Stepping Beyond Hungary’s Borders

Analysis

Much of what we write focuses on foreign-owned multinational firms; the investments they make, the jobs they create, the contributions they provide to developing Hungary’s economy. While there are many, many examples of global firms opening up in Hungary, that isn’t to say it is entirely one-way traffic.

Those companies that have stepped out beyond the narrow confines of Hungary’s landlocked borders are a diverse group, often with compelling stories to tell. There are so few of them, however, that the leading lights are all well-known. Oil and gas giant MOL, for example, is a truly world-class company. OTP isn’t just Hungary’s biggest bank (in terms of total assets and number of branches); it is also one of the largest independent financial service providers in Central and Eastern Europe.

It is little surprise, then, that when we launched our first Special Report into Magyar Multinationals this time last year, we focussed on both of the above, alongside leading pharmaceutical company Gedeon Richter, navigation and auto infotainment specialists NNG, and the re-emerged Tungsram brand.

This year, we did not want to cover the same ground, and so we bring you a fresh bunch of Hungarian champions. The gene pool has not grown dramatically bigger in the intervening 12 months, meaning you won’t be surprised to find the region’s biggest low-cost carrier, Wizz Air, on our pages or the architectural software firm Graphisoft (a Hungarian company with an American CEO). Family-owned plastic processing company Jász-Plasztik is less well known but very well established.

We did not simply want to concentrate on the success stories of today, however; we were also interested to know what is being done to encourage the superstars of tomorrow. In one sense, the Hungarian Export Promotion Agency (HEPA) is the obverse side of the coin to the Hungarian Import Promotion Agency (HIPA). The latter seeks to draw foreign direct investment to Hungary; the former helps Hungarian businesses find new markets abroad. But while HIPA deals with many international expat CEOs, HEPA works predominantly (if not exclusively) with small- and medium-sized companies. That is no great surprise, however, when you realize such SMEs make up 99% of all registered business in Hungary, according to the Central Statistical Office. You will find our interview with the head of HEPA inside.

* * *

Regular readers may remember my criticism of the government when it became clear legally resident foreign nationals were having problems getting the COVID immunity cards because the IT system developed could not recognize the identification numbers given to non-Hungarians. Apart from the fact it meant you could not go to an event or a restaurant here that required the presentation of such a certificate, it also questioned the whole idea of travel abroad.

I am pleased to report both those issues seem to have been resolved. Sort of. Last week I visited my local government offices in Gödöllő to register for a European Union Digital Covid Certificate. Impressively, I walked out of the office less than an hour later with two pieces of paper, one for each jab. Putting to one side the fact that, despite being called a digital certificate, I have two pieces of distinctly non-digital paper, I do now have documentation that should be accepted within the borders of the EU. At the same time, I applied for the Hungarian card, as the system can now handle my non-Hungarian identity. I have a third piece of paper that says I am registered. I am told the card itself should arrive in another one to two weeks.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of July 16, 2021.

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