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Ingo, you’re not a stranger to football yourself having played at a high level before embarking on your career with Mercedes-Benz. What did you think of the whole match-day experience at Old Trafford and meeting the RBIF’s honorary president Sir Alex Ferguson?

The entire trip was just fantastic. I was very lucky, since I got to see the derby: Man U vs Man City ….wow, what an atmosphere in and around the stadium. I could sense the importance of soccer for the entire city. And of course meeting with the living legend Sir Alex was an unforgettable experience. Chatting with him in a relaxed atmosphere, over a glass of wine, about soccer, the past and the future of Man U, was definitely one of the most memorable moments in my life……

Mercedes-Benz played an instrumental role in supporting the RBIF’s projects in 2015, what prompted you to sponsor the Foundation among all the other charitable initiatives you have? What value does the RBIF provide?

I was a guest at the RBIF dinner in 2013 and I was touched by the passion, the hard work and the love the people behind the RBIF put in to support children and their families in need. I felt that the projects that the foundation supports are making a real difference to the lives of the children that are benefitting from the RBIF. And if we as Mercedes-Benz and Evobus can add to that, I am very happy. I am also a father. And not least as a father, I am very happy to see that – for example with the support of the children’s hospitals in Budapest – the RBIF brings hope and happiness to a lot of children’s lives.

If you were to recommend the Robert Burns International Foundation to Hungarian and multinational businesses in Hungary as a vehicle for their Corporate Social Responsibility activities, which aspects of the RBIF’s operations would you highlight?

To act socially responsibly is the duty of any successful corporation. And of course there are many foundations that are worthwhile being supported. As I mentioned before, the RBIF convinced me personally because of the passion of the people behind it and the great projects that the foundations supports. The fact that the RBIF also provides a great networking platform was not a decisive factor for me, but it is without doubt a benefit that any corporation can utilize for further growth.

On Sunday, 9 February 2014 at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, the Ferenc Puskás – Sir Alex Ferguson Trophy was presented for the 7th time to the Robert Burns International Foundation’s Sponsor of the Year. Despite retiring in May 2013 from his post as manager, Sir Alex Ferguson has continued his role as Honorary President of the RBIF, and in recognition of the ongoing support provided every year by the Corinthia Hotel, this year he presented the trophy to Thomas Fischer, General Manager of the Corinthia Hotel Budapest.

The delegation from the Foundation were honoured to be accompanied by Mrs Erzsébet Puskás, wife of the late Ferenc Puskás, arguably Hungary’s most famous and most skilled footballer, whose name adorns the RBIF’s sponsor of the year trophy.


The match was played was against Fulham and despite a confident start the home team found themselves a goal down at half-time. Not renowned for giving up, Manchester United turned the match around in the space of 2 minutes, and found themselves leading 2-1 with 15 minutes to go. Yet the visitors were not for giving up either, and scored in the second-last minute of injury time, thus bringing to an end the RBIF’s track record of always having seeing the home team win. There’s always next year!

Robert Burns International Foundation-Charity for Sick and Underprivileged Children

Interview with Thomas Fischer, General Manager of Corinthia Hotel, Budapest

Thomas, as a lifelong Bayern Munich fan, what were your impressions of your visit to Old Trafford, meeting Sir Alex and the whole match day experience?

First of all I have to say, to re-live the 1999 Champions League final that you prepared for me was an “interesting” experience. Apart from that I was greatly impressed by Sir Alex and enjoyed my time at Old Trafford tremendously. Thank you for all the great effort you put in to make it happen!

The Corinthia Hotel has been a staunch supporter of the Robert Burns International Foundation for many years, and 2014 saw the 17th Annual Budapest Burns Supper in the magnificent Grand Ballroom of your hotel. How important do you find the hotel’s association with the Foundation?

We have been actively supporting the foundation now for many years as we believe in mutually rewarding long-term commitment and loyalty towards our partners. Having seen the foundation and the interest in the Supper itself grow so much over the years, it makes us feel proud and gives us reassurance to having stood by the right partner over this period of time.

Having lived in Hungary for two years now, what is your opinion of the work of the RBIF in Hungary, and how do you see fundraising here compared with Germany for example?

The foundation gives back a little of what life has taken out, however I feel the work of the foundation here is to be valued even higher than in more developed countries in Europe, Germany for instance.

If you were to recommend the Robert Burns International Foundation to Hungarian and multinational businesses in Hungary as a vehicle for their Corporate Social Responsibility activities, which aspects of the RBIF’s operations would you highlight?

I certainly would highlight the spirit of the foundation with its high values of integrity and trust.

On Saturday, 2 March 2013, the Ferenc Puskás – Sir Alex Ferguson Trophy was presented for the 6th time to the Robert Burns International Foundation’s Sponsor of the Year on the hallowed turf at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United. This year, RBIF Honorary President Sir Alex Ferguson presented the trophy to Stewart Miller, a proud Scot with strong footballing traditions, and who unknowingly was the initial driving force behind the trophy itself (see interview below).

The match on 2 March was against Norwich City and was played, as usual, in front of a full house of 75,000 people. The RBIF is traditionally good mascot for the Red Devils as never has the delegation from the Foundation seen the home lose. This year was no different as a hat trick from Shinji Kagawa along with a 25-yard screamer from Wayne Rooney made sure the lucky streak continued.

Robert Burns International Foundation-Charity for Sick and Underprivileged Children

Stewart, the Puskás Ferenc – Sir Alex Ferguson trophy started out as a small gift from you to Mrs Puskás after Ferenc died. What was the original thought behind the gift?

My father and grandfather were both at Hampden in 1960 to watch the Real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfurt European Cup Final. Now regarded as one of the best football matches ever, Real Madrid won 7-3 and Puskas scored 4 goals. I grew up in a football family and the mens’ discussions were always about football. Ferenc Puskas was spoken about almost daily in our household. So much so that when I was a child I thought he was a relative! I assumed he was my uncle. Therefore at a very young age an emotional attachment formed between myself and the Little General. The trophy was a small token from myself and the football fans of Scotland, to let Mrs Puskas know he was very much loved in Scotland. Part of his appeal was the fact that he was not built like some Olympian Athlete. But he could certainly play football!!!

Now your name is on the trophy alongside all the previous winners, can you sum up what the day at Old Trafford meant for you?

The Old Trafford day was one of the best experiences of my life. I am very honoured to be named on this trophy, along with organisations like Diageo, Vodafone and Tesco. I thoroughly enjoyed the company I was in too. I think Hungarians and Scottish people are very similar. We share a great sense of humour. Meeting Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest football manager of all time, was also amazing. The icing on the cake was during the stadium and museum tour when I found out that my great uncle, Thomas Miller, played for Manchester United in the 1920’s. 

How important do you find the work of the RBIF in Hungary and the current intensive-care unit appeal?

Firstly it’s amazing that we have the Robert Burns International Foundation based in Hungary. Robert Burns and his works really do have global appeal. I think the work the RBIF is doing is very important and it is also a very worthwhile cause, assisting children. I think helping children in any way we can is very important, because they are our future. It is vital for children to know that there are people and organisations out with their families, who care about their health and wellbeing. Robert Burns would have been very, very proud of the work and achievements of the RBIF.

Most of the fundraising over the years so far has been Hungary-based, do you think there is scope for strengthening links between Scotland and Hungary in this area?

There is definite scope for strengthening links between Scotland and Hungary in this area. For example, recently a friend of mine was over in Budapest to launch one of his whisky books. This friend speaks at Burns Suppers all over the world. When I told him about the RBIF he was very interested, because he did not know of its existence. When he found out more he got very excited and he has asked his partners in Budapest to follow this up. This is just one small example of the potential. I now see myself as an unofficial ‘ambassador’ for the RBIF. I will try to identify some of the Scottish (and UK) companies that view Hungary as a key export market. This I think will be a sensible start for me to try to identify further potential sponsors.

At just before 3pm on Saturday, 14 January 2012, the name of the Robert Burns International Foundation Sponsor of the Year was announced in front of 75,000 football fans at the Manchester United stadium, and RBIF President Sir Alex Ferguson presented the trophy to David Wood, commercial director of Tesco Global Áruházak Zrt.

Tesco Hungary is one of a handful of sponsors who have supported the Budapest Burns Supper since the very first Burns Overnight in 1998. As the very time this article was being written, the company was becoming only the fifth recipient of the Puskás Ferenc – Sir Alex Ferguson Sponsor of the Year Trophy.

The experience of being on such hallowed turf as that of the Theatre of Dreams just minutes before a game is unique. RBIF curatorium chairman Jock MacKenzie has described it as “electric and hair raising”. Supper chairman Stuart McAlister was equally moved the year he attended.

“The feeling of walking on to the pitch at Old Trafford is one I doubt I’ll ever forget,” he recalls. “Even though I was born in Liverpool and have been a Red all my life, I was still proud to have the chance to walk up through the tunnel and onto one of the most famous football pitches in the world. Being greeted by Sir Alex Ferguson certainly made the experience that much more special.”

The match on 14 January was against Bolton Wanderers, which, given that there is only 30 km (20 miles) between the two stadia, almost makes it a derby game, and guarantees a sell-out crowd. The official attendance on the day was 75,444. And they saw a little piece of Red Devil’s history:
37-year-old Paul Scholes’ first goal since the veteran came out of retirement, in his first home game. Manchester United won 3:0.

Robert Burns International Foundation-Charity for Sick and Underprivileged Children

We spoke with David Wood, who has been commercial director since 2010, a few days before he flew out to the UK to receive the trophy.

Tesco has sponsored the Budapest Burns Supper since its launch 15 years ago. But how and why did Tesco get involved in the first place?

David Wood, commercial director of Tesco Global Áruházak Zrt.

It is a core priority for Tesco to be a good neighbour and to act responsibly in the communities we serve. The cause supported by the Budapest Burns Supper has always been an important one for the local community, which is why Tesco – at that time a relatively new enterprise in the Hungarian market – decided to sponsor it.

Why does Tesco continue to support the Budapest Burns Supper?
The need to support children’s hospitals is an enduring one. Hence over the years we have strengthened our partnership with the Robert Burns International Foundation. We value the consistency of the Foundation’s leadership and the great effort the volunteers of the Foundation dedicate to helping people or institutions in difficult situations.

Given the on going global economic recession, and the difficult trading environment in Hungary, are there any plans to cut back on support in the future?
During times of recession it is even more important that we support our local communities and we have no plans to reduce our commitment in this area.

Why is charitable support such as that organised by the RBIF important?
Such charity events not only raise funds for people or institutions in need but also highlight the areas where help is needed most. It is a way of setting an example of how individuals and companies can make a difference, and Tesco has been keen to do so. It is great that such an enduring legend as Sir Alex Ferguson continues to support the Foundation.


The latest winner of the annual sponsor of the year title is no stranger to supporting Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) in Hungary; long a pioneer in the field, it has even created its own award to acknowledge the work of others. The 2010 Ferenc Puskás – Sir Alex Ferguson Sponsor of the Year Award goes to Vodafone Hungary.

In 2010, Vodafone gave the Marathon Effort for SOTE II appeal a huge donation (though it prefers not to say how much). And so it was that Vodafone received the award in front of a full house of some 75,000 at Old Trafford just ahead of the 3pm start of the Man Utd vs Birmingham City game on Saturday 22 January 2011.

“I am really proud of my company, the people working there and the commitment they show to CSR and sponsorship projects,” says Vodafone Hungary CEO and Chairman Dr György Beck. “In Hungary, Vodafone is heavily involved in several strategic CSR projects. We help people with disabilities, we enable individuals to work for their dream charity while being paid by us, and we encourage our own employees to take part in socially responsible programmes.”

Indeed they do. Since the British-based company entered the Hungarian market 10 years ago, it has given more than HUF 1 billion in charity and sponsorship products, Beck says. It is a main sponsor of the Sziget music festival, and has sponsored the reigning triple Olympic champions of the Hungarian men’s water polo team since 2007, as well as backing the women’s team and the rising generation. In fact, Beck himself is an active water polo player, as well as co-president of the Hungarian Water Polo Association, and President of the Water Polo Association of Cegléd.

That commitment to doing more than just working in the market reached a new height last spring.

“In March 2010, with the co-operation of the British Embassy in Budapest, we decided to recognize the most innovative organisation in the area of corporate social responsibility and our choice was the Robert Burns International Foundation,” explains Beck. And it is a relationship that is likely to continue, he says. “We find this initiative [the foundation] very good and we keep contact continuously to consolidate our common work.”

Explaining the creation of Vodafone’s own CSR award, Beck says his company

“does not consider corporate social responsibility as a mere philanthropic gesture or add-on; it is part of our core business.” He says others should move in to the field, provided they are prepared to do it right. “Corporate social responsibility is based on a complex strategy, companies who are thinking along similar lines should take into consideration that their work should not be a one-off action, it is a long-term and continuous responsibility for others.”

The good news, the CEO believes, is that CSR is getting an ever-higher profile in Hungary, and people are beginning to move away from seeing it as simply another form of PR.

“Yes, it is becoming more widespread in Hungary; it has never just been PR for Vodafone Hungary. Vodafone, as a responsible economic player, puts great emphasis on support of underprivileged people.”

By Robin Marshall

On the afternoon of Saturday 23 January 2010, in front of a packed Old Trafford crowd there to witness the Manchester United FC vs. Hull City AFC English Premier League game, the identity of the third annual Robert Burns International Foundation Sponsor of the Year was revealed: Diageo Hungary Ltd.

Attila Erdei presenting a gift to Sir Alex Ferguson

The award is officially called the Ferenc Puskás – Sir Alex Ferguson Sponsor of the Year Trophy. It features a football crafted from copper, made by a Scottish artist and presented to Erzsébet Puskás in honour of her late husband, the legendary Hungarian footballer, and was handed over to Attila Erdei, the Commercial Manager for Diageo in Hungary and Croatia, by Sir Alex, the Honorary President of the RBIF.

Diageo, headquartered in Budapest on Soroksári út, has been involved with the Burns Supper for more than a decade. Supper Chairman Stuart McAlister explained what it was that made the drinks firm such champion sponsors, worthy of recognition in Manchester United’s Theatre of Dreams stadium.

“Diageo typically provides 70 bottles of Johnny Walker whisky for the Burns Supper, as well as two bottles of malt whisky for the auction/raffle. The company also provides a whisky tasting promotion every year, with the help of Csaba Gulyás, the ‘Whisky Ambassador’. Finally, Johnny Walker himself is always present at the Burns Supper so he can be a part of the presentation and the addressing of the haggis.”

The 42-year-old Attila Erdei, married with two daughters (aged 19 and 11) has worked for Diageo for almost two years. He said the decision to sponsor the event had been an easy one to take, the reasoning behind it straightforward.

“The goal of the Burns Supper [to raise funds for sick Hungarian children] is a great thing, and it is one of the few charity events we have supported over a long period of time,” he explained. But had the recent – and ongoing – global recession forced Diageo Hungary to scale back its sponsorship? “No, it is not a question,” Erdei insisted. “We will continue this sponsorship in the future as well.”

That’s good news for patrons of the supper, and, indeed, the organising committee that McAlister leads. Above all, though, it is good news for the children the supper supports.

By Robin Marshall

If you want a perfect example of the international scope and reach of the Budapest Burns Supper and the Robert Burns International Foundation, look no further than this year’s winner of the Sponsor of the Year award: Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

The group, whose brands include Sheraton, Westin, and W Hotels, among others, is represented in Budapest by Le Méridien, whose GM, Adrian Gray, is deeply involved both in the supper and the RBIF. Significantly, however, the award is going to Starwood, and not just the local hotel, because of a truly international fundraising campaign.

“In 2007, there was a Starwood conference here in Budapest, and a large number of delegates came from all over Europe,” explains Gray. The conference programme included an element of Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR), and the delegates spent some time at the Semmelweis hospital (which has always had close links with the Budapest Burns’ Supper), painting furniture and walls, and breaking ground and laying mulch for a park area in 42°C heat. But that proved to be only a beginning.

“Due to the reorganisation of the hospital system by the state, Semmelweis had taken on an oncology department, which needed complete redevelopment, and it had run out of money,” says Gray. “The shortfall amounted to EUR 20,000, and the delegates took it on themselves to go back and raise the money. Hotels from Europe, Africa and the Middle East were involved in individual fund raising projects, and eventually raised EUR 23,000. The oncology department is now operational.”

Gray himself was instrumental in helping reorganise the Burns’ Supper committee, and sits on the RBIF’s Curatorium. His hotel organises St Andrew’s and St Patrick’s balls, as well as the annual Budapest Waiters’ Race, all of which generate funds for the RBIF (the 2008 Waiters’ Race raised HUF 52,500, around EUR 200).

He gets involved with the events, which he is keen to stress are, by now, as much Hungarian- as they are expat-orientated, partly because he is a good Scot. (Interestingly, that was also one of the reasons Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United Football Club, gave for agreeing to become the RBIF’s Honorary President in January 2007.) But there are wider, deeper issues too.

“I think all the hotels here are quite heavily involved in the life of Budapest. This is a way of giving something back to some of those who wouldn’t necessarily be involved at the five-star hotel level. When we first started doing this, we were in a country that faced a lot of challenges, and here was something we could do to help.”

The award is officially known as the Ferenc Puskás – Sir Alex Ferguson Sponsor of the Year trophy, and features a football crafted from copper. It was made by a Scottish artist and presented to Erzsébet Puskás in honour of her late husband, the legendary Hungarian footballer. She, in turn, gave it to the RBIF in the hope it could be put to good use. It has.

Although, at the time of writing, the final details have still to be arranged, the Sponsor of the Year award is due to be presented in January to Gray by Sir Alex at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground. It is known, appropriately, as the Theatre of Dreams. Starwood, and other major sponsors like them, are ensuring both operating theatres and children’s dreams can become reality.


By Robin Marshall

January 2008 saw the inaugural presentation of the Ferenc Puskás – Sir Alex Ferguson Sponsor of the Year trophy, given to the organisation judged to have made the most significant contribution to the work of the Robert Burns International Foundation during the course of the past 12 months. Deservedly, it went to the host and co-organizer of the Budapest Burns Suppers since 2003, the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal.

“The management and staff of the hotel work very hard each year to make the Burns Supper such a success, to maximize the amount of funds raised and to make the various arrangements as simple as possible for the volunteers who put the event together,” explained Stuart McAlister, chairman of the 2008 Burns Supper organising committee. “These factors made the hotel the clear choice as inaugural recipient of the sponsor of the year award.”

A very special guest, Puskás’ widow Erzsébet, handed over the trophy to the Corinthia’s general manager Adrian Ellis at the 11th Budapest Burns Supper on Saturday, 26 January 2008. But it wasn’t the first time he had laid eyes on the specially crafted copper ball.

During a visit to Budapest in 2007, Manchester United Football Club manager Sir Alex Ferguson, a self-confessed aficionado of Robert Burns, had agreed to become Honorary President of the RBIF. But with his “day job” leading one of the biggest football clubs in the world keeping him busy most weekends, it had proved difficult to invite Sir Alex over to the Burns Supper, leaving the committee looking for ways in which he could fulfill his duties each year, explained Jock MacKenzie, chairman of the RBIF.

The logical conclusion was that he would present the award to the sponsor. 
“Sir Alex kindly agreed to this, and even suggested that the sponsor… be presented with the trophy at Old Trafford, Manchester United’s ground before a match,” MacKenzie added. And so it was that five minutes before kick-off at Old Trafford on Saturday, 12 January 2008, Fergie presented the trophy to Ellis, in front of a full house, the little matter of some 75,000 people.

By Robin Marshall

For more on the Ferenc Puskás – Sir Alex Ferguson Sponsor of the Year trophy, click here.