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Diversity Shines Through at 5th Expat CEO Awards

We may “only” have been celebrating its fifth birthday, but it felt as if the BBJ Expat CEO of Year awards gala had really come of age on January 25.

When asked what they think expat CEOs bring to Hungarian economic life, the word most often heard from our short-listed nominees is “diversity”: of nationalities, races, cultures, ideas, skill sets, mentalities, life experiences and more. It came up again this year.

And it was apt it did so; the fifth annual event, staged once again in the Grand Ballroom of the Corinthia Hotel Budapest, was diversity personified.  

For only the second time in five years, we had a woman short-listed. As if to celebrate, we promptly had another. Men still made up the majority of nominees in 2019, but two out of five isn’t bad. And to top it all, we had our first female winner (Taira-Julia Lammi, of Swiss-Swedish technology multinational ABB).

It felt like an important moment. As one Hungarian female said to me at the gala: “It doesn’t matter what the nationality is; it is important for us as women to see role models up there on stage.”

Over the half decade we have been running the event, the majority of those short-listed (and most winners) have been German, which makes sense if you consider geography and the fact that Germany is Hungary’s largest investor. But this year we had our first British candidate (Melanie Seymour, of the U.S.-based global investment management corporation BlackRock), and our first American (Kevin A. Murray, of Citibank).  

Ticking yet another box, Lammi was our first Finnish nominee. We had our first Indian candidate, Prabal Datta of Tata Consultancy Services, and our first Indian winner, Kannan Prabhakar of Apollo Tyres, who picked up the HIPA Partnership Award from our official event partner, the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency.

Diversity was also there in the list of ambassadors present for at least part of the evening, with the representatives of Austria, France, Germany, Poland and the United States all in attendance.  

In a slightly odd coincidence, last year’s winner of the Expat CEO title, Marc de Bastos Eckstein, broke new ground in becoming the first winner whose first name did not begin with the letter “J”. This year’s winner both continued that trend, and reversed it. By her own admission at a recent AmCham event, Lammi’s Finnish forename, Taira-Julia, is “monstrous”. She is generally, therefore, known as Julia.  

You will find more about this year’s event in our Special Report inside this issue. There is also a gallery of photos on our website. We wait to see what records may be broken at the 2020 gala, when we will be able to borrow from author A.A. Milne and say “Now we are Six”. But we hope we will be able to add further examples of diversity in practice. Hungary is a better place, and has a better economy, as a result of it.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief