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Lammi Wins Fifth BBJ Expat CEO of the Year Award

The fifth annual Budapest Business Journal Expat CEO of the Year awards gala saw ABB Hungary’s country managing director Taira-Julia Lammi triumph, with Apollo Tyres Hungary head Kannan Prabhakar winning the HIPA Partnership award.

2018 Expat CEO winner Marc de Bastos Eckstein presents the 2019 award to Taira-Julia Lammi. All photos by Marianna Sárközy.

The exclusive, invitation-only, black-tie gala dinner event held at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest on January 25, saw the creme de la creme of the country’s expat company heads and other special guests from investment, political and diplomatic sectors, such as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Levente Magyar, and Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency head Róbert Ésik.

This year, no less than five ambassadors also attended, including U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David B. Cornstein, and German Ambassador Volkmar Wenze, alongside the diplomatic representatives of Austria, France, and Poland.

“The BBJ is Hungary’s only English-language economic bi-weekly, and has always played an important role in providing information for expat CEOs working and living in Hungary. That is why we decided to found an award to recognize their efforts annually,” explained Balázs Román, the BBJ’s CEO, regarding the founding of the gala. It has been around for half-a-decade now, and represents one of the highlights of the year for expat businesspeople in Hungary.

Upon arrival, guests were offered alcoholic and non-alcoholic welcome drinks. Before the program started in the hotel’s magnificently restored Grand Ballroom, the crowd mingled around two high-end cars exhibited by Mercedes, one of the main sponsors of the gala, while others utilized the opportunity to have their photos taken by a professional photographer.

Approximately an hour after the arrival of the first guests, the doors to the ballroom opened, and the representatives of the country’s most significant economic players found took their seats at the tables, under the ballroom’s elegant, gigantic chandeliers, and overlooked by portraits of some of Hungary’s most important cultural figures, such as Endre Ady.

The evening’s host, BBJ editor-in-chief Robin Marshall, opened the gala by lauding the event’s ever-growing importance and tradition. “Tonight we reach a minor milestone, in that it is now our fifth gala: The event we launched in 2015 has become an institution,” he said.

HIPA president Róbert Ésik with Kannan Prabhakar of Apollo Tyres.

Promote and Support

“When we were planning the first of these galas, we were lucky enough to find an official event partner who was not only prepared to promote what we were trying to do in recognizing the contributions expat CEOs make to improving Hungary’s competitiveness, but was also willing to support the project by putting up its own prize, the HIPA Partnership award,” Marshall added, before inviting the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency’s president, Robert Ésik, to the stage.

Ésik thanked the assembled foreign company heads for their work, noting that their presence is vital to the growth of country’s economy, “Even if you have the most competitive tax system.” He also reflected on the agency’s record breaking year; HIPA was able to successfully conclude 98 investment negotiations. (To learn more about HIPA’s 2018 results, see “HIPA 2018: More Projects, More Jobs, Higher Value-add” from the BBJ’s first issue of the year.)

After Ésik’s speech, Marshall invited Levente Magyar, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade to share a few thoughts. He opened by noting how like the Oscars the event felt, and said everyone in the room knew the country’s history and track record, while he also lauded the effect of investors in Hungary.

“Thank you for all the work you put in the country; without you the state of the economy would not be in the position it is in right now,” Magyar acknowledged. During his speech the Deputy Minister also praised the economy itself, calling the forecasts “almost boringly positive”, and noting that the country will be able to “withstand any turbulences”, and that the country should try and “go for the clouds”.

Before the soups and appetizers were served, Marshall recognized and thanked the night’s other sponsors: Mercedes-Benz Hungária Kft., PwC Hungary, Special Effects Ltd., and Bird & Bird International LLP; and invited the night’s musical guest Bálint Szilassi to play the piano.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Levente Magyar.

Promoting Culture

The 12-year old aspiring musician is already beginning to make a name for himself after his appearance in the Hungarian television talent show “Virtuózok” (Virtuosos) at the age of 11. He is supported by the Foundation for Musical Youth, founded in 2005 to identify and nurture children with outstanding musical talent from deprived backgrounds, often from the Roma community, though not exclusively so.

Marshall said the BBJ is committed to promoting Hungarian culture, and especially up and coming talents, and said business “looking for an individual or an organization to support as part of your CSR outreach” should “consider this our very strong recommendation”. Gala attendees were also able to make donations to the Foundation for Musical Youth at the event.

After the first two courses were served, the event’s focus shifted towards the HIPA Partnership award, given in recognition of the use of local suppliers in a firm’s value chain. The award was presented on stage by Ésik himself.

This year’s recognition went to Apollo Tyres Hungary managing director     Kannan Prabhakar, who thanked the agency for being a “helping hand” and praised his company’s performance in Hungary as being “much better than expected” when he received the award. The expert has been running the Hungarian operation of Apollo Tyres since the launch of the company’s investment in Gyöngyöshalász (79 km northeast of Budapest) back in 2014.

Thomas Narbeshuber

Regarding investment in Hungary from India, Prabhakar’s home country, Ésik also noted that investors from the sub-continent had contributed greatly to the recent Hungarian investment promotion success story, with projects from this community earning the “Investor of the Year” award in both 2014 and 2015.

The evening’s guests had the opportunity to enjoy the main course of steak and potato au-gratin alongside some fine wine before the start of the gala’s main event. The Expat CEO of the Year title is awarded to the candidate working and living in Hungary who has contributed most to the country’s development and international recognition, via his or her professionalism and exceptional achievements.

The winner was selected by a professional jury of five just 30 minutes before the gala. The panel consisted of BBJ CEO Balázs Román, American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary CEO Írisz Lippai-Nagy, HIPA president Róbert Ésik, German-Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce President Dale A. Martin, and last year’s Expat CEO of the Year Marc de Bastos Eckstein.

Melanie Seymour

Winning Criteria

The jury picks the winner based on a variety of criteria, such as: innovative skills, successes on domestic and international markets, being a prominent and committed representative of his or her home country, impact on Hungary’s economic life. Expat CEOs are only eligible for the award after having lived in Hungary for a minimum of two years, and if the financial results of their company is positive.

Before revealing the five nominees for the award, Marshall recalled the event’s past winners, noting: “The award was won for the first time in 2015 by Javier González Pareja, then CEO of Bosch in Hungary, who has since been promoted and is now president of Bosch in Spain and Portugal – that is the power of this award, ladies and gentlemen!. In 2016 the winner was Jost Lammers of Budapest Airport; in 2017 it was Jörg Bauer, then president of GE Hungary, now CEO of Tungsram Group, and last year it was de Bastos Eckstein, of Thyssenkrupp Components Hungary Kft.”

Marshall jokingly added that Eckstein had “the distinction of being our first winner of at least partly Brazilian descent, and also the first whose Christian name did not begin with the letter ‘J’.”

Prior to the presentation of the award itself, the guests were shown short introductory videos of this year’s five top expat CEOs. In addition to the eventual winner, Finland’s Taira-Julia Lammi, the other short-listed candidates were: BASF Hungary managing director Thomas Narbeshuber from Austria, a two-time nominee; Blackrock Budapest head Melanie Seymour from the United Kingdom; Citi Central Europe CEO Kevin A. Murray from the United States; and Tata Consultancy Services’ Hungary Branch managing director Prabal Datta from India.

Prabal Datta

The excitement slowly reached its peak after the screening, when Marshall yielded the floor to last year’s winner de Bastos Eckstein to reveal the recipient of the 2019 Expat CEO of the Year award. Before opening the envelope containing the winner’s name, he expressed his astonishment at the difficulty of the selection-process, and pointed out that nothing had been decided in advance, noting how close the jury meeting was to the beginning of the night’s official program. Moments later, he announced the winner: Taira-Julia Lammi, as the room filled with cheers and applause.

In her acceptance speech, Lammi praised the milieu of the gala, echoing Magyar’s earlier comment when she noted that she felt as if she was “at the Oscars”. She thanked her colleagues at ABB for their work, saying: “My thank you goes to the jury for this honor, it must have been really hard to make a decision as any of the nominees could be standing here today. Also I thank the ABB Team, this is a team prize, without my wonderful colleagues at work I would not be here today.”

Kevin A. Murray

Family is Key

She also stressed that her family was one of the most important factors in her success. “One needs to have a good and secure home base as well,” Lammi said, while adding that her husband was unfortunately unable to attend the award ceremony as he was skiing with some Finish friends in Chamonix, because she had forgot to mark the evening in her schedule.

Regarding Hungary and its economy, she noted the country “is riding the positive wave of the energy revolution and the fourth industrial revolution”.

She also emphasized that during her two-and-a-half years in Hungary, she “saw the business environment as very positive” and described the country as “beautiful”, especially praising the night sight of the river Danube, and the green areas of the capital.

Ending her speech on a lighthearted note, she noted that one of the main differences between her native Finland and Hungary is that one does not have to worry about the warmest season of the year, as “In Hungary, summer always comes.” Lammi is the first woman, and the first person from Finland, to win the BBJ Expat CEO of the Year title.

After thanking the event’s partners once again and congratulating Lammi, Marshall closed the program with the words of the late great Irish comedian Dave Allen, saying: “Thank you, good night, and may your God go with you.”

After those final words, the jury, the two winners, and the short-listed candidates walked up to the stage for a photoshoot. The four runners-up for the expat CEO award did not go home empty handed, as they received certificates in recognition of their performance.

After the conclusion of the gala’s official business, the truly international crowd had the opportunity to get to indulge in more networking (always one of the highlights of the evening, the CEOs say), while sampling desserts in Corinthia’s Valetta Bar and enjoying the generosity of the champagne bar, sponsored by PwC, as the night slowly gave way to a frosty Budapest morning.

About the Award

The Budapest Business Journal  founded the Expat CEO of the Year award with the aim of recognizing the efforts of expat CEOs in Hungary to the benefit of both the country and their companies.

“The BBJ is Hungary’s only English-language economic bi-weekly, and has always played an important role in providing information for expat CEOs working and living in Hungary. That is why we decided to found an award to recognize their efforts annually,” explains Balázs Román, the CEO of the newspaper.

The BBJ Expat CEO of the Year Gala is an invitation-only event for the most important players in the Hungarian economy.

The award is given to the foreign business leader who is determined to have made the most outstanding achievements in the previous year. In January 2019, Taira-Julia Lammi, CEO of ABB Kft. Hungary, was recognized as the Expat CEO of the Year 2019, while in 2018 it was Marc de Bastos Eckstein, CEO of thyssenkrupp Components Technology Hungary Kft. In 2017 it was Jörg Bauer, then of GE Hungary, now of Tungsram Group; in 2016 it was Jost Ernst Lammers, of Budapest Airport Zrt. and in 2015 it was Javier González Pareja, then of Bosch Magyarország.

Over the years the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency’s Partnership Award has been presented to: Kannan Prabhakar, Chief, Projects of Apollo Tyres Hungary Kft. (2019); Frank Müller, Head of the Regional Office of VW Group Eastern Europe (2018); Ekkehard Günter Philipp, CFO of Mercedes-Benz Manufacturing Hungary (2017); Naoyuki Takeuchi, CEO of Magyar Suzuki Zrt. (2016); and Kersten Bachmann, CEO of TAKATA Safety Systems Hungary Kft. (2015), in recognition of their firms’ use of local suppliers in their value chain.

12-year-old pianist Bálint Szilassi.

The Expert Jury

The professional expertise of the independent jury members strengthens the high quality of the award. It includes leaders of bilateral chambers and international business development organizations with outstanding experience both in international and domestic economic life, complemented by the prize winner of the previous year and the CEO of Budapest Business Journal.

The jury responsible for deciding the 2019 winner was:

•    Marc de Bastos Eckstein

CEO of thyssenkrupp Components Technology Hungary Kft.

•    Írisz Lippai-Nagy

CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary

•    Dale A. Martin

President of the German-Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and President and CEO of Siemens Hungary

•    Róbert Ésik

President of the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency

•    Balázs Román

CEO of the BBJ

Jury members are charged with nominating expat CEOs for the award based on the following criteria:

•    Innovative skills;

•    Successes on domestic and international markets;

•    Being a prominent and committed representative of his or her mother country in Hungary;

•    Impact on Hungary’s economic life;

•    Must have lived in Hungary for at least two years;

•    The financial results of the company represented by the CEO must be positive.



Previous Winners of BBJ Expat CEO of the Year Award:

•    2018

Marc de Bastos Eckstein

thyssenkrupp Components Technology Hungary Kft.

•    2017

Jörg Bauer

Managing director of GE Hungary Kft.

•    2016

Jost Ernst Lammers

CEO of Budapest Airport Zrt.

•    2015

Javier González Pareja

CEO of Bosch Magyarország