June 15, 2021
Not only is 2021 the year we officially become a 100-year old firm, it’s also the year we celebrate our 50th anniversary in Warsaw, Poland. What’s the backstory on how a Chicago-based design, engineering and construction firm has an office in Poland? Well, it all comes down to the entrepreneurial spirit of Raymond and Sidney Epstein, the worldwide recognition of the Epstein brand in the food industry, and, perhaps most importantly, the timely devaluation of the U.S. dollar.
In 1970, Raymond and Sidney Epstein became aware that the communist Polish Peoples Republic was looking for a DesignBuild firm to deliver new food plants for an entity called Polimex, a government-owned and run food processing firm. At the time, Poland was part of the USSR’s “Iron Curtain,” a political boundary dividing Europe from Western nations like England, France and West Germany with Eastern European communist nations that were aligned with the Soviets and not accustomed to business alliances with non-communist nations. Still, Raymond and Sidney were intrigued by the possibility of increasing our market share of food industry projects. And, the fact that Poland was, in theory, closed off to U.S./Western trade was not a deterrent.
Therefore, the Epstein’s first made inquiries with the Polish Consulate General in Chicago to gauge the Polish government’s interest in receiving a bid from Epstein. The reply back was positive, although prefaced with the fact that no American firm had previously been awarded a contract with the Polish government. Still not deterred, an official request was then made to receive the specifications from the Polimex in order to begin putting a bid together.
These Polimex Plants received a lot of interest from European based firms, including leading DesignBuilders in Italy and Sweden who had previously completed projects in Poland. But the Epstein’s soldiered on, including having Sidney and Raymond take separate trips to Warsaw to discuss the plants with Polish officials.
After these discussions, the Epstein bid was submitted to Polimex in early January 1971. The Poles checked our food industry references, which came back glowing and gave the Epstein bid further credibility. What really helped, however, was the devaluation of the U.S. dollar in December, helping bring our $8.5 million bid in at a much more competitive level with our European-based competition.
But, all was not done. There was one last bit of in-person negotiations to occur and, therefore, Raymond flew back to Poland to fine-tune our bid. After some back and forth, a contract was officially signed in mid January with Polimex. Prior to the days of cell phones and email, Raymond and Sidney kept each other informed via a series of messages delivered via telex, which is basically the original version of text messaging where written messages were transmitted back and forth between two parties.
The snippet of one of those message appears below, where Raymond and Sidney were communicating on the eventual success of the negotiations. And, yes, Sidney did call his older brother “Mom.” Gotta love brothers.
So, that’s why we opened an office in Poland; an odd and, some would say, risky decision by the Epstein’s that has proven to be a true stroke of entrepreneurial genius.