A Cautious Entrepreneur Succeeds in a Vibrant Private Sector

BARBARA MAJCHRZAK is the cautious type.

While other Polish entrepreneurs were overextending themselves with credit - and getting caught when adjustable interest rates skyrocketed in 1990 - Ms. Majchrzak started her language school and foreign bookstore from savings and subsequent earnings.

"I could have bigger premises, lots of staff and secretaries ... but I fear I might have problems with cash flow," she says in an office that is barely big enough for a desk and chair. "My idea is doing things step by step."

That has proven to be a sound business philosophy, considering that, along with tremendous growth in the number of entrepreneurs, Poland has also experienced a significant amount of business failures.

Majchrzak, a teacher of English, founded Omnibus School of Languages for English and German in 1988. She was able to save on commercial rent by running evening classes in public school buildings.

In 1991, she had enough earnings from her private school to finance Omnibus Bookshop, specializing in English and German language materials. She has since moved to a bigger store, also become a book wholesaler, and is about to open a second store in Szczecin, on the Baltic coast.

Majchrzak took several management courses organized by the British Know How Fund in Poznan. Omnibus has made a profit since the day it opened.

Still, she has her problems. At 40 percent, "taxes are really high," Majchrzak complains. And because her business relies on imports, it's sensitive to devaluations of the Polish zloty. Fortunately, the London publishers give her a break on prices.

"I feel sorry when we have to increase prices," she says. "Last year, when we had a sudden devaluation, we had to increase prices 12 percent. It immediately hit the pockets of our customers."

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