Blazing a Trail in Budapest for Women and Finland


Photo by Marianna Sárközy

In becoming the fifth BBJ Expat CEO of the Year winner on January 25, Taira-Julia Lammi also became the first woman to scoop the award, and the first Finn. She talks to the Budapest Business Journal about what the award means, and how she sees the economy in Hungary developing.

Taira-Julia Lammi, CEO of ABB Hungary.

BBJ: You won from a very strong field. Why do you think you were chosen as the Expat CEO of the Year?

Taira-Julia Lammi: Well, I find it difficult to speculate on this question. There is certain criteria that the jury is looking at the candidates against, so I believe matching this criteria is the reason. I have worked very hard with my team in the area of power and automation and helping Hungarian businesses to become more energy efficient, automated and digitalized. We have shared our knowledge in many associations and chambers for the benefit of Hungarian businesses.

BBJ: You are the first woman to win the award. What message do you think that sends to women at work?

T-J L: I am happy to be the first woman Expat CEO to receive this prize and it is a prize for all the women CEOs today! Definitely I believe this will bring a positive message to female leaders and to all working women. To bring the very much needed “you can do it”-spirit to many women pursuing their career. Furthermore, it is important to talk about women at work and women making a career; it is not something to take for granted anywhere in the world. The old role models are difficult to break and we all need role models to guide the way and give us ideas to think about.

BBJ: Hungary is often described as a paternalistic society. Is this something you have come across in your professional dealings in the country?

T-J L: Well, I think we need more and more female role models for the younger generations to break those traditional role models. It is apparent in many other countries, including Hungary, that women take care of the majority of the household tasks, child care etc. Women tend to work shorter hours in the office to be able to cope the family life. It is important to realize that the world is not the same as it was in the 1950s, or even the ’90s. Working environments have changed, societies have changed and more and more professions have become gender-neutral. Women and men can and should be able to work side by side in any profession.

BBJ: Famously, Hungarian and Finnish are both classified as part of the same Finno-Ugric language grouping. How is your Hungarian? Do you see much in the way of similarities?

T-J L: I have studied Hungarian for more than two years now and I am progressing slowly but steadily. I survive in small discussions. To me, it is important way to be closer to the people and to the culture.  When it comes to similarities, there are some similar words, similarities in the grammar, so it is easier for me to understand some rules since we have the same ones. Also the intonations and pronunciation is close; as I would describe it, relatives, yes, but probably distant cousins.

BBJ: And are there similarities in the way Finns and Hungarians go about their work?

T-J L: I think both nations are hard-working people and proud of their achievements. In addition, I believe both Finns and Hungarians could be even more vocal about the achievements over the years. So, some humbleness is there as well in both nations. Also, I think there is passion for innovation and creative thinking in both working environments.

BBJ: How do you consider the Hungarian regulatory environment regarding predictability and investor friendliness?

T-J L: Of course, I have somewhat limited view on that, but I think the investment numbers speak for themselves. Year on year, more foreign investors and companies set foot in Hungary. If Hungary were not predictable and investor friendly, that would not happen. The biggest challenge I see for the future is the labor force. It is crucial to ensure the talent pool for all companies.

BBJ: In your winner’s speech, you talked of Hungary riding the wave of Industry 4.0. How do you think this might show itself going forward?

T-J L: Just to pick one example from many, I would say robotics. Having the industries in Hungary be more automated by use of robots and connected services related to this is going to be on the agenda of many companies. And based on the statistics of IFR (International Federation of Robots), the robot density places Hungary 25th worldwide, but behind other CEE countries like Czech Republic, Slovenia and Slovakia. 

BBJ: Everyone in Hungary talks about the challenges presented by the labor challenge. How is ABB coping?

T-J L: Well, it is a topic for us as well, both for office employees and with our factory employees. The first priority for us is to retain the people as much as we can. We have wellbeing programs, we develop our people by providing them opportunities to get training, or learning on the job experiences; also, it is important that we have been able to show to our talents that there is job rotation as well. In some parts of the company, these activities have been successful and our retention rate is not too bad. We also put a lot of focus on team leader and manager work; having good supervisors is very important to the people. And another very important element is that we do our best to listen to our employees.

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