Editorial: Batting for Community, Diversity and Hungary

Analysis

Depending on when you read this, we are either preparing to name our 10th Expat CEO of the Year Award winner or have just done so: the Black-tie gala event will be held at its usual venue of the Corinthia Hotel Budapest on an unusual day, for us, a Saturday. We will also present the Community Award for the second time to a business leader demonstrating social commitment, diversity and ethical leadership.

It seems impossible that we will be making the award for the 10th time, and yet, as I have had the privilege of hosting each event, I know it to be a fact. When we launched the title, presented for the first time in 2015, we wanted to underscore that the best expat bosses add real value to Hungary’s economy.

The most successful expat CEOs are also ambassadors, both for their home country here and, perhaps more importantly, for Hungary when they sit down at the boardroom table back in their headquarters, wherever that may be. If you want a good way of measuring how business-friendly a country is, look for the standout FDI projects it can attract. Think of the BYD factory under construction in Szeged or the CATL plant going up in Debrecen, not a hundred miles from the BMW site, which is due to see EVs rolling off the production line in 2025. Those are here in no small measure due to the work of the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, and you can read more about that in the context of Chinese companies on page 12.

But another measure of success is reinvestment. Having decided to invest once, more than satisfied with the quality of the workforce and happy with the level of government and municipal support, you might think it is easier to reinvest. But it is a competitive world out there. I have spoken with countless CEOs who talk of having to convince the board to invest again (and a few who have had to accept they will have to wait a while before they can get more money). Hipa, again, has a role to play here, but the opening batter for Hungary is always the local CEO. Think of Mercedes: its first factory at Kecskemét was, at the time, a record-breaking greenfield investment for Hungary and a rare piece of good news for the country in the aftermath of the 2007-08 financial crisis. The first cars rolled off the production line in 2012, three years before our first gala. The groundbreaking ceremony was in 2009. A crucial role in convincing the Daimler board in Stuttgart to continue to invest in Hungary was played by the expat CEOs who worked here. And the same is true for pretty much every other multinational with a Hungarian interest.

We always hoped the Expat CEO would demonstrate diversity over time. Not including the 2024 results (because I genuinely do not know who the winner will be at the time of writing), six men and three women (the first in 2019) have won the award. There have been three Germans (one of whom is half-Brazilian) and one each from the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. One woman and two men are on this year’s shortlist, representing Denmark, Germany, and Italy. That’s not a bad mix. Congratulations to all our past winners and all three candidates this year. Any one of them would be a deserving recipient.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief

This editorial was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of March 22, 2024.

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