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Whenever there's a big financial transaction brewing in Poland, Wojciech Kostrzewa is likely to be at the negotiating table. That's because he is CEO of BRE Bank, Poland's premier investment bank. But it's also because he is considered a master dealmaker. Kostrzewa is currently at the center of the battle for control of Elektrim, the troubled electricity and telephone conglomerate in which BRE bought a 10% stake last December. "We want to help Elektrim reach an agreement with creditors, then acquire its telecom assets and transform [the energy side of the business] into Poland's top utility," he says. BRE would then sell off the telecom business when market conditions improve.
All that may sound like a tall order. But colleagues and competitors say Kostrzewa, 42, has what it takes to pull it off. An economics graduate of Germany's University of Kiel, he cut his financial teeth as an adviser to Leszek Balcerowicz, architect of Poland's economic transformation after communism collapsed in 1989. Impressed by Kostrzewa's talents, the government in 1990 made him president of Polski Bank Rozwoju (PBR), a new bank set up to help privatize the inefficient state-owned companies that dominated Poland's economy. In short order, Kostrzewa turned PBR into Poland's first modern investment bank. He moved to BRE Bank as its No. 2 in 1996 and, two years later, masterminded its acquisition of PBR.
Now Poland's sixth-largest bank, with $6.5 billion in assets and a return on equity of 13%, BRE is a growing force in the Polish capital markets. Germany's Commerzbank has acquired a 50% stake and recently appointed Kostrzewa one of Commerz's 10 regional board members. Kostrzewa is convinced there will be plenty more deals like Elektrim to keep him busy, especially after Poland joins the European Union. What's more, Kostrzewa adds, being a financier is "great fun."