This yearʼs Budapest Business Journal Expat CEO of the Year award went to Marc de Bastos Eckstein of Thyssenkrupp Components Hungary Kft., while Frank Müller, head of VW Groupʼs Eastern Europe regional office, won the HIPA Local Partnership Award at the annual gala held at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest on Friday, February 9.
For the fourth time, a prestigious crowd gathered for the invitation-only black tie event to witness the award ceremony, which was founded by the BBJ in 2015 with the aim of recognizing the efforts of foreign CEOs working in Hungary.
The award is given to the foreign businessperson who has delivered outstanding achievements in the previous year. The 2018 event was sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, PwC, Citi Plc., Special Effects International, and Prime Time Communications.
"It is so much easier to stand here as a non-nominee," said Jörg Bauer, the former president of GE Hungary; Bauer won the award last year, and so had the privilege of naming the 2018 winner on behalf of the jury.
"I am very honored by this recognition, and I must say any of the nominees would have deserved it just as much," de Bastos Eckstein said. Indeed, the shortlist of contestants was truly impressive, also featuring David Wiernik (NNG), Minas Agelidis (Coca-Cola HBC), Thomas Narbeshuber (BASF), and Christian Wolff (Mercedes-Benz Manufacturing Hungary Kft.).
"I believe this success is not only my achievement, but rather a result of hard team work; therefore, credit must go to the whole team supporting me," de Bastos Eckstein added.
BBJ Expat CEO of the Year Gala 2018
Expat Contributions Matter
Robin Marshall, editor-in-chief of the BBJ and host of the evening, reminded attendees that the newspaper is fully independent and by far the oldest English-language publication in circulation in Hungary; its stated goal is to become the most trusted newspaper in the country. For 25 years it has provided its readership with authentic, well-researched, timely, factual, useful and usable business analysis, something the local business community needs now more than ever.
"Our reporting may sometimes be critical, but it will always be honest, and you deserve that," Marshall stressed. "I can assure you that we will continue to bring you business news you can rely on, business news that works."
For too long, public discourse in Hungary about multinational companies had been about what was taken from the country, mostly in the form of repatriated profits. The award was founded partly to help redress the balance, so people recognize the actual value that MNCs and their CEOs bring here.
"When you pitch to your boards back home for an investment here, you are ambassadors for Hungary," noted Marshall. "When you win those pitches and that investment, the jobs that come with it are the sort of value-added jobs that might persuade Hungarians they can build worthwhile careers here, and might even attract those who have already gone abroad to come back. What you do matters; the wages you pay, the taxes you pay, the products and services you provide all help Hungaryʼs economy and all Hungarians. What you do matters; it is important and it should be recognized."
On behalf of the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), the official event partner, president Róbert Ésik said his organization could pride itself on record-breaking figures for the year 2017.
"Ninety-six investment projects were closed, FDI worth EUR 3.5 billion flowed in and more than 17,000 jobs were created last year," he said.
Ésik stressed that the total number of corporate R&D projects had gone up by 30%, and that is a great sign that the country is moving from the "Made in Hungary" concept to the "Invented in Hungary" era.
"All this could not have become reality without your support, and what you need to know most of all is that you can still count on us in the future," he added.
In the absence of Levente Magyar, the minister of state for parliamentary affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the administration was represented by Dr. Petra Pana, the deputy state secretary for foreign economic affairs. She highlighted that Hungary has undergone a dynamic economic transformation, with impressive key figures.
"Not only FDI went up significantly but also exports. Your contribution in that area is also highly appreciated," she said. "However, tonight is not about economic performance, but the persons behind the effort."
HIPAʼs Local Partnership Award
That effort was also recognized in the form of the HIPA Local Partnership Award, which, in parallel with the Expat CEO of the Year title, is given annually for recognition of a firmʼs use of local suppliers in its value chain.
This yearʼs award went to Frank Müller, head of VW Groupʼs regional office for Eastern Europe.
"We pay particular attention to engage local partners since they provide added value," Müller said. "There is a cooperation with 40 parts suppliers already and in 2017 we started our scouting for innovative startups to forge even more partnerships. This year Volkswagen is looking forward to further outstanding projects with HIPA."
The attendees were not exclusively foreign high-ranking executives; in the spirit of mutual cooperation and respect, Hungarian CEOs at multinational companies were also invited.
"Itʼs really uplifting to be here. I believe foreign CEOs do deserve such recognition for what they bring to the Hungarian economy. They certainly have a different approach that is beneficial for everybody," said János Takács, general manager of Zaharul Oradea SA, the second largest white sugar producer in Romania and a subsidiary of Pfeifer & Langen, a group of companies based in Cologne, Germany.
Throughout the evening guests enjoyed the splendid hospitality of the Corinthia Hotel Budapest, and they were entertained by virtuoso music by local international jazz heavyweights, Béla Szakcsi Lakatos and Lajos Kathy Horváth, who played variations around Hungarian folk tunes. The evening ended with networking, with champagne sponsored by PwC.