Seymour 1st U.K. Winner of Expat CEO of the Year


Star lineup: The jury, nominees, winners and hosts.

Marianna Sárközy

The sixth edition of the Budapest Business Journal’s Expat CEO of the Year awards was held at a gala dinner on January 31 at Corinthia Hotel Budapest, with BlackRock’s Melanie Seymour taking home the main title and Siemens Zrt. president-CEO Dale A. Martin receiving the HIPA Partnership award.

The exclusive, invitation-only, black-tie gala dinner brought together the most important members of Hungary’s expat business community, as well as key players from the investment, political and diplomatic sectors such as Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency CEO Róbert Ésik and several ambassadors and diplomats.

The gala was held for the sixth year in-a-row, and now represents one of the most important events of the year for expat company heads in the country.

This year’s gala featured the highest number of attendees in the history of the event at close to 200 people. Upon arrival, guests had the opportunity to have their photos taken at the reception point. After making their way up the Corinthia’s grand staircase, they were greeted by alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as two luxury cars exhibited by Mercedes, one of the main sponsors of the gala.

Once assembled, the evening’s host, Budapest Business Journal editor-in-chief Robin Marshall, invited the crowd into the hotel’s richly decorated Grand Ballroom, where they found their way to tables in front of the stage.

After ceremoniously opening the gala, Marshall invited the CEO of the gala’s official event partner, the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, Róbert Ésik, to the stage.

HIPA’s Breakthrough

“It’s really flattering to be here again, and I am also proud that we are continuing the tradition of being the co-organizer of this prestigious event. We have closed another very busy and also very successful year in terms of economic development and investment promotion, which actually led to a record high foreign direct investment of EUR 5.35 billion,” Ésik told the audience.

He added that there were three aspects of HIPA’s performance last year that he wanted to highlight in particular. The first was that the agency had made a breakthrough in terms of Asian investments, with 2019 being the first year where most FDI was brought into the country from the region, rather than the traditional powerhouses of German or American investors.

Secondly, Hungary had strengthened both its regional and European position in electric mobility, with 60% of investment value going into the area. Ésik also said that the year was a success in terms of bringing high value-added services into the country, with HIPA managing 14 projects in the business services sector.

After the speech, Marshall took the stage once again and thanked the sponsors of the evening: Mercedes-Benz Hungária Kft., PwC Hungary, Vodafone, and Penny Market Kft. Before introducing the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to Hungary Iain Lindsay, the editor, a British national and, like Lindsay a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, said a few words about Brexit; the gala was held on the day the United Kingdom officially left the European Union.

“I have seen our next speaker at a range of press conferences and town hall meetings forced to say things – through no fault of his own, just the very peculiar and particular set of circumstances that we have found ourselves in – such as ‘We don’t really know yet,’ or ‘We can’t say yet,’ or ‘That is yet to be decided’ and variations on these themes,” Marshall said.

“Well, tonight something definitive does happen, and tonight he has something very definite to say,” the editor-in-chief said before calling Lindsay to the stage.

Easiest Speech

The ambassador took the stage, jokingly noting that his speech will be easier than the number of interviews he had been doing since the morning of the gala regarding Brexit.

“The foreign investment in this country makes a huge contribution to Hungary,” Lindsay noted, adding that expat CEOs contribute significantly to the wellbeing of Hungary. He also praised the gala itself, noting that “Now, this is a fantastic way to recognize your contribution. I congratulate all the nominees here this evening,” he said.

“In a few hours’ time, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, after 47 years a member of the European Union, so from midnight, we will have a very solid different relationship, a different partnership with the European Union. We are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe,” he explained. “We no less European than any Norwegians, Swiss, Serbs, or Russians who may be in the room.”

He assured guests that the United Kingdom will be forging a new partnership with the EU, one built on cooperation and friendship. Still, the ambassador said that his country will now act as “sovereign equals”, as “decisions will be made in Britain rather than Brussels, Strasbourg, or Luxembourg”.

Lindsay also said that Britain is in favor of free trade, committed to NATO, and that foreign nationals will still be welcome in U.K. cities such as London. He said the rights of Hungarian citizens living in the United Kingdom are guaranteed, and they have no reason to be afraid, as he explained in both English and Hungarian.

Charles Wassen (left), of Dana Hungary, with BBJ editor Robin Marshall. Photo by Marianna Sárközy.

Interactive Game

After the ambassador’s speech, Marshall invited the room to play an interactive game based on Swedish scientist Hans Rosling’s findings about how the way one feels influences how an individual thinks about the state of the world. Participants had to answer nine questions online with the help of their smartphones regarding the socio-economic state of Hungary and the world, such as vaccination rates.

While some answers were on the pessimistic side, the CEOs easily outperformed the world’s correct answer average of 25%. The game was organized with the help of PwC.

After the game, Ésik returned to the stage to present the HIPA Partnership award, which goes to the person who has done most to promote investments in Hungary in partnership with the agency. This year, the recognition was given to Siemens Zrt. president & CEO, and German-Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce board member Dale A. Martin. He had also previously served as the president of the chamber for the maximum of three terms.

“I am honored that HIPA chose a company with a long history of investing in Hungary, for more than the last 130 years,” Martin said, highlighting some of the key projects Siemens took part in, such as the first Budapest tram line in 1887, and metro line M1 in 1896. “After World War II, Siemens was the first company to start a massive joint-venture here, and actually behind the Iron Curtain, first of all in 1974.”

“The connection between Hungary and Siemens, however, goes back even further than one would assume,” Martin recalled, explaining how Hungary played a key role in the history of Siemens even before it was founded in the 19th century.

Romke Noordhuis, of ExxonMobil Hungary, receives his runner-up certificate. Photo by Marianna Sárközy.

Tokaj to the Rescue

In the geography section of a Prussian Military Academy entry examination, company founder Werner von Siemens was the only soldier of his group to correctly recall the name of the Hungarian wine region of Tokaj, earning him the praise of his superior and a place among the students who were admitted. That gave him an excellent education, which he would put to business use in later years.

After the main course was served, it was time for the night’s major event: the Expat CEO of the Year award. Before introducing the current nominees, the night’s host recalled the previous winners of the award, and called attention to an emerging pattern of success among them.

“The award was won for the first time in 2015 by Javier González Pareja, then CEO of Bosch Magyarország, who has since been promoted and is now president of Bosch in Spain and Portugal; in 2016 the winner was Jost Lammers of Budapest Airport. Last year he was promoted and now runs Munich Airport, the second busiest airport in Germany, one of the busiest airports in Europe. Do you begin to see a theme emerging?” Marshall asked the audience.

“In 2017 it was Jörg Bauer, then President of GE Hungary. Since then, he has left GE, bought Tungsram from it, relaunched the brand, reimagined the company and was named Figyelő’s Man of the Year for 2019. In 2018 it was Marc de Bastos Eckstein, of Thyssenkrupp. Now, Mark hasn’t had time to be promoted or buy a company, but he hasn’t stopped building factories up and down the country. Last year it was our first woman winner, Taira-Julia Lammi, country managing director of ABB.”

Marshall then revealed the shortlisted nominees for the award: Romke Noordhuis, managing director of ExxonMobil Hungary; Melanie Seymour, head of Blackrock Budapest from 2017-2019, and now head of Global Client Services; and Charles Wassen, general manager and country lead of Dana Hungary. The audience got to learn the nominees a bit deeper via a screening of short introduction videos about each one of them.

HIPA CEO Róbert Ésik (left) with winners Melanie Seymour and Dale A. Martin. Photo by Marianna Sárközy.

The Winner Is…

The editor-in-chief then yielded the floor to last year’s winner Taira-Julia Lammi to reveal the name of this year’s winner. In a nod to her acceptance speech last year, Lammi noted that this year once again felt like the Oscars, except for the fact that she was the one holding the envelope this time. A few seconds later, she read out the name of the winner, Melanie Seymour, who received a hug from her son and made her way to the stage to waves of applause.

“It’s not lost on me or BlackRock, that in my new role somehow, miraculously, I have the biggest team in Budapest. It’s not my fault,” the winner said jokingly after receiving the award. “When I came I made a couple of bold statements… one was ‘I’m not going to be an expat, I’m going to be Hungarian, I’m going to learn Hungarian, get Hungarian friends, and I’m really going to embed myself into this country’.”

She also told the audience her thoughts when she first arrived in Hungary. “I was walking past the Parliament and I said: I need to make an impact, I am not here to just build BlackRock, I’ve got to do something different. I have really got to do something for Hungary.”

At the end of her speech, she also thanked her family for supporting her when she moved to Hungary, calling it “a big compromise” for them. Seymour is the first U.K. national to win the Top Expat CEO of the Year title. The two runners-up for the Top Expat CEO award were also given certificates recognizing their outstanding performance.

After thanking the event’s partners once again and congratulating the winner, Marshall closed the program in his traditional fashion, with the words of the late great Irish comedian Dave Allen: “Thank you, good night, and may your God go with you.”

The night did not end with the conclusion of the award ceremony, however. The guests had the opportunity to network besides a glass of bubbly at the champagne bar, sponsored by Penny Market, or a plate of dessert at Corinthia’s Valetta Bar. Just how good a time guests had is underlined by the rumors that the socializing carried on long into the night, and somehow a cheese plate or two from the dessert bar found its way down to the lobby bar where the party went on until 3 a.m.

Amanda Nelson, CEO of Vodafone, one of the sponsors of the evening, tries out the VR googles at her company stand. Photo by Zsuzsa Darab.

BBJ Expat CEO of the Year Award

The Budapest Business Journal founded the Expat CEO of the Year award with the aim of recognizing the efforts of expat CEOs in Hungary that benefit both the country and their companies.

“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. That is why we decided to found an award to recognize their efforts annually,” explains Balázs Román, the CEO of the newspaper.Roll of Honor

•    2020 Melanie Seymour, head of Blackrock Budapest from 2017-2019, and now head of Global Client Services
•    2019 Taira-Julia Lammi, country managing director, ABB Hungary Kft.
•    2018 Marc de Bastos Eckstein CEO, Thyssenkrupp Components Technology Hungary Kft.
•    2017 Jörg Bauer, president of GE Hungary Kft. (now owner of Tungsram Group)
•    2016 Jost Ernst Lammers, then CEO of Budapest Airport Zrt. (now CEO of Munich Airport)
•    2015 Javier González Pareja, then CEO of Bosch Magyarország

HIPA Partnership Award

Over the years the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency’s Partnership Award has been presented to: Dale A. Martin, president and CEO of Siemens Hungary (2020); Kannan Prabhakar, chief of projects at Apollo Tyres Hungary Kft. (2019); Frank Müller, head of the regional office of VW Group Eastern Europe (2018); Ekkehard Günter Philipp, CFO of Mercedes-Benz Manufacturing Hungary (2017); Naoyuki Takeuchi, CEO of Magyar Suzuki Zrt. (2016); and Kersten Bachmann, CEO of Takata Safety Systems Hungary Kft. (2015).

The Expert Jury

The professional expertise of the independent jury members strengthens the quality and reputation of the award. It includes leaders of bilateral chambers and international business development organizations with outstanding experience both in international and domestic economic life, complemented by the prize winner of the previous year and the CEO of the Budapest Business Journal.

The jury responsible for deciding the 2020 winner was:

•    Írisz Lippai-Nagy, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary
•    Dale A. Martin, former president of the German-Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and President and CEO of Siemens Hungary
•    Róbert Ésik, CEO of the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency
•    Balázs Román, CEO of the BBJ
•    Taira-Julia Lammi, country managing director, ABB Hungary
Jury members are charged with nominating expat CEOs for the award based on the following criteria:
•    Innovative skills;
•    Successes on domestic and international markets;
•    Being a prominent and committed representative of his or her mother country in Hungary;
•    Impact on Hungary’s economic life;
•    Must have lived in Hungary for at least two years;
•    The financial results of the company represented by the CEO must be positive.

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