headquarters until the end of 2018. Around a hundred people worked at MakoLab at that stage. Each office was better and more functional. There were approximately a hundred and sixty members of staff at the next one, on ulica Rzgowska, and our employment growth was still dynamic. Now this is our head office and more than two hundred people work here.

How did your in-depth engagement with MakoLab start? As the company founder’s wife, you’ve certainly had your fair share of professional obligations, haven’t you?

I graduated in psychology and then worked in that profession for several years. Then the moment came when I decided to get involved in helping Mirek run the business. I took on the office and administrative work, preparing documents, handling financial matters, controlling payments, dealing with banks and the external accountancy service we used back then…

You know, I’ve long had the feeling that there are many things in life that we don’t choose… they simply happen. The division of labour has always been the same. At MakoLab, Mirek dealt with the most critical business matters and my role was a supporting one. The remaining spheres of life, especially family life, were mainly my responsibility.

We have two landmark celebrations this year… our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary and the company’s thirtieth anniversary. So it’s a good time for reviewing things and summing up. I think that, for us, the balance at the end of these years is perfect.

(Mirek Sopek comes into the room. “Krzysiu, good news,” he says to his wife. “They can set up the optical fibre… but you’ll have to deal with it, you know…”. And he dashes out again.)

I guess that encapsulates what you were just talking about?!

Yes, that’s Mirek, through and through! But I really do admire him.

What do you admire most about him?

Mirek has the personality of a scientist, of an explorer. He doesn’t like to walk obvious paths. He conceives an idea and then consistently follows through on it. There is a bit of madness in his method! But it’s also well-thought-through. He could have had an academic career. He has an aptitude for it and he could have achieved a lot in that field. He studied technical physics at the Lódź University of Technology, where he followed an individual course of study which he completed with flying colours. Then he defended his doctoral dissertation in chemistry and that received an award from the Minister of Science and Higher Education. He had wonderful professors and he could have achieved a lot, but he had to give up academe for economic reasons. But he’s always been good at using his talents, supported by arduous work, for the good of the business. To this day, that plays a significant part in determining the directions the company takes. His openness to people also helps enormously, as does his knowledge and his curiosity about the world in the broadest sense.

I suppose that one of the most major of crucial moments was taking on Wojciech (Wojtek) Zieliński as CEO in 2007 and handing the reins of MakoLab to him?

Mirek and Wojtek met and became friends at what was then the Łódź Higher School of Humanities and Economics . Wojtek was the Vice-Chancellor and Mirek was a lecturer… because contact with scholarship, with learning and teaching and students has always been immensely important to him.

Running MakoLab at that stage was no simple matter. The company was still growing and new management skills were needed. That was when Wojtek came on the scene… a new person with extensive business experience who relieved Mirek of all the organisational matters, sorted out all sorts issues and shifted things into another gear. Thanks to all that, MakoLab became a company with modern management processes. We value our collaboration with Wojtek very much indeed.

MakoLab’s first really large client was an international automotive leader, Renault–Nissan Alliance. Plenty of people in the company emphasise that it was Mirek who won us this client. Do you remember that period? He must have been at home less and less of the time.

Yes, that was another turning point in the history of MakoLab. At that time, when there was a chance of working with French clients, he even began learning French so as to have more influence on the talks. The business absorbs Mirek entirely and it always has. Mind you, he’s always learning something. The number of books he’s into, covering all sorts of fields, is enormous.

Thirty years of work in the company is quite a slice of your life. How do you relax outside work? Do you both have a form of escape?

We have our own corner of the earth and we like spending time together.

When we do manage to find some free time, we visit fascinating places around the world, but what we love most of all is the Polish coast. We really unwind there and Mirek is delighted when he can swim in the cold Baltic!

Neither of us could imagine life without music, so when an opportunity to go to a concert occurs, we always try to seize it. Recently, one of our dreams came true. We saw Dead Can Dance live and it was a fantastic experience! And waiting in a drawer are tickets to a King Crimson concert! True craziness!

The official celebration of MakoLab’s thirtieth anniversary is behind us now. It featured Michał Urbaniak and his band. Jazz is close to both your hearts, isn’t it?

That encounter with Michał Urbaniak was an encounter with a great legend, and to this day, I still can’t quite believe that one of Poland’s most outstanding jazz musicians performed at our celebration.

It was jazz that brought us together. We met at the concert given by Wojciech Karolak’s trio, featuring a young vocalist… Stanisław Soyka !. They were performing at the headquarters of the Polish Jazz Association on ulica Piotrkowska. I was sitting there and the last empty seat was next to me. Mirek came over and asked if he could sit there. We started talking. It soon turned out that we were from two entirely different worlds, with different opinions and views… but, something attracted us to each other…

As a young girl, I dreamed of meeting up with a man who was completely different from me, so that there’d be no chance of boredom worming its way in… and that certainly worked out well for me!

Clashes and conflicts do occur, but it’s interesting. We are different and we complement each other at one and the same time. We know that successes don’t come easily but, in general, we’re happy. Especially when we see satisfaction and admiration in our children’s eyes.

But be careful what you wish for… because it might come true!

Krzysztofa Sopek was talking to Marta Ostrowska

16th July 2019
10 min. read

Marta Ostrowska

Senior Marketing Specialist

Kamila Braszak

Employer Branding Specialist

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