Poland’s Newest Billionaire Mints Fortune From Humble Lockers

Poland’s prime minister once joked that he was “a dangerous guy.” Now Rafal Brzoska is the nation’s newest billionaire, in the latest success story from the pandemic-fueled boom in e-commerce.

The 43-year-old is the founder of InPost SA, the postal-locker operator whose shares surged as much as 32% on their Amsterdam debut earlier this week. The initial public offering valued the Krakow-based company at 8 billion euros ($9.7 billion), lifting the 12% stake owned by Brzoska’s foundation and raising his fortune to $1.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“Five years ago it was a logistics company, today this is a tech company,” Brzoska, the firm’s chief executive officer, said Wednesday in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “We are driving e-commerce revenue, retention, improving their ability to win markets, so this is a completely different story today than it was in the past.”

Poland’s Newest Billionaire Mints Fortune From Humble Lockers

The firm’s shares advanced 0.3% on Friday in Amsterdam, extending gains since the IPO to 24%.

Brzoska got his start while still a student at Krakow University of Economics, creating a company called Integer.pl in 1999 to distribute bulk mail advertising leaflets for pizza restaurants and other businesses.

He later took on the nation’s State Post monopoly by offering cheaper delivery of phone and electric bills. To get around the minimal weight requirements for private postal services, he added small metal plates to each piece of correspondence.

Also read: Good Run for Polish IPOs Could Slip Away From Warsaw

Brzoska became an outspoken advocate of private entrepreneurship in Poland, and in 2013 won a contract to deliver letters for the nation’s courts. At the same time, to compete with courier companies, he began developing a network of parcel lockers in public places that became InPost. Customers could pick up and drop off packages from them rather than wait for home delivery, accessing the lockers with codes sent via text messages.

He soon became one of Poland’s youngest millionaires. It’s while presenting him an award at a 2014 gala that Prime Minister Donald Tusk jokingly called Brzoska a “a dangerous guy,” according to a book about his rise titled “Tomorrow in New York. Rafal Brzoska about himself and his business.”

Indeed, not everyone was a fan of his entrepreneurial zeal. The State Post fought back and after two years regained control of court mail deliveries. The loss of business pushed Brzoska’s heavily leveraged companies into financial difficulty. They were rescued by an injection of capital from private-equity firm Advent International and delisted from the Warsaw bourse.

With a financing boost from KKR & Co., Advent helped InPost restructure its debt and expand, with the number of lockers more than quadrupling over three years. At the end of 2020, InPost owned 12,254 automated parcel machines in its home country and the U.K., handling a total of 249 million deliveries -- many from Poland’s major e-commerce platform, Allegro.eu SA.

“Probably nobody in Poland expected that Brzoska’s business would get a second life so fast,” Wood & Co. analyst Lukasz Wachelko said in an interview. “InPost’s debut in Amsterdam looks now as a sort of resurrection at totally unimaginable valuations, showing how the pandemic is a strong catalyst for e-commerce growth.”

Asked about his new billionaire status, Brzoska spoke of his past ups and downs.

“I don’t want to comment on these preposterous billionaire ranks,” he said by phone. “Shares are still only virtual wealth for me. Once, I was very high on such lists but then I tumbled out. That was a lesson in humility.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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