Italy’s Pedranzini Triumphs at 8th Expat CEO of the Year Gala

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Giacomo Pedranzini (left) and Erik Slooten.

Photo by Marianna Sárközy.

Giacomo Pedranzini, CEO of Kometa 99 Zrt., won the Expat CEO of the Year title at the Budapest Business Journal’s annual awards gala, held in the Grand Ballroom of the Corinthia Hotel Budapest on March 25.

The exclusive, invitation-only black-tie event was held for the eighth time, with a prestigious crowd of business leaders, their other halves, diplomats, and decision-makers gathering at the hotel to witness the award ceremony. The guest list included Róbert Ésik, the CEO of the official event partner, the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), and several ambassadors.

The BBJ Expat CEO Award is given to the foreign business head working and living in Hungary, who is considered to have done the most to contribute to the development of the Hungarian economy and its international recognition in the previous year. The first gala was held in 2015.

“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 Budapest Business Journal.

The Expat CEO of the Year is picked by a professional jury of five just 30 minutes before the gala starts. The panel consisted of American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary CEO Írisz Lippai-Nagy, who has been involved since the beginning, HIPA CEO Róbert Ésik, German-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry president András Sávos and BBJ CEO Balázs Román. The fifth seat on the jury is taken by the previous year’s title winner, meaning Erik Slooten had a voice in picking his successor.

Economic Impact

The same jury draws up the shortlist for the award based on criteria such as innovative skills, successes on domestic and international markets, being prominent and committed representatives of their mother country in Hungary, and their impact on Hungary’s economic life. To qualify for the award, the CEO must have lived in Hungary for at least two years at the time of nomination, and the company’s financial results must be positive.

BBJ editor-in-chief Robin Marshall, who has hosted the gala since its inception, took to the stage shortly before 8 p.m., inviting the guests who were greeted with hors d’oeuvres and champagne into the ballroom.

As people were getting to know their tablemates and starting their appetizers, Marshall opened by acknowledging one of the most important and tragic events in the world today: the war right next door.

“No one in this room can be unaware of the terrible conflict taking place in Ukraine. We wondered how we should respond to that,” he told the audience. “We had even considered whether we should cancel this event but decided that, ultimately, we should not put our lives on hold because of events that are happening elsewhere and that are beyond our control. This remarkable community – you and your people – have responded to a human tragedy in an utterly human way by sitting down, working out what you can do to help, and then going out and doing it. Just as you did with COVID. And that is the right response, I think. So, fully cognizant of what is going on just next door, with humility, let’s get on with the evening,” he said.

“This award, this evening, are part of our commitment to support this community of business leaders and their others, some might say better, halves, diplomatic representatives, and decision-makers with the ear of government. If you are a returning guest, we are delighted to have you back with us. If you are a newcomer, welcome to this fantastic setting and an inspiring and supportive group of people. I’m sure you will feel at home,” he concluded before inviting HIPA head Róbert Ésik to the stage.

Róbert Ésik, CEO of HIPA.

Proud Partner

Ésik began by noting that the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency has been a “proud partner” of the BBJ since the first gala in 2015 and noted Hungary’s remarkable recovery from the COVID crisis.

“We had the second-highest GDP growth in Europe in 2021 with 7.1%,” he said. “We have been able to break the all-time investment record again together: EUR 5.9 billion of CAPEX.”

He added that, apart from the investment volume record, last year also brought about the highest amount of investment via a single FDI project with a EUR 1.9 billion greenfield development by South Korea’s SK On and lauded the success of COVID-specific subsidy programs, which also contributed to the outstanding results.

“So, I believe it’s right once again that we celebrate together through our nominees, to recognize the contribution of this expat CEO community,” Ésik said. He noted that, as the CEO of HIPA, he has had the pleasure of working together with all three of the 2022 nominees

Towards the end of his speech, like Marshall before him, he also touched upon the Ukraine crisis, reassuring expat CEOs, “We will remain your partner, no matter the circumstances.”

Interactive

Next up came Mentimeter, an interactive quiz game that has been a staple of the last three gala events. This time it tested the guests’ knowledge of critical topics shaping the business world today, such as gender equality, climate change, well-being, and education, and for the first time came with a prize for the winner, courtesy of sponsor PwC, a family ticket to the Museum of Illusions.

The night continued with the main course: veal tenderloin, sweetbread, celeriac terrine, onion and beer puree, glazed baby carrots, and truffle jus from Corinthia’s kitchen headed by British masterchef Andy Gaskin. Naturally, those with food allergies and pursuers of the vegan lifestyle were offered alternative dishes.

After the clinking of glasses and cutlery began to wane, Marshall returned to the stage to introduce this year’s nominees, but not before paying tribute to past winners.

“Many of our previous winners have been promoted and moved on to pastures new. Others, I am delighted to say, are still with us. Our seven winners have been drawn from six countries: Brazil, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom. We have had five men and two women, so we have done our bit for gender equality, although we won’t tonight. But one of the things I am proudest about with this prize is that gender has never been a criterion. Our two women and five male winners were picked because they were the best candidates. All were remarkable leaders in their own right,” he noted.

From left to right: Frank Iepema, Giacomo Pedranzini, and John Ford.

Nominees

This year, the three nominees were the managing director of GoTo in Hungary, John Ford, CEO of Hydro Extrusion Hungary Kft. Frank Iepema, and Kometa 99 Zrt. CEO Giacomo Pedranzini.

Arriving on the stage after the screening of three videos showcasing each of the 2022 candidates, last year’s winner Erik Slooten carried with him an envelope that contained the name of the winner.

He jokingly remarked that he is the shortest reigning Expat CEO of the Year because the 2022 gala was held roughly six months after the 2021 awards, which had been postponed due to the COVID-related restrictions, before calling attention to the refugee crisis engulfing Europe.

“There are many people less privileged than us, and there are many charities that need our support to take care of underprivileged people, including women and children,” he said concerning the Ukraine Crisis.

Pedranzini Wins Expat CEO of the Year Award

The night reached its climax as Slooten opened the envelope, revealing the eighth Expat CEO of the Year: Giacomo Pedranzini, the first-ever Italian national to be nominated, let alone win the award.

After accepting to thunderous applause, Pedranzini told the short story of Kometa in Hungary.

“In 1994, when the privatization process was just beginning, we decided to invest in meat processing in the so-called Kaposvári Húskombinát, this pork processing factory in the beautiful city of Kaposvár in the south of Hungary. At the time when we came in, there were 15 companies similar in size compared to the one where we were at,” he remarked, highlighting the fierce competition in the intervening years. “Today, only five of these 15 companies remain on the market.”

He also highlighted how the position of food and agricultural products had evolved among consumers over the past decade.

“Food production and agriculture was not the focus 10-15 years ago; I have to say that our activity and our products were slipping down in the list of expenditure priorities. First, we wanted to have the best new technology mobile phone, and it was really disturbing to me when you have shelves in the supermarket and I see that pet food is more expensive than what we feed our children. In the last 10 years, the situation began to change. Now we have the chef stars. So, everybody’s talking about our food, even if they do not always know what they’re talking about,” he remarked, prompting a wave of laughter.

The Perfect Machine

“We have to remember that what we are nurturing is what Leonardo called ‘the perfect machine,’” he added regarding the importance of nutrition. Pedranzini also noted that Kometa 99 aims to be a part of reestablishing Hungary’s strong position on the European stage in meat production.

He thanked his staff and the economic institutions supporting him and blew a kiss to his wife before he left the stage, almost forgetting his award at the podium.

Marshall then returned one last time to thank the event’s official sponsors and partners and, as has become his tradition, bid farewell in the words of the late, great Irish comedian Dave Allen, “Thank you, Good Night, and may your God go with you.”

But the night did not end there; guests were invited to enjoy desserts, the offerings of a cocktail bar, and networking in the foyer. A special dance show was also put on by Urban Verbunk, a prominent group from the Hungarian folk dance scene. The company’s artistic director, Moussa Ahmed, has represented Hungarian culture by taking part in a wide range of events: from the stage of Lincoln Center in New York through the Rio Olympics to the 70th birthday of Prince Charles.

After the production ended, the guests once again enjoyed the hospitality of Corinthia until well after midnight, as the breezy spring night gave way to a crisp, cool Budapest morning.

Golden Cross-recipient Behind Successful Transformation of Kaposvár Meat Industry

Pedranzini was born in 1965 in Sondrio, Italy, the fifth of eight children of Ernesto and Maria Pedranzini. He holds a degree in economics and business from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore [Catholic University of the Sacred Heart] of Milan. In 1985 he did his military service in the Alpine Corps with the Tirano Battalion, 48th Company, stormtroopers.

He began his civilian business career practicing as a chartered accountant and auditor at the Mongelli Studio in Milan, where he continued working until 1994 when he moved to Hungary. Arriving in the country during the privatization wave of the early 1990s, he was responsible for the reorganization and revival of the meat processing industry of Kaposvár at an industrial complex for slaughtering and processing pork meat. What became Kometa 99 Zrt. now employs around 900 people.

Pedranzini initially worked as the economic and financial manager before becoming CEO in 1999 and also chairman of the board of directors from 2012. From 2004 to 2010, he was also a board member of the Hungarian Meat Industry Association (Magyar Húsiparosok Szövetsége). From 2007 to 2012, he represented the association at the UECBV, the European Livestock and Meat Trading Union, in Brussels.

In 2018, Pedranzini was awarded the Golden Cross of Merit of the Republic of Hungary by President János Áder. He is married and the father of three children. He lists his hobbies as reading, running and cycling.

Sponsors of the Evening

The Budapest Business Journal would like to thank HIPA, the official event partner of the Expat CEO of the Year Award, and the 2022 sponsors: Arval, BNP Paribas, Penny Market, and PWC Hungary. Organizing partners were Prime Time Communications, Special Effects Ltd., and the Corinthia Hotel Budapest.

Rollcall of Past Winners

Last year, the Expat CEO of the Year Award went to Erik Slooten, then CEO of Deutsche Telekom IT Solutions Hungary. The 2020 winner was BlackRock’s Melanie Seymour, the first British winner of the award. Taira-Julia Lammi, CEO of ABB Hungary Kft., won the title in 2019, becoming the first Finnish winner and the first woman, while in 2018, it went to Marc de Bastos Eckstein, CEO of Thyssenkrupp Components Technology Hungary Kft. (our first and thus far only Brazilian-German winner). In 2017, it was Jörg Bauer, then of GE Hungary, in 2016 it was Jost Ernst Lammers, of Budapest Airport Zrt. (both German nationals). The inaugural award was presented to Spain’s Javier González Pareja, of Bosch Magyarország.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of April 8, 2022.

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