AmCham: Proud to Boost Competition, Efficiency, Transparency and Cooperation

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In an exclusive interview with the Budapest Business Journal, Írisz Lippai-Nagy, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary, explores the economic impact she thinks American culture has had on the country, and AmCham’s links with the U.S. business world.

AmCham CEO Írisz Lippai-Nagy

BBJ: AmCham obviously stands for American business values, but how well connected is it with business in the United States? Do chamber staff get to travel to the States much?

Írisz Lippai-Nagy: Most European countries have an American chamber and we are all part of an umbrella network organization, AmChams in Europe (ACE) whose mission is promoting the importance of the transatlantic economy and representing American and European businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. Every year, ACE organizes a trip to Washington D.C. where European AmCham leaders meet the representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is our parent organization and of which we are all members.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization, it is the voice of its members in Washington. We share best practices, meet congressmen, officials, major economic players, trail blazing businesses and companies who invest heavily in Europe.

Even though this year’s trip was cancelled due to the pandemic, we are holding most of the planned discussions with our partners on the other side of the Atlantic on-line. International cooperation remains a priority in the recovery of both the U.S. and EU economies. We must work hard to rebuild trust, protect and encourage investments and mend the global supply chain amid talks of protectionism.

BBJ: How much of your work is fielding questions from U.S. companies looking to make contacts here, or Hungarian companies hoping to do the same Stateside?

ÍL-N: Our main priority is representing the interests of the local business community, Hungarian and international companies alike, but occasionally we receive inquiries from the United States. The Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, our strategic partner is the main point of contact for companies looking to make business in Hungary, so we help them get acquainted. For businesses who want to export to the States, we recommend the Hungarian Export Promotion Agency and help them get in touch with consulates.

BBJ: Have those sorts of contacts come to a complete halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or are you still receiving enquiries?

ÍL-N: Since the outbreak, we have not received any contact from the States, but it is not unusual as we receive very few enquiries of this kind in any case. I think in the last few months, everyone has been working to steady the ship and adapt to the unexpected change brought about by COVID-19.

We at AmCham have worked hard with the members and the government to aid efforts to mitigate the economic effects of the virus. This pandemic really highlighted the importance of cooperation across sectors and stakeholders. We are proud to say that the chamber has had a significant role in this.

BBJ: The chamber was founded more than 30 years ago, with many pioneering American business involved. Would you say the Hungarian business world and culture is more American today as a result?

ÍL-N: As one of the largest investors in Hungary, the United States has had a massive influence on the local business community. As Hungary transitioned into a market economy after the fall of the Soviet Union, the arrival of international companies, Americans among them, brought a significant change in business conduct and culture, corporate leadership, company structures and of course, new ways of thinking.

These new investors also introduced a new set of business values such as competition, efficiency, transparency and cooperation, which continue to have a driving influence on the ways we operate to this day.

AmCham was founded to promote these values, to help build long-lasting business relationships and make Hungary more competitive. We take great pride in that mission.

BBJ: We all know the Hungarians are a unique people. What would you say is their most American trait?

ÍL-N: Hungarians and Americans share a great and rich heritage of innovation. Unfortunately, we are lagging behind these days in this area and it is only recently that innovation has become a priority for the country again. We must instill the spirit of innovation in the Hungarian SME sector again and facilitate innovation at universities by supporting tight cooperation between industry and academia. Innovation is our opportunity to stand out in a competitive region.

One thing we need to learn from the Americans is entrepreneurship. We have a responsibility to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs who can drive change, foster innovation, develop new markets, generate new wealth and overall, boost the economy.

BBJ: Although it is the American Chamber of Commerce, you attract a wide mix of nationalities. What percentage of your membership is American or from U.S.-based companies?

ÍL-N: We are fortunate to have a diverse membership covering a wide range of sectors and nationalities. Roughly a third our members are American companies, a third are Hungarian and the rest are from more than 20 other countries.

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