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Xpat Interview: Károly Gerendai, Founder Of Sziget Festival

Xpat Interview: Károly Gerendai, Founder Of Sziget Festival

One of post-communist Hungary’s greatest success stories: from roadie to head of the company organising Hungary’s four biggest and Transylvania’s largest cultural festival, including one of Europe’s most popular cultural event, the SZIGET Festival.

A passionate event organiser since high school, he founded Sziget Ltd. aged 22 with his friends and his personal savings, which expanded into a leading European event organising company. At present Sziget Ltd., as well as the Sziget Festival, organises the country’s second and third most thriving youth festivals, the largest family programme series. Sziget Ltd. also organises the Félsziget Festival in Romania, the largest festival in Transylvania.

Gerendai has a record of outstanding public service. He participated in the campaign for tolerance; his company organised one of the events in the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize winning campaign to eradicate landmines. Founder and managing director of the initiative for the support of public service advertising uniting the country’s most powerful media organisations. He engineered the ‘I Love Hungary Club’, a think tank bringing together public figures. Co-owner of the first Miclelin star winner Hungarian restaurant and owner of one of the largest wine and contemporary Hungarian art collections.

41 years old, married, father of three.

1. Where did you live during your childhood?

I spent the first six years of my childhood in Gödöllő and later on I moved to Budapest into an elite district on the Buda side. From the council-house I got into elite quarter of Buda.

2. If you could be an expat anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
It depends on what I feel like doing at different times in my life. When I retire and want a relaxing old age, then New Zealand. But I really enjoyed Australia. I just love travelling! I have seen many places and I had the chance to explore them, but it is only here in Budapest where I can truly live and feel fully accomplished in life. All my relations and connections draw me back to Hungary. But nowadays I often think is Hungary the place for the future, and does it have chance to be better?

3. What would you miss most if you moved away from Hungary?
Obviously the people I know my friends, my job, the cultural scene – These are so natural parts of my environment.

4. If your friends are visiting Budapest for a weekend - what must they absolutely see and do?
It depends on what age they are. If they are young, they must see the Ruin pubs – Retro bars in District 7 and 8 - I hope they will be going in the future. But if my visitors are older, they should visit the thermal baths in the city; walk along the between the outstanding architecture objects. I would also recommend them good restaurants, for example the Costes 


5. What is your favourite food?
Layered potatoes with slices of egg and kolbász (sausage) – which is a typical Hungarian dish, or sólet (similar to refried beans), which is typically not Hungarian. I also like home-made dishes, for example, a well prepared meat stew. I have a sweet tooth as well so I prefer vanilla cream cake - coconut-pastry filled with strawberry.


6. What is your favourite sport / form of exercise?
I don’t have much free time, but recently I try to keep fit by playing badminton or squash. In the past, I used to play soccer with my friends.

7. What is your favourite place in Hungary?
If it is all about relaxation, a hidden castle hotel in the countryside with wellness facilities. It is also important to be able to find lots of nice places in the vicinity and of course, a good restaurant where we can have a romantic dinner. As a city, I also like Budapest very much because it concentrates a lot of side of Hungary. In fact, I like everything about this country!

8. What career other than yours would you love to pursue?
I really love my job and even from a very young age I always wanted to organize events. If I had to start from the beginning, I would put more emphasis in informatics, but in the end I would still probably choose the same profession.

9. What’s a job you would definitely never want?

That involves a lot of administrative work.

10. Where did you spend your last vacation?
I couldn’t take holiday during the last 5 year, so last autumn we finally went on a long, fairy tale-like holiday with my family. We travelled to New Zealand, the French Polynesians and Australia.

11. Where do you planning to spend your next one?
I would like to spend a long holiday in South America visiting many countries there.

12. What was your favourite band, film or hobby as a teen?
Films: Clockwork Orange; Picasso’s Adventures; Woody Allen’s classicsBands: Punk-rock bands like Clash, Beatrice, Metallica, Kontroll Csoport, Európa kiadó. Hobbies: From a young age it was always organising events – I was 14 when I started my first rock-club. I really ejoyed hanging around and live social life as a teen as well.

13. What can’t you resist?
Sweet confectionary and my children - ‘who can spread me on bread like I am butter’ (a Hungarian saying)

14. Red wine or white?
I do not drink wine at all, but I am building a collection of different wines. If I really had to choose, I would choose white wine, I prefer their lighter, fruity aromas. Maybe because they are furthest point from alcohol.

15. Book or movie?
Unfortunately I see more movies currently, but I still consider books more important than a film.

16. Morning person or night person?
I don’t really go to bed before 1am. I have really busy days, so there are activities I can do only at night.

17. Which social issue do you feel most strongly about?
There are many.
Poverty – it is most importantly to eliminate child poverty. The integration of minorities. Both of these are serious and hopeless issues.

Another huge problem is the demographical change in Hungary. The population is getting older and there are less young people available to contribute to the welfare of the elderly. Unfortunately, there seems no good economical solution to this problem.

Then there are the issues closer to my own profession. Cultural questions – the current trends are not promising. The opportunities to keep alive the colorful, wide and progressive aspects of Hungarian cultural life and its creativity are getting more and more restricted. I don’t think the tendencies are good; we are decreasing the elements of the colorful and open culture.

18. Buda or Pest side?
Buda for living, Pest for entertaining.

19. Which achievement in your life are you most pleased about?
Professionally, the most outstanding success can be considered to be receiving Europe’s biggest festival award - this is the highest level of recognition and appreciation in our profession, but of course, this was the work of many people, not just myself. Fortunately, I have had lots of other personal successes in my life so far.

20. What would you say is your personal motto?
In my life I follow two important principles. The first is I am convinced that in matters of quality no compromise should be allowed, because all the small compromises you make take you further away from your original goal. The other “motto” is to always try to do things and project perfectly, not to make compromises; they are always taking you away from your original idea.

Related:
XpatLoop Interview Two: Károly Gerendai, Founder Of Sziget Festival


21.06.2012

 




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