Immediately after the Budapest Business Journal Expat CEO Gala, this yearʼs winner, Marc de Bastos Eckstein of Thyssenkrupp Components Technology Hungary Kft. took a well-earned holiday. Immediately after that, he reflected with the BBJ on what winning the ward meant.
BBJ: From a very strong shortlist, you emerged as the winner. What are you most proud of, and why do you think you won?
Marc de Bastos Eckstein: I completely agree: anyone of the nominees could have won. Therefore, I would like to congratulate all of them as, from my perspective, every one of them deserved to win.
It is not a question for me: I am proudest of my colleagues; without them I could never have received such a great honor as this prize.
In Budapest, Thyssenkrupp started its R&D activity with only 70 people. Today we have around 700 engineers there, and we call it an R&D Competence Center with a reason. In 2013, we started our activity in Győr, producing front and rear axles. The performance of these two activities speak clearly for the investment decisions regarding our projects in Jászfényszaru (72 km northeast of Budapest) and Debrecen.
Therefore, I take this prize as a form of feedback, a confirmation that for several years now we managed to identify the opportunities in Hungary - such as the engineering creativity here - that are in line with the strategy of Thyssenkrupp.
BBJ: How would you describe your personal management philosophy?
ME: It is much like the philosophy of a pianist: notes, timing and the instrument itself create a closed framework for one’s work. And yet, an infinite number of different pieces can be played; some fantastic, some less so.
One thing is for sure: understanding one’s colleagues is crucial. Be it professional topics or private issues that affect performance, without a real understanding it is not possible to give the right response to anything.
But to give a more informed answer, some detachment is needed. Thus, I would be happy to revisit and answer this question again in around 60 years!
BBJ: In your acceptance speech you talked about the importance of diversity to success. You have German and Brazilian ancestry. Could you tell us a little more about how you see the importance of diversity in the business world?
ME: Growing up and socializing in an “intercultural” environment builds skills to understand your partner, identify and reflect on issues, even on those that may emerge only in the future. It does not matter if it is about different cultures, personal or social backgrounds, or different business interests. The key is to be able to look at the same thing from different perspectives. Such a skill brings you closer to a comprehensive understanding of the issues and the effects of the different possible solutions of a specific situation. In my case, the structured approach characteristic of German thinking serves as the basis, while openness and ability to give human answers to difficult situations most likely comes with me from Brazil.
BBJ: You also spoke about your early experiences with the Hungarian mentality. What has surprised you most about life in Hungary?
ME: I know that most, if not all, expats share this experience, but the most unforeseen and astonishing thing for me was the difficulty and complexity of the Hungarian language. Having spoken five languages, I was certain that after a few weeks of practice at least I would be able to order fish at a restaurant. Then I was served a soup. Of course, my Hungarian has improved a lot since that day.
Another great – and this time I mean really great – experience was to see how much pride Hungarians take in what they create. They are not simply proud of their work as a product of its own, but more as a Hungarian product. This we can see regularly in Budapest and Győr. And indeed, this quality work fueled by pride served as the basis for the new projects of Thyssenkrupp. I expect to see it again from this year on in Jászfényszaru and Debrecen as well.
BBJ: How would you say Hungary has changed since you first came here?
ME: Hungary has changed a lot lately. In addition to all the successes, one can also witness the search for the right path, which is fully understandable after such a fundamental event like the change of regime.
Today, Hungary is a country where great industrial and technological companies are active, it is a country where the largest companies in the world compete for new employees. The fantastic thing is, nonetheless, that there is still a tangible drive in the people themselves; this is again something that we experience in Győr and Budapest - possibly remaining from the time of the change of the regime - that we can always do it better.
BBJ: Thyssenkrupp has been on a fairly rapid expansion path in Hungary. We often hear concerns raised about the labor shortage here and in the region. Have you experienced any problems in this regard, and how do you find the Hungarian workforce?
ME: The automotive business area of Thyssenkrupp is present in Hungary for more than 18 years. We also experience every year the changes in the labor market. It is true that there are some functions or positions where it is a challenge to find colleagues who meet actual, international expectations. So far, however, we have always managed to do so.
The conscious approach, including the operation of a training center or the support of university or college theses, is key, however. We do our best to support the interaction between industry and academia and have several cooperation agreements with schools, universities, and colleges.
BBJ: How would you describe your relationship with the Hungarian government? Are you happy with the regulatory framework? What would you change if you could?
ME: We have a good and balanced relationship with the government. The activity and services of HIPA are especially valuable in this respect.
As a large automotive enterprise, we see that the government has a conscious approach to questions like promoting Industry 4.0 or creating the necessary infrastructure for automotive R&D activities. On the other hand, dedicated grants and the Zalaegerszeg proving ground demonstrate that these initiatives do not stop at the planning or strategy level, but they are followed by actions. It is, nevertheless, clear that infrastructure itself is not enough; year-on-year, more and more dedicated young engineers, experts, and highly skilled workers will be needed from the universities, colleges, and vocational schools.
For an operating company, however, there is another key element: predictability. Be it the applied tax measures, labor regulations, education and so on. Long-term corporate planning is best done in an environment where similar and reliable long-term plans are also available.
BBJ: What plans lie in the future for Thyssenkrupp in Hungary?
ME: When Thyssenkrupp started its automotive activity in Hungary, we had a vision. Today we are working on bringing that vision alive. At present we focus all our efforts on the two new investment projects currently under development.
As the performance of the R&D Competence Center in Budapest and the axle plant in Győr served to lay the foundations for future investment decisions, we are nearing the time when the plants in Jászfényszaru and Debrecen could play a similar role. And we are working together with our Hungarian colleagues to do exactly that.