A move to Budapest has become the best-kept secret of many business-people from other countries since the early 1990s. In our recent interview with Matty Ryan, expat Irishman, the President of the Irish-Hungarian Business Circle, we go a little deeper into what makes someone come to our fair city and what keeps them here.
You started your education at University College Cork and now you’re the Managing Director of Vistra and the President of the Irish-Hungarian Business Circle. What were the most significant milestones in your career?
Probably when I agreed to leave my job as Operations Finance Manager for Digital Equipment Galway in 1990 and move to Helsinki, with just one week’s notice, to help fix an emergency situation in the Finance Department of Digital Equipment Finland. No idea what I was thinking of at the time! Galway was a hardware manufacturing plant and Helsinki was a sales subsidiary, so the two were completely different. I had no previous experience in a sales subsidiary, not to mention never having lived outside Ireland before.
Anyway, I completed this restructuring assignment and was rewarded with an even more challenging turnaround assignment with Digital Equipment Hungary, in May 1992. I figured out over a beer one Saturday that I was destined to become the ‘’Stan’’ Country Group Finance Manager if I continued my travels eastwards, so I staked my claim and became the Digital Hungary Finance & Administration Manager. The rest is history.
Who inspired you the most, who were your role-models in your life?
Pop, my father. Julius Caesar. Ken Olsen, the Co-Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, had a significant influence on me, even though I never met the man. Ken had a very deep sense of ethics and integrity which permeated throughout the organization, top to bottom.
What is/was your biggest success, either in business or your personal life and why?
Digital Equipment Hungary won the ‘’Best EMEA Finance Team’’ award in 1997. Given this journey commenced with a turnaround/restructuring assignment in 1992, to get this far in just five years felt good.
Vistra Hungary achieved breakeven status in Q2 this year (2016), six months ahead of plan. Vistra became operational on September 1st 2014, so this was fast, very fast.
Why did you choose finance as your profession?
Commerce was my favorite subject in secondary school, so it was almost a certainty that I would go on to become an Accountant and work in Finance. I love numbers.
What was the most significant life-event in your career and what did you learn from it?
I cashed in my chips, so to speak, in 2002 and set up my own company to allow me to operate as an independent contractor, working on Finance-centric projects, kind of like a ‘’hired gun.’’ There was a huge metamorphosis required to transition from being an employee to a contractor and, to be honest, I was not sure at times that I would make it. I effectively moved from a relatively safe, structured and known environment to one of inherent uncertainty and risk, to a world where you have to go out and market yourself, find an assignment and then actually deliver it. This journey entailed assignments with Ernst and Young in Prague, Hewlett Packard EMEA in Zurich and Budapest, AVG in Brno, KPMG in Bahrain and Kingspan in Germany. For sure, I would not be the Vistra Hungary Managing Director today if it were not for this excursion. I effectively learned how to run a business.
What are your hobbies, what do you do to switch off?
Fitness and golf. I have gym classes three times a week with Ryan Phillips and I have absolutely no choice but to switch off because of the weights I have to lift!
What’s your biggest dream?
Playing rugby for Munster and Ireland in my next life.
What kind of cultural differences did you experience in Hungary as an Irishman? Which differences did you find endearing and which were challenging?
The biggest difference, back in 1992, was the lack of Guinness! The language was a big change, but most of my colleagues at work spoke English. Outside work was often a bit of a challenge. People in Hungary go to the theatre like Irish people go to the pub. I missed and still miss the bit of ‘’craic;’’ Only in Ireland…
I heard from a foreign managing director that he couldn’t cope with his Hungarian colleagues until he understood that he shouldn’t just give them instructions but should tell them why things are going in a certain way. But without letting them know he felt that his colleagues ignored his authority. In the end it turned out it wasn’t an offense but just cultural differences. Could you give fellow expat managers some good advice in how to deal with Hungarian colleagues?
I’ve been blessed with really good local colleagues and, apart from the first few months of training and induction for new hires, I never really had to explain why or how things should be done. That said, I do like to spend a bit of time and effort to find the right people and then look after them properly. Plus, if changes are actually needed, then you have to get on with it and make them. In my humble opinion, the trick about effective leadership is you have to actually lead.
What are the most valuable things and experiences for you in this country?
I had one daughter when I arrived here and now I have four. That will do!
What are your plans for the future?
Vistra’s strategy is to be number one or two player in each jurisdiction in which it operates. I have a bit of work to do yet! I would like to become a competitive senior golfer. As above, there’s a lot of work to be done.