David Landesman, Langone Class of 2014
What part of the world has 1.6% of the population, but 3.4% of world GDP? What part of the world has been ravaged by enemy occupation, war, and Communism, but is now thriving? What part of the world is poised for amazing growth and development? The part of the world I am speaking of is Central and Eastern Europe, of course. And what better way of seeing this part of the world, and learning more about the business environment there, is there, besides DBi Hungary? I would be hard pressed to come up with a better answer.
The DBi program in Budapest began with 21 students, a Stern administrator, and several members of the Central European University Business School (CEUBS) community on May 26, 2013, and by the end of the program on June 1, we were much more than classmates and acquaintances – we were friends.
Our program began with a guided tour of the city, hosted by a professional tour guide, Eszter, who became like our foster mother for the next week. We saw local landmarks like Heroes Square, the Széchenyi Baths, and the Elizabeth bridge, capped off by a visit to the Hungarian Statue of Liberty and a welcome dinner adjacent to Buda Castle. As if all this culture were not enough, we were treated to a guided tour of the Parliament, a local wine tasting, and a farewell dinner cruise on the Danube River.
Of course, the academics were the real reason why we came. We heard from fantastic instructors and speakers, from the former head of the Hungarian Central Bank to the current head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary to a number of recent CEUBS alumni who were now entrepreneurs, trying to make their way in the dynamic Hungarian market. Hearing each of them it was clear that there is much promise in the region, but there are a few roadblocks that must be overcome to be truly successful.
What DBi would be complete without corporate visits? Our first visit was to Zwack Unicum, a spirits distillery in business since 1790 – still in business after surviving occupation (the Hapsburgs of Austria ruled Hungary at the time), war, and Communism (the company was nationalized in 1948, and members of the Zwack family escaped to New York with the real recipe). We heard about the challenges of making an 18th-century product relevant in the 21st century – and they seem to be doing well. Our second visit was to Ibiden, a Japanese manufacturer of diesel particulate filters. While this may not be the most glamorous product, our lungs appreciate them. Here we heard about the challenges of integrating a Hungarian workforce with Japanese management, and how language and culture create barriers that must be overcome to be successful.
However, some of the most memorable parts of the DBi involved the activities we put together ourselves. From classy cocktails at the bar at the Four Seasons Hotel, to a trip to the Széchenyi Baths (think public pool + natural hot springs + all of your new best friends), to the Stern-sponsored happy hour at TG Italiano, to a nightclub on Margaret Island, we did it all. And of course there was Morrison’s 2, where some of us became such regulars that a lost wallet was returned.
This trip to Budapest was one of the most memorable experiences in all of our Stern careers, and we are so glad to have participated.