A conversation with Dariusz Mioduski ’90

Dariusz Mioduski still remembers how he began the most important essay of his life: “Five years ago I came to this country without knowing the language, and today I’m putting my signature on this application to Harvard Law School.” That hopeful step led the Polish native to an adventurous career. Mioduski started out working on international M&A and project finance with Vinson & Elkins in Houston and White & Case in New York, later returning to Warsaw to launch London-based CMS Cameron McKenna’s new energy and infrastructure practice. In 2007, he became CEO of Kulczyk Holding, a private investment company. Six years later he formed his own Radwan Investments, and became part owner of Poland’s top football club. 

Please tell us what you’ve been working on lately, especially in the world of football—soccer to Americans.

My situation is quite dynamic! Just in the last two weeks [in April] I’ve taken on a bigger role at Legia Warszawa [Warsaw], a club similar in stature to the Yankees in the United States. For three years, I’ve owned 60 percent of Legia, as nonexecutive chairman. Now I am 100 percent owner, president and CEO. This will be taking me away from board work and transactions and into full-time operational running
of the club.

Did you play soccer when you were a kid?

I played basketball, not soccer so much. I love playing all kinds of sports, and I’m a keen observer of them—not only watching, but also understanding how the business side works. The idea crossed my mind even when I was a kid that someday I’d like to own a team.

Before coming to Harvard Law School, you lived in Texas and went to college there. What drew you from Poland all the way west to Texas?

My family left Poland in 1981. I was 17. We went to Houston because my father’s brother had lived there. There was some family history of opposition and resistance; it was the era of Solidarity. We had tried to escape before but couldn’t under the Communist authority’s control. Then a window opened, just a few months before martial law was declared, and we succeeded in getting out. We left for a “two-week vacation” from which we didn’t return.

What was it like, taking that plunge, into such a different country, culture, political system?

Like millions of other immigrants, we came to the U.S. with nothing. My parents, both engineers, had high positions in their companies, in Poland, but in Houston they were car mechanics, cleaning houses, baby-sitting, whatever they could work at, just to survive. I went to a regular high school in Houston, immediately needing English. That experience, of having to depend on myself, shaped how I think, what my values are.

What made you decide on law school?

Even while I was still living in Poland I had thought about the law—not necessarily to become a lawyer, but as a discipline that would give me options. When the letter came from Harvard Law School, telling me I was accepted, it was a highly emotional moment for me and my family, one I will never forget.

Seventeen percent of the HLS J.D. Class of 2019 is international. The percentage was small when you were a student. Did you feel like you stood out as a newcomer to America?

Actually, though I spoke with an accent, I felt at home at Harvard Law School. I never felt I was an outsider. I was not a guy who would spend all his time studying, so I took advantage of activities. I played basketball at Hemenway; I had great friends. My classes were always stimulating. That high intellectual level and interaction among students—that’s what makes Harvard Law School special.

The school encouraged my belief that anything is possible. That is how I live my life, doing things that are not always typical of a legal education.

After graduation, you began practicing in Houston, but soon you were working in Warsaw, too. Was that always your intention, to return to Poland?

I never thought I’d go back. It was unimaginable, that the country could go through such incredible change, that Communism would fall apart. What followed was a dark time, but 10 years later, when I was a young associate, Poland was transformed, and the U.S. law firm I was working for was opening an office there. Soon I was traveling back and forth between the two countries.

When I was a midlevel lawyer, I started to work with big American and European companies coming to Poland. I was overseeing projects that someone of my experience normally was not ready to run. But from a cultural and language standpoint, and with my understanding of the structures and transactions involved, I was in a good position to work as a strategic adviser. I built a new energy practice, of 25 lawyers. I was also involved in developing energy law, working with experts to determine how the energy sector would function and be governed.

What was it like, living and working in Poland again?

I had a close group of friends, from Germany, Italy, the U.S., other Poles as well, working in different sectors but all of us experiencing this amazing openness. Poland had become a place where I felt there were no barriers to what you can do.

What made you decide to shift from law to business?

In 2007, a friend and top entrepreneur asked me to restructure and run his empire. I became CEO [of Kulczyk Holding], working on natural resources, the energy sector, infrastructure. I traveled to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, investing and building companies. I met incredible people all over the world.

And then in 2013 you went out on your own.

I like to be my own boss. I’ve invested in some very exciting projects, in technology and new services. Two or three of them may turn out to be significant—I hope!

Why have you decided to devote yourself to football?

All the many parts of my professional life have prepared me for this challenge. Legia operations touch on everything from media to marketing, technology, finance, social responsibility, even managing expectations, of what the club can achieve. The importance that the club has in fans’ lives is so high: it represents values and traditions; it touches on politics, the very fabric of the local community. Owning a club is not necessarily profitable, and I still have people ask me: “Why are you involved in this? What for?” But there isn’t a project or business I want to do more. The next few years of my life will be dedicated to making Legia Warszawa an elite European club.

You’ve served for two years so far on the HLS Dean’s Advi­sory Board. What inspires that commitment?

If I can help the best legal institution in the world to train potential leaders to be better, not just in the U.S., but globally, and to admit people regardless of whether they have money, I want to do so. After all, even though I didn’t have the highest scores, and my English wasn’t very good, the law school saw something in me, and took a chance on me. The school encouraged my belief that anything is possible. That is how I live my life: doing things that are not always typical of a legal education, and never afraid to take the opportunities life presents.