It was a night for recalling personal memories and institutional milestones as the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary celebrated its 30th anniversary at a gala event in the House of the Nation, the Hungarian Parliament.

Some 430 guests attended the event on November 14, including business people, politicians, diplomats and past and present presidents and board members from the chamber. Patron sponsors were GE, also celebrating 30 years in Hungary, and the newly reborn Tungsram Group, a Hungarian multinational that has brought back a pioneering, innovative Hungarian brand.

Current AmCham President Dr. Farkas Bársony set the tone in his opening address. He made the point that time rarely stands still. “Thirty years ago we used a yellow phone book and watched VHS tapes. 30 years ago, when the killer app was Lotus 1 2 3, the Nintendo Game Boy and AmCham were born. Of these history-making moments, only AmCham is still around. Everything else has been replaced by something better.”

As he sees it, AmCham has always served as a bridge, he explained, “Strong, firm, withstanding the test of time, weathering storms and connecting important sides that would be separated or difficult to reach otherwise.” The chamber has been a bridge between the country’s past and its future, the business community and the government, and between people, Dr. Bársony said. “I am proud that I got the chance to walk on this bridge with you.”

Representing the government, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó described 1989 as “one of the most significant dates of our history”, when the country “became free and sovereign again.” Over the past 30 years the country had walked a long path, and come a long way, he said, but it had not done so alone. “The Americans, especially American businesses proved to be good workers, allies and friends.”

AmCham members have provided key input, he said. “We have always relied on your advices.[…] We never had the goal to reinvent the wheel or hot water; it was always much easier to ask you and then listen […]. Many of our major economic decisions have been based on the proposals and advice made by AmCham or the member companies of the chamber. And this is something that we would like to continue, to rely on your advices, to rely on your insights.”

The path has been long, but it continues onward. “I would like to express the government’s appreciation to all of you, to AmCham and the American businesses here and the leaders and your employees and colleagues for the achievements, for the performance you have made during the past 30 years. Without you Hungary definitely could not have been a success story; our cooperation has been a success story as well, and we are ready to continue.”

Extraordinary

William “Mo” Cowan, GE’s president for global government affairs and policy, was full of praise for Hungary’s rebirth and the strength of AmCham and his company’s partnership with the government.

“A famous Hungarian inventor, physicist and Nobel Prize winner, Dennis Gabor once said: ‘Futures cannot be predicted but futures can be invented.’ I look forward to the next 30 years of GE in Hungary and am eager to see the new ways in which our joint future is invented. Judging from our history, it is sure to be nothing short of extraordinary,” he concluded

Joerg Bauer of Tungsram described 1989 as “life changing for the world, and also personally, for me.” He talked movingly of how his father, as a child at the end of the war had relied on U.S. aid food parcels.

That generosity of spirit had stayed with Bauer junior, who first worked at Tungsram, then part of GE, in 1999. Now that it is independent again, he says he is determined to build on the innovative spirit on which the lightbulb company was founded by moving into other areas such as sustainable agriculture, with the aim to “make a difference from here in Hungary as we used to.”

AmCham CEO Írisz Lippai-Nagy also drew on her past: three decades ago, she was just leaving university and moving into a tiny flat. Dreams of work and travel and a bigger home were there, but seemed far off; 1989 changed all that.

“Thirty years ago I only had limited dreams. Now I know that our dreams can be as unlimited as our beliefs, efforts and dedication to make them come true. I can promise we will continue working hard to keep earning your trust and support, and I know we in AmCham have many successful years to come.”