Budapest in the winter is gray, cold and snowy, but still striking and lovely. Imposing baroque architecture lines wide boulevards and narrow streets – requiring visitors to spend most of the time craning their necks to admire the buildings’ decorative features. The Castle, Opera, Parliament, Chain Bridge, St. Stefan’s Church, and the largest synagogue in central Europe (or at least I am told). The Szechenyi Baths are an experience not to be missed – barrel chested older women in one piece bathing suits and men in speedos relaxing in mineral baths. I’m sure I got the order of the many baths wrong – am I supposed to go progressively hotter or cooler, inside or outside first?
Bundled up with scarves, winter coats, hats and glove, couples – both old and young –walk hand in hand. Fathers hold their sons’ hands; mothers push strollers. Weathered, square, no nonsense faces. Hungarians are out on the streets at all hours – and at night the streets, buildings and monuments are beautifully lit. A magical place.
While in Budapest, I met with Peter Hadju (MBA ’05) who works for CISCO and manages “the long tail” of small and emerging markets in the Middle East and Central and Eastern Europe, from his native Budapest (when he isn’t traveling). He participated in IBD when he was at Haas – worked on a project in the far north of Canada with a native tribe. He said it was one of the most memorable experiences of his life. He has been a good friend to IBD, helping to source projects in Georgia, Albania, and Macedonia. Let’s hope for more in the future.
I had an interesting day with Ildiko, Agnes, Alberto and Daniel from Valdeal, a client for this year’s IBD class. Ildiko started an innovation park in the suburbs of Budapest – 65 hectares and now approximately 250 businesses. Central Hungarian Innovation Center (CHIC) is her non-profit which provides training and other services for start ups and entrepreneurs. The for-profit arm, Valdeal, essentially acts as a VC – they’ve reviewed over 600 projects and are funding and working with about 30 start-ups. They definitely appear to be on the cutting edge…A Haas IBD team will be providing a “go to market” plan for one of the start-ups.
A highlight of my trip was seeing Pete Johnson, the former Director of MBA Admissions, who recently left Haas to take a position as the Vice President of Student Life at Central European University in Budapest, which as generously funded by George Soros. After 6 months in Budapest, he has settled into his new life – even speaking some Hungarian and shaking up CEU a bit.
It has been a good trip… now off to Karachi…