02.11.2022 | Interview with Joanna Sasak, member of the management board and CFO of Axpo Polska
Twenty years ago, Axpo opened its office in Warsaw. Since then, the Polish branch of the company has grown to become a major player in the domestic energy market. Today, thanks to its innovative and customer-oriented approach, Axpo Polska is one of the leading renewable energy sellers in Poland, supplying green electricity to industrial customers, small and medium-sized enterprises as well as retail customers.
In the final article of our series celebrating Axpo’s achievements in Poland, we interview Joanna Sasak, member of the management board and CFO of Axpo Polska. Joanna shares the challenges of managing finances in an industry undergoing dynamic change. And she tells us something of herself and her path to becoming an Axpo employee.
Let us talk about the early days. I must ask about your university education – you hold degrees in at least seven subjects! Were you searching for the best career path or are you simply a multi-talented person?
I have always been very interested in both the social sphere and the economy. Fortunately, I was able to combine a talent for science with an inclination for humanities. At some point in my search for the right profession I came across economics; back then it was not as popular as it is today. But I had a gut feeling. Economics seemed perfect, as it allowed me to make use of all the diverse knowledge I had. I trusted my intuition and it paid off.
Before joining Axpo in 2020, you worked in the power industry, as well as in telecommunications and aviation. What kind of experience did you gain there?
I believe life has given me some unique opportunities – I had the chance to work in industries which at that time were undergoing dynamic changes. These are invaluable lessons that I am still learning from. Such was the case with telecommunications, one of my first jobs. Today it is hard to imagine a world without cell phones, but not so long ago we used only landline telephones. Being responsible for controlling finances, I had the opportunity to participate in this transition. At the time I decided to switch to the power industry, the energy law was amended to separate trading and distribution. Customers, from being forced to rely on a single supplier, were given a choice of the entity they wanted to buy energy from, and the industry flourished with new companies and products dedicated to particular customer groups. Then there was the aviation industry and the transformation brought about by liberalisation of the aviation fuel market.
How do you find your feet in such rapidly changing environments? And why did you decide to return to the power sector?
I have always tried to do my best at any job. I am persistent – if I commit to do something, I see it through to the end. My assignments were quite difficult to complete, in hindsight they seem almost impossible. But when you are young, nothing is impossible. Thus I gained the ability to manage large projects involving many different elements. I did not plan my career path, I just did my own thing, with full commitment and persistence. When new opportunities were emerging, after a moment’s thought I took up the challenge. I enjoyed learning and always wanted to know more. I am not afraid of difficult, challenging tasks, in fact I see them as an opportunity for growth.
Why did I eventually decide to stay with the power sector? Energy is one of the most interesting and important areas of everyday life, the foundation of the entire modern economy. As the economy develops, the importance of energy grows. Years of working in other sectors have prepared me for the current challenge of building a solid foundation on which both Axpo and our customers’ businesses can prosper.
Quite a challenge indeed. And what, in your opinion, are the problems the power sector is facing now?
The most pressing issues are climate change mitigation, the diversification of energy supply and the security of those supplies. To children the world may seem huge.
However, we adults know that, for example, some raw materials will require so many years to be renewed that – from a practical point of view – we can classify them as non-renewable resources. These include crude oil or coal, which emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases and on which almost all of the world’s economies rely. What can we do about that?
The development of new technologies and renewable energy sources that are more climate-friendly gives me hope for the future. Of course, it is a major challenge to find or create new technological, legal and financial solutions, but we have to take it up. At the same time, great challenges come with great opportunities. I am happy to work for a company that is taking an active part in the ongoing changes by investing in renewable energy sources and innovative solutions. The assets we invest in as a Group are sources that generate green energy which we can then offer to our customers. That way, they do not have to invest in their own renewable energy plants. Our goal is to make green energy more accessible so that renewable resources can become standard. As far as finances are concerned, one of the greatest challenges is, among others, finding the best method for settling the distributed power generation, as this particular model of energy supply creates numerous settlement issues. If you are planning to invest in renewable energy sources, you should keep this in mind.
What exactly do you do at Axpo and what problems does your team face on a daily basis?
At Axpo Polska, I am responsible for finance in the broadest sense of the word: accounting, controlling, corporate taxes, settlements with small and medium-sized partner companies and – or rather above all – financial liquidity. Two years ago, at the time when Axpo concluded some large contracts, our company’s growth in Poland spiked. This has resulted in more work for the financial department – we have to accommodate the needs of both the internal customer from our business areas, as well as the external customer. That is a lot of responsibility, but I work with a wonderful team of a dozen talented people. Together we are able to face these challenges step by step.
It is extremely important to appreciate your colleagues. What else do you like about working at Axpo?
It is a large multinational company operating on several continents. This gives a sense of exerting real influence on the reality around us. Axpo’s greatest asset is the conviction that the power sector must be based on renewable sources. But I also very much value the speed of action – in analysis, decision-making, bidding – and efficient customer service. This is certainly the direction which we would like to continue to pursue in Poland. It is also the standard in our Group. When the world around us is changing, we cannot stand still. Axpo will stay one step ahead, offering our customers the solutions of tomorrow.
You are one of the people leading change at Axpo Polska and a member of the company’s large contingent of women. Is such diversity welcome in the sector stereotyped as a ‘male industry’?
At Axpo Polska, half of the members of the management board and most of the department directors are women. What sets us apart is a corporate culture that is not standard in the industry – not only in our country, but also abroad. Women are simply good at their jobs, regardless of the profession they are in. All the company has to do is give them a chance. And that is exactly what we do. It is also a sign of the times. Our team consists of young, open-minded people who are aware of the benefits of diversity. There is a general understanding that each gender brings something valuable to the table and much depends on individual competence. With a carefully assembled team, we can go much further – and we can do it much faster.
How do you handle the implications of holding such a responsible position? How do you achieve work-life balance?
After the adrenaline rush experienced at work, which I very much enjoy by the way, I need peace and quiet. Reading is my pastime of choice – I like the feel of a book in my hands. I read a lot of biographies and non-fiction, but I do not limit myself to any particular genre. Contact with nature is also very important for me. I enjoy walking and outdoor activities, regardless of the season. I also love theatre and music, hence my particular fondness for opera. My children give me incredible joy and strength, and they are very effective in bringing me down to earth as well (laugh). Although I love my work and it is very important to me, family always comes first.
Joanna Sasak, member of management board and CFO of Axpo Polska
CFO with 20 years’ experience in strategic areas such as the power sector, aviation and telecommunications. Joanna was responsible for managing corporate finances during major market changes, including the transition to mobile telephony and the introduction of the TPA (third party access) principle in the power sector. Her 11 years’ experience in the power sector were gained first at RWE and, since 2020, at Axpo Polska, where she is currently Chief Finance Officer.
Holding degrees in several subjects, including Finance and Management, Psychology and Business Leadership, and an MBA, Joanna has studied at IMBA St. Gallen Business School in Switzerland, Cracow University of Economics, the University of Warsaw, and Warsaw University of Technology. In her private life, Joanna is a fulfilled mother, lover of non-fiction, opera and walking.
Go to Joanna Sasak's profile on LinkedIn.