Xpat Interview: Roger Swinburn

  • 29 Oct 2009 11:00 AM
Xpat Interview: Roger Swinburn
Roger leads a regional executive search business based in Budapest which he established in 1998. He graduated from Liverpool University and became a management accountant with Unilever in the London HQ. Early work involved supporting and accounting for many of Unilever's subsidiaries outside Europe and the US. In 1985 he was posted to Kenya as Commercial Manager for the joint venture growing sunflower and oilseed rape.

After three years, and still with Unilever, he became Commercial Director of the foods business in Ireland. In 1991 he was appointed to lead another challenging Joint Venture in the form of DHL Hungary which in those days was 50% owned by Hungarocamion. From DHL he moved to Hasbro as Regional Director for CEE.

Roger has served as Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce for three years, was a founding member of the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum in Hungary and has served on the advisory boards of Junior Achievement and the Field Studies Council. He is an occasional lecturer on HR and career management topics.

1. When did you arrive in Hungary and what brought you here?
I arrived in the midst of the cold grey winter of 1991 to become General Manager for DHL

2. Have you ever been an expatriate elsewhere?
I was in Ireland for three years before coming to Hungary and before that I spent three years living in Nakuru in Kenya where I worked for Unilever.

3. What surprised you most about Hungary?
In the early years it was amazing how difficult it was to get anything done. The complete absence of a sense of customer service.

4. Friends are in Budapest for a weekend - what must they absolutely see and do?
Most seem to have read about the baths and the other "greatest hits". For those with time I suggest the yellow metro to Heroes' square and then a leisurely walk back into the city centre or even as far as the castle district. This is a great cross section of the city.

5. What is your favourite Hungarian food?
Meat, meat and more meat......veal stuffed with goose liver

6. What is never missing from your refrigerator?
Beer, butter, bacon and eggs

7. What is your favourite Hungarian word?
A couple stick in mind.....

Tilos - often used to discourage one from being enterprising. Best challenged by asking either which law makes it "tilos", or asking "what will happen to me if I do it".

Természetesen - literally "naturally" or "of course", but practically often the exact opposite

8. What do you miss the most from home?
Home is here these days. I left the UK 25 years ago. It would be great to be able to see my parents more often than I do.

9. What career other than yours would you love to pursue?
Diplomat or interim Prime Minister. If we could wind the clock back (quite a bit), then lawyer or pro-tennis player

10. What's a job you would definitely never want?
Anything in which one week looks like another. I need variety, you could not pay me to sit on a beach for more than half a day.

11. Where did you spend your last vacation?
We had a fascinating week in a small village in the Ukraine, near the Romanian border

12. Where do you hope to spend your next one?
No specific plans, but it will not involve large crowds or tourist rip-offs

13. What was your favourite band, film, or hobby as a teen?
I travelled through the UK and I recall large doses of Led Zeppelin

14. What can't you resist?
Going off the beaten track. Got stuck many times in Kenya as a result but lived to tell the tale. Also survived a weekend in Tirana just before all the shooting started.

15. Red wine or white?

16. Book or movie?
Book. Its well worth trawling the second hand bookshops here. Most have a few shelves of English books and there are some gems to be found

17. Morning person or night person?
These days it mornings. A couple of times a week I rise just after 5am to play tennis.

18. Which social issue do you feel most strongly about?
Don't start me! The apathy I observe makes me angry. So many believe they cannot make a difference so they don't vote, take no part in community or voluntary initiatives and expect more and more to be handed to them by "someone". People moan and at the same time seem to believe that simple laws like the requirement to wear a seat belt don't apply to them.

19. Buda side or Pest side?
I live on the Danube bend, outside the city. This is my 26th house. The location limits evening socialising, but the environment is great for the children and we have a large garden which I have developed from zero over the last 10 years

20. What would you say is your personal motto?
I will help, support, mentor and guide, but I will not do your job for you.

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