"I came back from the US to Hungary with a business plan for an IT company, and it is highly satisfying to see that idea now a thriving business with almost 100 employees." says Peter Freed, founder of Duna Elektronika.
On his facebook page, there are several photos of a gregarious, outgoing Peter Pal Freed, and in most of them he is smiling or laughing, holding a drink (wine, beer, champagne) or eating; in the current one it's a hamburger and one chip. The chip is appropriate enough, though probably unintended, a metaphor for the success Freed has achieved in the IT world in Hungary, as the founder of Duna Elektronika, which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year.
"I came back from the US to Hungary with a business plan for an IT company," he explains, "and it is highly satisfying to see that idea now a thriving business with almost 100 employees." He boasts of a strong company culture that concentrates on developing its staff to continually stay on the frontline of technology changes. One way he likes to count the success of the business is by the number of babies born to staffers each year; it’s averaging around five. The newest baby, according to Freed, has just received a tiny T shirt decorated with the Team Duna Elektronika logo, as both parents are long term Duna employees!
Shortly after Freed saw the news reports of the so called Pan European Picnic in 1989 when Hungary became the escape route for many East Germans, he had a vivid dream. He woke his American wife Joyce in his excitement to tell her he had dreamt of returning to Hungary to start a business. Joyce, who spoke no Hungarian then, told him to go back to sleep, it was not a dream, more like a nightmare.
"But the thought persisted," says the determined Freed. “I have been involved in the personal computer industry since my first venture in 1978. I knew the risks and opportunities and I saw this as a great adventure.” After a year of organizing product agreements, staffing and most importantly concluding joint venture agreements and funding, Duna shipped its first product in 1991. The company was one of the very first joint ventures in the technology sector, forged out of a partnership with SZKI and SZUV, two companies that Freed had urged to join forces before entering the JV with him. "Our focus was to serve the emerging market of multinationals in Eastern Europe, global giants like Phillip Morris, mostly American but a few British. Speaking English and Hungarian helped," he says, as no doubt did his experience in America.
"Timing was important; it was the right time. Also, the Western approach to customer service and support, and above all, meeting deadlines. That's even more crucial today."
Freed has enterpreneurial genes; he explains with a big smile that his parents were both business people. "My father’s side they were horsetraders, no but literally! They raised and traded in horses that were sold to the Hungarian, Swiss and Polish armies...". In 1956 the family immigrated to the US where his mother soon became a well-known milliner. Young Freed qualified as a certified public accountant in Manhattan, then became CFO of a Washington D.C. based computer services company. But within a couple of years, by 1978, his genes drove him start his own computer distribution company.
This was before Apple, before Microsoft; it handled small personal computers together with a software package suitable for accountants. Like most successful entrepreneurs, he had seen the future. "I sold these systems in Washington ... Until that dream." When I ask Joyce if it is still a nightmare, she laughs and says no. After all, given that they had planned to stay four or five years and it's now almost 25, it surely can't be.
The secret of Duna's success, says Freed, is strategic planning. "This is a fast moving business sector; we keep talking to our customers and to our suppliers to get the best solutions and refining our services. We support some 25,000 computer users in our client companies, both setting up new operations and supporting existing ones. Our motto, ‘Always by your side’ reflects our ability and dedication to provide professional resources to keep your business running smoothly.” Over 30% of Duna's business comes from American companies.
Freed was also the founder of Budapest Week Publishing in 1992. As for this publication (and its stablemates), Diplomacy & Trade grew out of Business Hungary, which Freed produced for AmCham Hungary. "Then in 2004, when Hungary joined the EU, I developed this publication to appeal to a broader market." It was launched at a gala event in May, the accession month, that year.
Always developing new products, Duna's most recent innovation, Disaster Recovery Solutions, was developed in association with major insurer, Allianz. "It's a business continuity plan, offering customers a rapid physical relocation (to dedicated premises in the IXth district) and technical support solutions in case of an emergency."
As we end our interview Freed reflects on the past 24 years of Duna Elektronika’s activities and looks forward to a grand 25th year anniversary party; strategic planning for it has begun.