Kitti Dobi: A Proficient Human Resources Leader Responsible for Strategic Change in the Organisation

Top 10 Outstanding HR Executives of the Year 2023

Hungarian Bankholding, currently the second largest banking group in Hungary, is executing one of the most significant merge projects of the financial sector in Europe. An industry where women’s representation at the executive level is only 20 percent globally. At Hungarian Bankholding this ratio is already a unique 45 percent, and the organizational pillar of the transformation is managed by a female executive, Kitti Dobi.

As the Group Head Human Resources (CHRO) at Hungarian Bankholding, she considers that vital ingredients for a strategic change include thinking outside the box, constant dialogue and cooperation as the central corporate value and heart of decisions, speed of execution, and finding the right talent. All of that requires diversity. Not just of background, but also of cultural beliefs, age, and indeed gender.

Kitti graduated from the corporate finance programme of the Budapest University of Economics. In 2003, she began working for Procter & Gamble as a regional manager, overseeing various HR procedures. She was in charge of all talent practises for the region after first overseeing talent practises like recruitment, diversity, and L&D. She was asked to speak at the 2006 World Diversity Leadership Summit conference in New York based on the diversity initiatives she had pioneered and introduced in the area. She gave a presentation on her work in the EE region. Given that she had just graduated and begun her career, she feels that was a significant recognition and lesson for her as a young professional. She asserts, “I am very grateful for my first employer investing in my professional development and starting my career as an HR leader.”

Extensive Work Experience

Between 2008 and 2010, Kitti managed the establishment (HR business partnering and talent supply) of Vodafone’s international operations centre in Hungary, then held the position of manager responsible for HR processes. She obtained her international OPP MBTI coaching qualification in Oxford.

From 2010 to 2014, as HR Director of the European and African service centres of BP, Kitti managed the establishment of the company’s international HR function and service units in Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. She shares, “We won the best SSC award in Europe in the people and culture category during that period; it was a great recognition for my whole team and the work we did together to build up the shared service centre from scratch.”

Between 2014 and 2016, as the Eastern European Principal Client Services Manager of Alexander Mann Solutions for their GE account, Kitti worked in the fields of HR service management, account management, and customer management to broaden her knowledge and move out a bit from the corporate HR area to the commercial side. At the end of 2016, she returned to corporate HR as the managing director of HR for the former MKB Bank, which is now leading the merger of the 3 financial institutions. Even while engaged in this huge transformation work, Kitti was still able to win several HR prizes in 2022, such as family-friendly workplace in Hungary, best workplace for women, and best internship program. She was also selected as the HR leader of the year in Hungary in 2022.

Industry Insight

Looking back over the last 20 years in the human resources industry, Kitti is absolutely convinced that the past three years in particular have been when HR professionals at all levels have learned the most important lessons because of the pandemic and other crisis situations. These difficulties brought the HR field to a new level, where HRs are now more adept at coping. The real challenge, in Kitti’s opinion, is the ongoing merger of three financial institutions from Eastern Europe. This process is, while not a mission impossible, a truly unique undertaking, never before seen elsewhere in Europe either: having to merge and transform three culturally different banks into a brand new one, building new HR systems, values, competencies, and behavioural standards while keeping employees motivated in the middle of the economic downturn and following a massive two-year pandemic. This process is also difficult for Kitti and her colleagues because once the new organization’s values are established, they must be implemented. She says, “We needed to be really forward-thinking as to how we can encourage engagement within the organisation.”

Adopting the Processes

When Kitti was hired in 2016 as MD of Human Resources, her first task was to transform the MKB Bank’s very traditional, antiquated hierarchical culture into something more competitive. She did this by creating a strategic HR function and institution while also upholding the demands of the Hungarian workforce. It took until 2020 to complete this extensive cultural shift. This milestone was then followed by the profound transition the company is currently undergoing: the merging of three unique cultures and three large Hungarian financial institutions into a unique, brand-new bank. This process started at the end of 2020 with the establishment of the Hungarian Bankholding as the parent company for the 3 banks – and will last well into 2024 to fully merge the banks in terms of their IT systems, operations, brands, products, and infrastructure. Kitti shares, “Once the merger got under way, the first particular task was to put together the management team.”

Kitti was chosen in May 2021 to serve as the newly formed organization’s Chief HR Officer. She was given the responsibility of developing a new strategy by the year 2025 for merging and evolving into a new, competitive, profitable, sustainable regional market leader financial institution. She further adds that the end result of this unique process will be one of Hungary’s and hopefully, in the long term, the region’s largest banks, a modern financial institution with 2.3 million customers and, at the same time one of Hungary’s largest employers with more than ten thousand employees.

Views while Leading

Despite having a nearly 100-person HR team and holding regular leadership meetings, Kitti believes it is critical to maintain personal contact with each member of her team in order to hear their opinions and gain insight into the organisation as a whole. To stay in touch with this engaging employee network of 10,000 people, Kitti uses a variety of strategies, including ambassador meetings, community network gatherings, branch visits, line manager training sessions, skip-level meetings, various forms of team gatherings, and so forth.

Kitti seeks to develop a company into a direction that is future-proof and whose success can be measured even by global standards. More specifically: Under her leadership, the new company values—such as collaboration, respect, and accelerators of change—were developed and released in October 2021. Following the establishment of the new values, Kitti was able to create new leadership models, competency models, performance management systems, and much more. After that, teams for middle management were created, again using the new cultural roadmap as a model for the skills the business required. This is a delicate and robust task at the same time: building on the legacy and tradition of the three banks, as well as the best practises of the three banks, while also creating something new, a brand-new bank with a new identity from an HR standpoint. 

Surrounded by Loved Ones

Kitti has a family of two beautiful and intelligent children (ages 13 and 8), a fantastic, supportive husband, and she considers herself very fortunate to have a larger family to turn to when she needs assistance. In Kitti’s view, it is crucial to be able to understand when one needs help and asks for it. She says, “One needs help as a leader, as a woman, as a mother, and as a human being. This need has to be recognised and acted on.”

Kitti feels fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends who are able to help. This is how she keeps her balance, and she would not be able to do so alone. She asserts, “I need my ‘me time’, need to do my exercises, support my kids at school, have great family holidays and so on, and all these require careful planning and help.”  

Success in Human Terms

“No matter the volume of a task, the challenges, the required changes, and cultural transformation, I will always measure success in human terms,” says Kitti. To her success is creating an inspiring working environment where the company’s colleagues can make their mark and enjoy long-term professional development while at the same time, they feel good and feel that they are a part of a team and community. Another aspect of the human side that Kitti measures as success is when colleagues and friends she hasn’t seen for 5–10 or more years turn to her for advice and guidance on professional issues and career matters.

Plans for Personal and Professional Growth

The banking business is changing, the whole banking ecosystem is changing, and the new bank will be part of it. Magyar Bankholding wants to preserve the best practices of its member banks and build on a very solid banking foundation. Kitti says, “We can now rethink at the same time what banking is, and we can rethink the rules of the game.” She very much believes that the new MBH Bank (the new name, as of May 1, 2023) will, over time, be noticeably different in the way it treats its customers, in the way it can think about customers in a broader way than day-to-day banking in the traditional sense. She also adds that the new culture focuses on this element, keeping unique customer service front and centre of all the organization’s activities.

As long as she maintains a healthy balance between her personal and professional lives, Kitti says she is satisfied and content. She did not have higher and better ambitions when she was younger. She constantly has fresh ideas and new objectives for the future that she wants to work toward and achieve, but maintaining balance is always important to her.

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