The CEMS Global Alliance is a purpose led organization, powered by our beliefs that great leadership starts with self-leadership and societal progress requires continual exploration. In this series of interviews, we take a look at CEMS students and alumni that are contributing to make this world a more open, sustainable and inclusive world.
Please tell us about yourself, what do you do?
In terms of my work life, I lead Hungary’s (my home country’s) largest non-governmental charity organization: Bator Tabor Foundation. Our mission is to improve and/or restore mental health and life prospects of children who have to overcome a major trauma in their childhood, for example- a serious illness, a war, or the isolation during the pandemic.
In order to develop solidarity in our societies, we also run a program in schools to educate kids in a playful and interactive way about what makes a supportive community, how can they be helpful friends and what can they each do to transform their own class into a community that they can lean on.
Our charity has supported 3,100 kids last year via our therapeutic programs, providing over 28,000 hours of activities with a therapeutic effect. The core team is 70+ employees, joined by hundreds of volunteers each year. We are best known in Hungary, but we started to expand our operations in the past few years into three other countries: Czechia, Poland and Slovakia.
Besides my paid job, I do spend a lot of time with friends, family, exercise, hobbies and learning.
What are your main responsibilities at the Bator Tabor Foundation?
I’d like to think that as a CEO, I am responsible for catalyzing growth and innovation in the organization. I spend a lot of time developing and redeveloping the organization’s high-level strategy and defining solutions to our biggest strategic challenges. I want to make sure that our team is solving an important and relevant social problem, effectively. Of course, I do this in collaboration with my colleagues - one cannot make a strategy in an ivory tower.
Naturally, I have people management duties too. I am rather a ‘discussion partner’ than a ‘manager’ for the people who report to me. They are all leaders themselves, experts in their own fields, so I treat them as my equals. I also do quite a lot of “fundraising development”, meaning, going around, making connections outside the organization, talking about what we do, what we want to do and raising funds for our cause.
How did the CEMS environment and community help you on your professional journey ?
Professionally, CEMS opened new horizons for me and transformed my thinking into a global mindset. The international environment, the opportunity to study at a top management school, the diverse curriculum elements, the practical business projects, the annual events and the community have all contributed to my professional development, as well as to my openness.
What are the three most important things that have personally shaped you?
I would choose all three from my childhood.
First: I grew up witnessing my parents’ constant and depressive money problems. We could never afford to go on holiday, and it was my grandmother who paid for our school books because my parents didn’t have enough money to pay for it. I discovered a business magazine (the Hungarian version of The Economist) at the local library when I was 14 and kept reading it throughout my adolescence. I chose the University of Economics, because I was told that is where one can study about the topics featured in that magazine. I found it super interesting, but I guess that subconsciously I also wanted to be able to better control my finances than my parents did.
Second: my parents and grandparents, most of my relatives, they all had jobs in the healthcare and education field. Not surprisingly, already in my twenties, I started to evaluate myself based on my social contribution. That is also why at the age of 28, I left Google despite enjoying it and earning 10-15 times more than my mother. I felt that I could contribute more.
Third: as a teenager, I was fighting anorexia nervosa, which is a mental illness. Its mortality rate is similar to childhood cancers’ and luckily, my will to grow up and have a meaningful life was stronger than the disease. This is my connection to the Foundation where I work today.
What steps did you take to get to where you are today?
Google hired me before I graduated. I had a fast career track, working on international strategic projects for almost 6 years. However, that is the time when I started to ask myself: “OK, but are you doing enough for others?” I moved back from London to Budapest, because I felt that I could add more incremental value there and. I also wanted to invest more time in my friendships and communities back in Hungary. First, following the invitation of someone I knew from university, I joined the management team of a local startup called Tresorit. It was exciting to bring a software to international markets without the resources and brand awareness of Google. I was a Chief Revenue Officer, and led Sales, Marketing and Customer Support teams. We succeeded at growing annual revenue from $0 to about $2M within two years and I also absolved my first big lessons in terms of people management.
Alongside this and in my free time, I volunteered and fundraised for charities to find more meaning in my everyday life. I left without knowing what’s next and I had a few months of sabbatical, so that I can think a bit more creatively about my career than just the extrapolation of what I have been doing before.
I never aspired to be the CEO of a charity. During my sabbatical, I reached out to the President of the Board of Bator Tabor Foundation, a well-known investor and philanthropic donor whom I met earlier at an event. To be honest, I did not even consider working for the Foundation when I reached out to him. I only wanted to have an inspiring discussion with him about impact and giving back and what he thinks about the world. We had a coffee the next day and during that chat, he told me that he has been looking for a new CEO for the Foundation for a long time and that he thought I am the perfect candidate. I could barely believe it, but accepted it nevertheless because the task seemed inspiring and intellectually challenging. I felt honored too, given the Foundation is a beloved brand in Hungary.
I think in general, what is characteristic about my career choices is that I was always going after my curiosity and where I think I could add value. Money was never a consideration in my choices. I actually earn less than I earned five or eight years ago. But I earn enough for the lifestyle I’d like to have. Career for me is not a linear thing: I moved several times geographically, from large organization to small organization and I also moved across industries. I was always looking for interesting intellectual challenges and an impact.
What do you consider your impact and purpose in life?
I want to contribute to making the world a slightly better place. Like many people do
Via my work, I’m helping an organization that is doing important social work, to renew itself and grow, and survive disruptive crises (like the pandemic or the current economic stagflation). I am glad that during my leadership, in five years, our Foundation has grown its reach from 1400 supported kids to 3100 supported kids per year.
It motivates me tremendously that the goal of my work (giving ill and traumatized children a chance to live a happy and fulfilled life) would have been important 500 years ago and will be important 500 years from now, regardless of the technological or economic environment. The fact that our objective has such an absolute value gives me peace of mind.
My life purpose is not limited to my work. I would like to have a good life, which is not measured by money or power, but by positive emotions, health, relationships, impact, discovery, peace and adventure.
How can CEMS students go on a career path that leads to a particular impactful purpose against the more conventional means of career choices?
I think one needs to spend time reflecting on what they really want to do with their lives. They should follow their curiosity, passion and quest for meaning, instead of following the material or status-related objectives provided by the society.
When thinking about a career, the question most people ask themselves is still predominantly about “What can I get?” and not “What can I give?”. However, I believe that the later question leads to a more meaningful journey.
I am not suggesting we all should be martyrs and suppress all our own needs. We all need a certain salary to live, but not the business executive level salary. We might want to learn new things, have more free time for hobbies, friends and relaxation, and that is okay. We should simply find the right balance between caring for others and caring for ourselves. I highly recommend Adam Grant’s book “Give and Take” about this topic.
There are many ways you can lead a purpose-driven life. You can have a traditional career and donate a certain percentage of your salary to a charity. You can volunteer regularly, etc.
Even if you know that you want to work at a non-profit, it can be extremely useful to start your career (first 5 years at least) at a multinational company, where you can learn, understand how organizations operate and also save some money. This way, at the next phase of your career, you’ll be able to give not only your time to a non-profit, but also valuable expertise and knowledge, and you’ll also be able to make some compromises in terms of salary.
I advise CEMSies who’d like to prioritize advancing social good throughout their careers to be perseverant and humble. It is not necessarily an easy and comfortable path, especially at the beginning, but a very rewarding one.