Considering it is the largest publicly traded oil company in the world, and its business support center has been present in Hungary since 2004, ExxonMobil had kept a determinedly low profile until a couple of years ago. That has now changed, culminating in the signing of a strategic cooperation agreement with the government on June 1.
ExxonMobil’s relationship with Hungary actually goes back much further, as the company’s lead country manager, Dutch national Romke Noordhuis, acknowledges.
“Mobil constructed a refinery here in 1907, so we have a long relationship with the country; in 1992 a chain of Esso filling stations was established, but over time, business models changed and we have divested ourselves of those since then.”
In 2004, the company formed the ExxonMobil Business Support Center Hungary LLC., as a strategic location for its businesses in Europe, Middle East and Africa. Initially there were some 300-400 staff; today the head count stands at almost 1,600 and is still growing, Noordhuis says. The company maintains two similar centers in each of its three main geographical markets (the others being the Americas and Asia). The second EMEA BSC is in Prague.
“For ExxonMobil Corporation the major driver for deciding to set up a base in Budapest was access to a well-educated workforce with good language skills,” says Noordhuis. Other boxes ticked by Budapest back in 2004 included a stable political environment, being in the right time zone to serve the EMEA market, being part of the EU, and being served by an international airport with good connections.
The move toward a higher profile for the company started a couple of years ago. With the coming of the new CEO, Darren Woods, ExxonMobil in Hungary decided to be more open, and concentrate more on the company’s external relations and its role within the community. That is a philosophy that works at many levels, but at its most basic it is this: when a company is more engaged with its community, the employees are more engaged with the company.
The overall effect of the past couple of years has been a coordinated corporate branding exercise. As part of this external outreach, ExxonMobil has also become a much more active member of AmCham, for example.
“AmCham is a very good interface with the government, and something of a thought leader on what makes Hungary a successful place to do business,” the lead country manager says.
The company has begun advertising on the streets and on trams for the first time “to increase visibility as an employer of choice for the brightest students”. It already has good relations with the universities, running “Ambassador Programs” at universities in Budapest and around the country.
Every couple of years the company replaces its laptops. The “old” models are cleaned up, and staff are asked to make recommendations for schools to donate them to. In the last two years, more than 1,000 laptops have been passed on in this way. As part of the donation program, employees also provide cybersecurity trainings to students
Additionally, ExxonMobil also wanted to build its own relationship with the government. The company contacted the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, which Noordhuis rates very highly, and it suggested a strategic cooperation agreement. That began a series of discussions that led to the signing on June 1.
“It is a milestone for us on the journey to become more pro-active and in being a dialogue partner with the government,” Noordhuis says. Talking about recent tax reductions as a positive example, he notes that “previously, we would have been a recipient of the decision, rather than part of the consultation process together with other leading businesses.”
Admitting that “we are here to run the business in the most efficient way possible”, he said that there were many areas where the interests of both parties coalesced. This is perhaps most obvious in education and training the next generation of talent, but there are others, such as attracting Hungarians working abroad to come home.
Noordhuis said this is clearly a priority for the government, as it seeks ways to ease the labor shortage. Hungary needs well compensated and interesting careers to entice people back, exactly the sort of value-added jobs ExxonMobil can offer.
He says the company is actively recruiting at present, having taken on 300 people last year and is looking to do the same again this year.
“Obviously, it is a tight market, but so far we have been successful in hiring the number and – even more important – the quality of new employees we need. But it is hard work, and certainly more work than it used to be. We have increased the size of the recruiting team, we are putting more energy into our outreach to the universities, we are putting effort and funding into our external image branding.”
Increasing its external profile and being more visible clearly helps.
• ExxonMobil Business Support Center Hungary says it “aspires to be the employer of choice in the Budapest international market for professionals” across five major job families: Controllers (Finance and Accounting); IT; Fuels and Lubes (downstream customer support); Upstream Commercial Support; and Tax.
• The Budapest office supports business activities in the region, but increasingly also globally in the areas of upstream commercial support, marine accounting, network engineering, cybersecurity and project management.
• Number of staff: 1,580
• Number of staff worked at BSC at least ten years: 30%
• Number of staff worked at BSC at least six years: 50%
• Number of Hungarian staff: More than 90%
• Nationalities represented : More than 50.