A Human Response to a Human Tragedy


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I had a telephone conversation with my Mum this week. That’s an odd opening, I know, but stick with me. She’s 92; we haven’t seen each other for two years because of COVID restrictions that have finally been lifted to the extent that traveling back becomes viable.

I hope to do that soon. In the meantime, the phone has been a vital link. We talk about the family, the weather (we are British) and the world.

She thinks differently than me. It’s not just the generational gap; it’s also her life experiences. On both her mother and her father’s side of the family, there were deep mental scars left by World War I. They were also physical, in my Grandfather’s case. He was wounded twice and gassed once before being invalided out of the Army. My memory of him (I was four or five when he died) was of a distant, quiet man. My Mum was nine when World War II broke out and spent most of it in London, after a brief flirtation with evacuation during the Phoney War period. She had just shy of a year’s worth of highly disrupted education during the Blitz, sheltering in the Underground. The idea of Ukrainians huddling together in the Metro stations is eerily familiar for her. Breaking all the ligaments in my right ankle, once playing rugby and once playing cricket, doesn’t remotely compare with that.

During our call this week, I mentioned to her that the annual Polish-Hungarian friendship day had been postponed because, as the organizers put it, “Together, we thought that while the Ukrainians were fighting a heroic fight for their occupied homeland, now was not the time for us to celebrate happily.” She thought about that for a second and said, “Well, I think that’s a shame. It is awful what is happening, but you can’t stop everything.”

And so, tonight, we will hold our eighth Expat CEO of the Year Gala and honor three outstanding business leaders: Britain’s John Ford, managing director of GoTo in Hungary, Dutch national Frank Iepema, CEO of Hydro Extrusion Hungary Kft., and Giacomo Pedranzini, CEO of Kometa 99 Zrt., our first-ever Italian nominee. We will find out the winner at the end of the evening. We will do so mindful of events to the east, but to channel my dear old Mum, allowing life to go on is not disrespectful. The extraordinary Expat CEO community, comprising some of the top business leaders in Hungary, their better halves, significant diplomatic representation, and decision-makers with the ear of government, have responded in an entirely human way to what is a human tragedy. Companies have stepped up, some of which we report in this issue, but more than that, the people in those companies, from the C-suite to the factory floor, have been doing their bit. That is the response that matters.

Robin Marshall


This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of March 25, 2022.

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