'People here are very professional, very well-educated, which is, of course, very important for our business”, says Herbert Fisch of BASF Hungária, adding that his company sees great potential in Central Europe.
Despite the fact that its products usually cannot be found on the shelves of supermarkets on their own, BASF is the world’s leading chemical company. “On the other hand, BASF products may be in many goods on the shelves, its chemicals and ingredients are in construction industry materials, coating or paint. Also, if you look into your car, BASF materials are likely to be used there: the dashboard, the seats and BASF produces a lot of basic chemicals that can be found in cosmetics and animal nutrition,” explains Dr. Herbert Fisch, Vice President (VP) of BASF Hungaria Ltd. and Southeast Europe, adding that “we are also very strong in agro chemicals here in Hungary.”
The German company has been present in this country for almost a quarter of a century and was among the first foreign companies to enter into a joint venture with a then state-owned company in Hungary before 1989. The venture, established in 1986, was (and still) producing polyurethanes. BASF’s business activity in Hungary is mainly sales, except for some production of plastic materials in the BASF polyurethane plant in Solymar, just outside Budapest. It primarily supplies the automotive industry but also energy efficient insulation material for house construction.
“However, basically, we are a sales organization. We deliver for internal consumption in Hungary and also to Hungary-based plants that supply foreign markets. In Hungary, we are a strong partner of oil and gas companies and other big chemical producers. But we also deliver material to smaller automotive suppliers,” the explains. He says “our business here in Hungary has really been excellent, we’ve had double-digit growth rate over the past years, except – of course – last year when we had this economic downturn. Our sales went down 25-30%, which is a normal figure. However, we now are in a growth mode again and are nearly back to the figures of 2008, which was - by the way - an excellent year.”
Herbert Fisch summarizes the company’s strategy as “very close cooperation with the customers and also to be very good in technology”. The approach allows us to follow developments with them as they may also induce new developments BASF knows from other parts of the world the company is active in. “We have huge innovation knowledge base in the whole area of chemistry. Our products fit with everyday goods where we would really like to introduce them in the right way,” he adds. Of course, for a chemical company, environmental protection must be a fairly important issue.
“We are quite aware that we are in a business where the environmental subject in general plays an important part. At our headquarters in Ludwigshafen, Germany, 32,000 people work in between 2-3 big cities. We are very much aware of environmental issues and we are also proactively getting into it,” the vice president points out. That means the company also provides solutions, looks into how people actually use its products in an environmental friendly way. “On the other hand, we have products that are actually used in energy saving and we always look into the whole life cycle of the product from the viewpoints of both energy and the environment. Otherwise, a company like BASF cannot exist nowadays.”
Herbert Fisch took over BASF Hungaria Ltd. in September 2008. “My plan was certainly to continue the nice growth we had here in Hungary. In this context, I wanted to bring in new activities, bring innovation, innovative products into the market, to create acceptance for this activity. For me, it was really interesting to be here because if you change environment, coming from Germany to Hungary, it is a real change. Mentality is one thing, how the process is run is another but – on the other hand – I see here that people are very professional, very well-educated, which is, of course, very important for our business,” he recalls.
BASF employs 128 people in Hungary. Last year, BASF Hungaria became a Business Superbrand, which is important for the company because it has a real value in business in Hungary. In 2008, the agro department was given this distinction and in the past two years, BASF in general. “We worked hard to receive this award last year despite the fact that BASF products rarely appear in shops under the company’s name. This year, BASF has again been honored to be on the Superbrand list.”
Helping those in need
BASF donated HUF 9 million to flood victims in northeastern Hungary and HUF 3 million to the victims of the unparalleled red mud catastrophe. The vice president stresses that normally, the major target for donations is to support education but these were special cases. “We had to do something, having seen the disastrous situations. Usually, we collect the money and give it to a so-called children’s village, a charity institution for disadvantaged children – we do that not only in Hungary but also in the neighboring countries. This way, we can donate to this cause an acceptable sum of money that can move things forward.
This is our main strategy in social responsibility but in this flood case, we felt that help had to be provided very quickly. In addition, the industrial division gave HUF 7 million in each of the past two years to the Hungarian Ambulance Service, helping the purchase of life-saving external defibrillators and helping the National Association of Hungarian Diabetes Patients with new blood glucose meters.
Also being regional director for Romania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavian countries, Herbert Fisch believes Hungary is among the more stable countries. “Things are changing, especially with the change in government, nevertheless, conditions are good and way more stable than in some countries I’m responsible for. It is clear that working costs are high in Hungary, taxes are really high but it is also important that we are able to recruit the people with the right qualifications. For BASF, the countries of Central Europe have a great growth potential, more than in the Western countries. We are happy about foreign investments like that of Mercedes Benz in Kecskemét and the huge construction works there. It is a sign of trust.”