as hungary converted from communism to capitalism, sándor csányi built a massive bank and became his country’s first billionaire.
IN 1992 Sándor Csányi did the unthinkable: He fired people—a shock to the terminated managers at his Hungarian bank, OTP, who had enjoyed limitless job protection under communism. But the Iron Curtain had collapsed, the country was changing and Csányi was in a hurry to modernize.
His efforts helped him privatize and rebuild the Budapest-based OTP Bank Group, a financial-services juggernaut in eastern and central Europe with $36.9 billion in assets. Its operations span nine countries, from Bulgaria to Slovakia, with almost 12 million customers— all of which he directs as CEO and chairman. His OTP stake, plus energy and farming interests, add up to a $1 billion fortune, making Csányi, 63, Hungary’s first billionaire.
He was born in the small rural town of Jászárokszállás (pop. 8,000) and moved to Budapest when he was 14. After studying business administration at the city’s College of Finance and Accountancy, Csányi went to work for Hungary’s ministry of finance and later the department of state revenue. Using connections he made while a state executive, he maneuvered to become OTP’S chairman in the early 1990s—just as the historic shift to capitalism swept across the Communist bloc.