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Jozsef Varadi, the CEO of Wizz Air: The manager with high-experience, who invented the low-cost flight...

Maxim Behar shares one of his many exciting meeting with an unexpected ending with Jozsef Varadi, the CEO of Wizz Air - a man who very much values the opinion of the PR consultant and there is a reason why. This is the story of an unforgettable press conference in Sofia, which Behar shares in his author series Priceless Lessons for BGLOBAL magazine.


The manager with high-experience, who invented the low-cost flight...
How from a consultant I became a "driver" of the Founder and CEO of the tremendously successful airline Wizz Air - Jozsef Varadi

When I first went to the Wizz Air's office not far from Budapest Airport, I was amazed by three things that seemed more than obvious in modern business. The first was that the reception in the central office was smaller than the reception in my office in Sofia. I sat down on a small sofa, and since I had an hour until my meeting I asked for coffee and the Wi-Fi password to work while I was waiting... Coffee was not served, a helpful girl hurried down to the subway near the office, to grab a coffee from the machine there, but for security reasons the Wi-Fi passwords were not disclosed...

I carefully tried to crack some friendly jokes with the colleagues from the marketing department, who agreed to a conversation with me, but I was controverted by the completely formal business response of the director: "Maxim, we are a low-cost company, we spend the money of our customers, passengers, and we do it very carefully and sparingly...“

I was really fascinated and when months later we started talking to them almost every week, each of our conversations was imbued not with redundant or unnecessary frugality, but with a business reason for each expense, even for every minute of time spent on decision making and discussions. It was a whole new vision of reality and our habits of what is worthwhile and what is not.

Probably none of these successes of the company, often really called low cost (cheap), but already obvious to everyone with very high standards, would have been possible without the Founder of this incredible adventure - Jozsef Varadi. Having gone through all the stages of the aviation industry, reaching the top management position of the Hungarian national airline Malev, he naturally managed to transfer his vast experience to the then just starting Wizz Air company, which is now on the London Stock Exchange and is certainly one of the fastest growing airlines in the world with its 145 top class Airbus aircraft and with more than 10 million passengers in the last year alone...

And one day I received an email with a strange request… It was from Andras Rado, the international corporate communications manager of the company, who told me that his biggest boss Mr. Varadi would be in Sofia in just a few hours and since he had a lot of meetings, he needed a driver with fluent English who is very reliable, accurate, speaks in English, bust most importantly - to be able to rely on him.

- Andras, instead of wasting time looking for a driver, I will be with Mr. Varadi everywhere, I will hold a press conference with him anyway after that. It would be best to take him with my car, so we will be completely sure that everything will go smoothly.

This was really a key visit of the head of Wizz Air in Bulgaria. He met with the directors of the airport complex, with representatives of various institutions, without even knowing why he was returning to my car and was rather interested in my opinion on certain issues, which made me very proud at one point and I said to myself, "What a manager... the opinion of the PR consultant is obviously very important to him."

- Certainly, a lot of effort is needed to make Sofia Airport, Terminal 1 meet European standards. Many people think that as a low-cost company we cannot afford to have the best airports, planes or services. Just the opposite, we must be the best in service, whether on the ground or in the air...

I nodded understandingly and then shared stories about the airport, about Wizz Air's competitors, about the market in Bulgaria, about the peculiarities of the Bulgarian passenger (Varadi was startled that all passengers applauded together on landing), about Bulgaria, politics and business. The Hungarian was taking notes carefully, and so when we arrived at the hotel a few hours later for the press conference and I parked at the front, he saw that I was getting out of the car, turned sharply to me, and told me:

- Wait, wait, you stay here, please. My time is calculated in minutes, we have to leave as soon as I'm done, or I'll miss the flight... I'm flying with Wizz Air, but no one will be waiting for me...

It was only then that I realized that, in fact, all this time he had been sure that he had talked to the driver, and that it was the driver's opinion that interested him.

Not mine, not the consultants, but the independent real-life observer.

I waited for him to come out, then quickly parked to the side, ran up the stairs while Varadi was on the elevator, and when he entered the hall, I was already at the main table, which had only two signs, mine and his.

I saw his great astonishment, his tense questioning face, but also the embarrassment that overcame him, when he realized that in fact my company was organizing everything, and I would moderate the press conference. I saw his apologetic look, leaned over and said to him:

- No problem at all, I know I look like a driver, but sometimes I have other roles...

The press conference went brilliantly. Jozsef Varadi is really a man of great knowledge and incredible charisma, and from my position as a “driver” I am not only observing, but together with all my colleagues, I am also contributing to the remarkable success of Wizz Air...

It's worth it, really.

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