The chief executive of Britain's Roffey Park Management College is a brave man. When he addressed a conference of business leaders and academics in Budapest recently, Dr Ian Cunningham announced that too many western management consultants were offering quick fix answers to Hungary's problems. "The pressure is on to make money and a lot of consultants are suffering," notes Dr Cunningham. "So they say 'Where can we place our business? Ah, Eastern Europe.'"
The consultants are "mostly naive", he adds. It is not that "they're saying 'We've got these things that don't work well and we'll dump them on unsuspecting countries'." Rather, they have put forward a number of proposals which are plainly unsuited to an eastern culture and structure. Attempts to introduce information technology, which sometimes "distorts the problem and doesn't fit the solution", failure to train management adequately for new challenges and promotion of export markets without addressing questions of product quality, will only exacerbate Hungary's predicament, not resolve it.
The great god privatisation is not the answer, Dr Cunningham insists. "A change of ownership doesn't change the relationship (of a company) with the market." What is needed, he believes, is recognition of Hungary's strong engineering tradition and economic history.
Far from being a source of cheap labour, the country has a talented workforce and the route forward is application of those skills, and their revolution by way of involvement and training. If foreign advisers do not realise this, Hungary will be turned into a giant screwdriver operation, entailing massive layoffs and - ultimately - massive resentments.