Chresten Bruun Wins Expat CEO of the Year Award


Chresten Bruun.

Photo by Lázár Todoroff

The general manager and senior vice president of EMEA Manufacturing in the Lego Group, Chresten Bruun, won the Expat CEO of the Year title at the Budapest Business Journal’s annual awards gala, held for the 10th time on March 23 in the Grand Ballroom of the Corinthia Hotel Budapest.

The award is given to the foreign CEO working and living in Hungary who has contributed most significantly to the development of the Hungarian economy and its international recognition in the previous year. The first gala took place in 2015. The distinguished event gathers a prestigious audience of business leaders, diplomats, and decision-makers at the hotel every year.

“The BBJ is Hungary’s only English-language economic bi-weekly and has always played an important role in providing information for expat CEOs working and living in Hungary. It was natural that we should found an award to recognize their efforts annually,” explains Balázs Román, the CEO of the Budapest Business Journal.

The Expat CEO of the Year is selected by a five-member professional jury on the day of the gala, just 30 minutes before the start of the event. The members of the jury include Írisz Lippai-Nagy, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary; István Joó, CEO of the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency; András Sávos, President of the German-Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce; and Balázs Román, CEO of the BBJ. The fifth seat on the jury goes to the previous year’s winner, meaning Veronika Spanarova of Citi, therefore, had a voice in selecting her successor.

This year also marked a spectacular new record in terms of attendance, with the number of guests clocking in north of 200. The country’s most important domestic and foreign business figures, diplomats, and investors were welcomed by a glass of champagne before taking their time greeting old acquaintances, looking at a luxurious Lexus model exhibited in front of the ballroom, or taking a look at the exquisite modern painting exhibition awaiting them in the foyer.

The Importance of Foreign Investors

After opening the gala and inviting guests into the ballroom to sample Corinthia’s excellent cold starters, BBJ editor-in-chief Robin Marshall invited Rita Szép-Tüske, the deputy CEO of the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, to the stage, where she highlighted the importance of foreign investment in Hungary.

“Economically vulnerable parts of the country are among the biggest winners of Hipa’s past 10 years of operation. The Northern Hungary and the Northern Plain regions have welcomed nearly 160 projects in total in the past five years alone. And now BYD’s flagship investment marks the quest for concentrating our resources in the southern part of the country,” she told the audience

“These marvelous results would have been impossible without the fresh perspective and global experience that foreign business leaders bring to the table, whether they come from the West or the East, and regardless of the industry they work in,” she added.

Marshall next introduced the traditional folk dance group Forrás, which put on a lively show in the center of the ballroom while the guests enjoyed their warm appetizers.

The Community Award

In addition to the Expat CEO of the Year award, the gala also featured the presentation of another award with a different focus.

“This goes to a business leader or the head of a business organization with a focus on inclusivity, disability, and sustainability. They are among the most influential members of our remarkable CEO community, contributing to bringing and binding it together,” Marshall told the audience. “In our estimation, they demonstrate both leadership and impactfulness but, most importantly, the values of social commitment, diversity, and ethical leadership.”

This year, two exceptional business leaders won the Community Award: Spar Hungary’s president-CEO Gabriella Heiszler and general manager of Budapest Marriott Hotel Arne Klehn, who was also nominated for the Expat CEO of the Year Award.

“I truly believe that for every business that we make in this country, we have really an increasing role in addressing challenges in society, in doing good in every direction, and we generally have a global responsibility,” Klehn said, also noting that he will be departing Hungary after a long stint directing Marriott’s operations in the country.

Heiszler noted that Spar “Serves more than 500,000 customers every single week, from all parts of Hungarian society. It means that we get very good feedback about what we have to do, and our simple job is to listen to these voices as best we can.”

The award was presented for the second time this year; the first winner was Andrea Istenesné Solti, country chair and president of the board of Shell Hungary Zrt. and president of the Hungarian Leaders’ Business Forum, who presented the awards to this year’s winners herself.

From left: Rita Szép-Tüske, Arne Klehn, Veronika Spanarova, Írisz Lippai-Nagy, Raffaella Claudia Bondi, Chresten Bruun, Gabriella Heiszler, Balázs Román, Robin Marshall.

10 Years Honoring the Expat Best

After the presentation of the Community Award came the highest point of the evening: the Expat CEO of the Year award. Over the last 10 years, it has become one of the most prestigious accolades on the Hungarian business scene and among expat executives. The nine winners (six men and three women) of the past editions of the award also demonstrated great diversity over time. There have been three Germans (one of whom is half-Brazilian) and one each from the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

“2015 and our first gala is a long time ago now, and Hungary was a different country. At the time, to judge from public discourse, even the idea of foreign-owned companies was a questionable virtue. We thought that was wrong. We wanted to show that different doesn’t necessarily mean better, but it can certainly mean finding another way of doing things. We wanted to show that diversity of thought, and background, and, yes, of nationality and gender help create value.

Today, those ideas are much more widely accepted in Hungary, and it is in no small part to the previous winners of this award. That Hall of Fame has helped set Hungary’s path to economic growth and prosperity, and that is why we honor expat CEOs tonight,” Marshall noted.

After the guests had finished their main course, the BBJ’s editor-in-chief introduced this year’s nominees: Arne Klehn, multi-property general manager of Budapest Marriott Hotel; Raffaella Claudia Bondi, pharmaceutical executive and general manager of Roche; and Lego’s Chresten Bruun.

After three short videos introduced each of the 2024 nominees, last year’s winner, Veronika Spanarova, took to the stage bearing the envelope containing the winner’s name.

“This is a community of people who do not only work in Hungary, but they also live here. This is the country where you live and work. For many, it has become a home country after living here for many years. Also, for many, this is a second home, a country where we live because of our work, because of our professional journey, for part of our lives. What is so important is that, regardless of whether we were born here, or moved here, or lived here for a couple of years, at this moment, this is our home. Wherever and whenever we go, Hungary will always have a special place in our hearts,” Spanarova said.

Excitement peaked as she opened the envelope, revealing Chresten Bruun as the winner of this year’s Expat CEO of the Year Award.

Danish-Hungarian Relations

Accepting the award, the Dane asked the audience to give a round of applause to all the expat CEOs in the room and then took the audience on a verbal journey through Viking-Hungarian history.

“Well, being a Danish Viking, you can say, here in Hungary, reminds me about the long story that is between Denmark and Hungary. It goes maybe more than 1,000 years back; at least, it seems there is proof that the Vikings were here because a Danish silver coin was found here, which was more than 1,000 years old. Later, we also have some relations that go to the mid-50s, when some Hungarians came to Denmark, when the Hungarians rose up against communism, and it also made it possible for me to have a Hungarian friend in Denmark,” he told the crowd.

“We started our operations here in 2008, with great support from Hipa and also from others who are represented here tonight. Later on, we built the new factory in 2014, and ever since, we have continued to expand our operations here. But now it’s also becoming even more important to invest in sustainability, and that means solar parks, geothermal energy and also sustainable materials for our Lego toys,” said Bruun.

“So, we have a long past here in Hungary, and I believe we have an even longer future. We have a solid ground for that with our amazing colleagues; without them we couldn’t produce our world-class products at such a high quality. Tonight, I also want to bring big thanks to all of my colleagues back in the factory in Nyíregyháza,” he added.

Marshall returned to the stage one last time, thanking the guests for their attention and, as tradition dictates, closing his speech by paying homage to one of the greatest Irish-English comedians.

“Enjoy the rest of the night. From me, let me just end by channeling my inner Dave Allen. Good night, thank you, and may your God go with you,” he said.

After the conclusion of the official program, the gala extended late into the night, with guests mingling and networking in the foyer. Attendees enjoyed the hospitality of the Corinthia well past midnight, sampling delicious desserts and drinks, including excellent Hungarian wines and specialty cocktails made with beer, while being entertained by the music of the Gabriel Farkas Band, playing the tunes of the late, great Frank Sinatra in two sets, interspersed by a DJ.


The award was won for the first time in 2015 by Javier González Pareja (then CEO of Bosch Magyarország); in 2016, the winner was Joost Lammers of Budapest Airport. In 2017, it was Joerg Bauer, then President of GE Hungary. In 2018 it was Marc de Bastos Eckstein, of Thyssenkrupp Components Hungary Kft. 2019 was a landmark year that saw the first woman winner, Taira-Julia Lammi, then country managing director of ABB Kft. She was followed in 2020 by the award’s second female winner, Melanie Seymour, head of Blackrock Budapest from 2017-2019. Erik Slooten, then CEO of Deutsche Telekom IT Solutions Hungary, won in 2021. He was followed in 2022 by Giacomo Pedranzini, CEO of Kometa 99 Zrt., and last year, the award went to Veronika Spanarova, managing director and country head for Hungary of Citi.


The event was supported by Penny, Shell, Citi, MSCI, Heineken, PwC, Synergy, Legrand, and Chocome. The official partner of the ceremony was the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency. Prime Time Communications looked after the gala’s organization, Special Effects International provided technical support, and Rent IT was responsible for the registration and audience quiz software.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of April 8, 2024.

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