Diversity At Work – Do You Know Your Recipe?

Daniel Toth, diversity at work.

A Guest Post by Daniel Toth

I’ve never cooked a goulash in my life, I guess for many reasons. You need many people to eat it, or you will eat it alone for a week. Then, not all the ingredients are available in Switzerland, or at least not have the exact same taste. But most likely, I tend to avoid everything Hungarian in my life, which could remind me of my home, where I grew up… it is not the place at all that it used to be, but populism and its effect on society is not the topic of today. 

Yet when I was asked if I could share my expat experience, somehow, I got stuck to the idea, that my career so far is like finetuning the perfect goulash recipe: absolute CEE origin, rich in content, has a lot of energy and potential, might be quite heavy to consume, can be spicy and takes time to understand the components and how the play together. 

Do I wish I had known my own goulash recipe 10 or 20 years before? Absolutely, because it would have made me much more efficient and excel faster. Would I encounter other challenges? Most likely yes. As we cannot and don’t want to change the past, my choice is to continue to learn, practice, and share. To share how being conscious about you and your own recipe could take you on an amazing journey. 

The big career soup

A good goulash needs great ingredients, starting with a perfect base (onion, fat, and paprika), quality meat, veggies, spices, and a long time (3-4 hours) to cook. You also need a good base to succeed in your career (purpose and related knowledge and skills), you need to deliver results and energy (the ‘meat around the bone’), and you have to connect with a very colorful spectrum of your colleagues and to integrate opinions and goals to have a balanced taste suiting the most, and you have to have courage, passion, and enthusiasm to add the right spice to your professional brand. And you need to carefully try, test, adjust the ‘recipe’, and be patient until all these ingredients create the right balance, at the right place and at the right time. 

The evolution of my own goulash 

Well, I haven’t ever cooked a goulash, but have been through quite a lot in my career. Let me share with you some key learnings, which helped me to shape who I am today as a professional and as an expat. 

The balance of the meat and veggies

One of my biggest learnings as an expat is to balance my passion, my aim for delivery, and my energy and sometimes to also stop and ask colleagues “How do you like the taste? What would make you happier on the menu”?

See I am coming from Central and Eastern Europe, and although it is not an aggressive live-or-die culture, like a couple of thousand kilometers more to the East, there are some specificities. My parents are Baby Boomers, both were born shortly after the 2nd World War. Imagine growing up in a city fully demolished during the war, where in the last 102 days-long siege the Russian troops ‘freed’ Budapest from the Hungarian-Nazi regime. And then stayed for 45 years. 

Both my parents were the firsts in their own families to have a degree, and their recipe for life was simple: the more you work, the more you achieve, the more safety you can create for yourself and your family, the happier you are. There were no questions asked like ‘How do you feel’, as they were busy moving on to the next pillar of the Maslow pyramid and moving away from the poverty and pain from the generation of my grandparents. 

So, this became my path too: study, work hard, achieve, and excel. And boy I did. On one hand, this drive gave me the opportunities in my career and brought me to Switzerland. On the other hand, it scared a lot of colleagues, because, above the direct and result-driven approach, people were either not able to keep up with me or my success shed light on their shortcomings. And again, I did not stop and asked: ‘How are you doing, can you follow me?’. Nope. We have a goal, let’s go for it guys! Not good if you want to have a soup that is tasteful for the most. 

You may say, so what, we have seen many very determined and even arrogant leaders, who usually succeed to the top. Well, yes, but there is a trick here. The base goulash recipe starts with frying onion and paprika (the spices) on fat. On one hand, these two give a base taste to the entire dish, on the other hand, they are extremely sensitive. If you burn them, you must start all over again. This happened with me in my career, and my base taste, purpose, and determination to make customers happy and deliver accordingly was burned. And I had to move on, and to change.

For whom do I cook for? 

Even if you manage to keep your base tasteful, sometimes the menu and the desire of the guests don’t match. Sometimes it is only your line manager, sometimes it is the whole organization. 

If you are an introverted person, like me, my suggestion is, to find very few people in your organization, whom you can trust, connect frequently, and share your thoughts. This will enable you to get feedback on the ‘taste’ of your dish, so you can adjust the heat, and the ingredients, or you can even cook another dish, all before developing a very bad taste, which would trigger strong bad emotions either in you or in others. 

There are young organizations, who, like a teenager, are just interested in growing as fast as possible. They are mostly not interested in quality and sustainability, and despite their horrible eating habits and love for fast food, they genetically keep their charming face and immaculate bodies (usually due to a unique and market-leading product offering) until they develop their first fat cells in their twenties. Don’t try to be a Michelin-star chef when all they need is french fries. 

You might be in an environment, where your menu is really needed, however, due to legacy and some financial reserves, the members of the organization are not ready to start a healthy and quality diet. Usually, they are reluctant to change because of fear of losing the existing or future potential and position within the company. So how can you adjust the flavors so that people still order from your menu?

Also, you might realize that you are cooking a very protein-rich meat dish when everyone around you is vegetarian, and the most successful cooks around you base their success on relationships and not on prioritized business effects. It is super hard to convince people, that with your menu the company will even grow better when others also deliver growth, and meanwhile, they are trusted golf partners. 

Any food allergies? 

When you see that any of your dinner guests start to develop symptoms of allergies to your concepts, strategy, presentation, or whatever, just stop the show and focus on the colleague. No result nor achievement can overwrite the importance of keeping your relationships alive with everyone, especially with peers in the leadership team or with members of your management. 

Be brave to use spices! 

It also happened to me, that I was focusing so much on keeping the balance of the ingredients trying to please everyone, that my soup lost its taste. I was delivering, I was managing my relationships well. Yet my Chief Commercial Officer bluntly told me, that they expect more innovation from a Global Director, even if it provokes conflicts.

I know today, years after that I was afraid of conflicts. I was unconsciously blunt in my twenties, this, combined with my drive, structure, and strategic thinking got me to HQ level. I realized that I didn’t fit and started to replace my original spices with the ones I saw people like. What I’ve forgotten, is that I was getting to HQ for the reason of who I am, and not to change my core ‘taste’, but to integrate it and to sell it successfully. And to make the ‘HQ menu’ richer. 

In the end, I developed a tasteless goulash for vegetarians, instead of explaining and slightly adjusting the recipe, carefully selecting my first guests, and reducing the portions. Meanwhile, I was frustrated, that what I offered was far from the original recipe, and it was not needed. 

The unusual spice 

My conflict avoidance and focus on reputation probably originate from the fact, that I was growing up in a very loving yet conservative environment as an unconscious gay kid, who thinks and behaves differently from the average. I was just weird at elementary school and a genius weirdo at high school. 

I did not realize why am I different, others had no idea how to manage these differences in a caring yet very strict post-communist education area in the 80s and early 90s, which was just a perfect combination for conflicts with myself and with others. 

By moving to the U.S.A. and by college time I became a lot of fun, and caught up, no regrets at all. But what remained besides the conflict avoidance was an overfocus on reputation and compliance. Probably the logic behind this was to do everything right as expected from me, so no one could say anything bad or complain, and so to be more accepted. 

I did not have the courage as a teenager to say, that this is who I am and I cannot and don’t want to do about it, because I didn’t even know who I was and what was going on with me. The clarity and consciousness started to develop in my late twenties, yet always working in the conservative premium segment it was not easy to find the right approach, especially after bumping my head into some glass ceiling a few times. 

Meanwhile, the world also moved on, diversity and inclusion in the workplace were born, and I think I learned to handle my differences in a natural way, which probably also keeps me away from bumping my head into glass ceilings. 

If your goulash soup has a different or additional spice from the known average, my advice would be to be transparent about it, yet don’t provoke and don’t force it. Just like in marketing, after being clear on your values, turn your difference into an innovator adding more value, find the early adopters in your organization, and the rest will follow. 

And in case you feel that you bump your head into that glass ceiling, I suggest investigating your own intentions first: on what level does your cause serve the selfish you versus others and the business? Finding the answer will help you decide your next steps, what to fight for, what to let go, or when to move on. 

Can you leave that one spice out of your recipe?

People respecting you as a professional yet expecting you to be gay at home is the dimension, which first I had to clear in my own mind: I am not separatable. Sexuality is all around us. It is in your high heels with red soles, it is in your makeup, it is in your sports car, in your expensive watch, in your sunglasses, in your dress, and in your shirt’s buttons being open on top, and so on. It is also in your family pictures on your desks, and in your holiday stories with your kids, which implies that you, as a heterosexual professional, also have a partner and have sex. 

Despite I am not representing the average in terms of the choice of sex or the choice of my love, I don’t differ from you in my desires at all: I want to be loved, I want to be respected, I want to add value, I want to belong. May I ask you not to close people out from the kitchen just because of one spice of them? I was born gay. It is already enough for us to meet our own expectations and overcome our own beliefs that we must work harder and better to be accepted. 

Meanwhile, the more comfortable I feel in a workspace myself, the more energy I can focus on my creativity, effectiveness, and performance, which energy I would waste otherwise on frustrations. Win-win, I feel more fulfilled, and you get better output from me. And trust me, my professional reputation is very important to me.

What would happen if you stopped cooking? 

On the thought of being accepted, one of the big struggles I had with my own recipe in the last years is that I asked myself: Why do I cook this? Why do I cook at all? And if so, is this the recipe I wish to offer? 

At the bottom of this thought chain, the big question came: Does my cooking define who I am? Who am I really without being in the kitchen? Does work really define me? And who am I without work? 

Has that midlife crisis already hit you? Not yet? If you are a professional, who believes in continuous self-improvement, at a certain point you will face the question of what makes you happy. And how you fulfill yourself. Take as much time as you can and life allows you, to invest months or even years to base well the second half of your life. Even if it is a step back financially, it will pay back! 

At the beginning of my sabbatical, I was completely frustrated about the fact, that I didn’t have daily work to do. In fact, I felt bad about myself, that I didn’t have an output, which I could look at as the justification for my existence. 

Then I unconsciously started to do things, which I love. I traveled. I did a lot of sports. I’ve read a book every week. And I started to have amazing AHA moments, some flashbacks from my teenage years, reminding me who I really was before starting to work at age 19, and who I really am. In the midst of my great career with the addiction to success and ever-increasing financial wealth somehow the hamster wheel made me forget who I wanted to be (besides what I wanted to have). 

Last week at the end of this nearly 2-year change journey I asked myself if there is a purpose in life. Well, since so far no one really found it, I would say there isn’t. So, let’s just enjoy it by doing the things we like and by living up to our own values, and focusing on the things we love. For me, it is still connecting, traveling, reading, doing sports, taking a 50% job at an educational institution, and building up my own consumer marketing advisory business for the ones, who really want to provide a great customer experience. What an amazing balance and shift from considering work as the purpose and as the justification of existence! 

Patience for the necessary cooking time 

See, a good goulash takes 3-4 hours to cook. Even if you have the best ingredients, you pay attention to the taste of your guests, you have used your spices right, and you need the right time to make it great. 

If you need any help with your recipes you can contact me via my website. I’m also on LinkedIn. Happy cooking! 


Here are some helpful links that helped me a lot on my growth journey:

  1. Starting with my impatience, I’ve turned my thinking of missing something to not having it yet. This video helped me a lot to develop my areas with a positive mindset. 
  2. For perfectionist professionals with an overbalanced reputation focus and unrealistic self-importance, and for handling glass ceilings and insecurities watch this.
  3. To appreciate your vulnerability and sensitivity and not hide them behind perfection, performance, and output. To be able to say: ‘I am enough’ have a look here.
  4. To look at past ‘mistakes’ and conflicts as necessary building blocks to become who I am today and to build trust in myself that at those points of my life, I’ve made the best decision with my current knowledge, and I’ve learned from them. To appreciate being in the ‘arena’ check out this video.
  5. Revisiting my ‘core’ taste, my base. Also, to manage my above-average energy, skills, and capabilities you can take a look here.

About the Author

After Daniel Toth finished his high school studies both in Budapest and in Denver Colorado, he attended the Tourism Economist and Hotel Management faculty of Budapest Business School, where he graduated in 2004. During his college times, he worked in hotels’ front office departments, including being the Manager of Duty at the Tampa Airport Marriott hotel in Florida.

In 2006 he opened the Hungarian Nespresso Market by leading retail operations, where he also built up the customer relationship, after-sales, e-commerce, and CRM operations in the next 5 years.
After constantly winning the global retail, customer relationship, and e-commerce satisfaction KPIs with his market, in 2011 he was promoted to a global Customer Relationship Project Manager role, where he was co-leading and supporting 25 Nespresso customer relationship centers mainly from the customer experience and service quality point of view. He was also owning the global omnichannel Customer Voice program. In line with this new Marketing master’s degree, he switched to a global Head of Launch Communication / Marketing Delivery Go To Market Director role for Swarovski in 2015, where he was responsible for global retail and trade activation, and visual merchandising implementation.

In the last years, he was building up the digital CRM capabilities for Invisalign in EMEA, being responsible for the entire lead-to-conversion funnel including websites, e-mail journeys, CRM- campaigns, patient APPs, customer, and patient relation programs. After finishing his Digital Marketing studies at HWZ Zürich, he opened his own Brand and CRM X consumer marketing strategy advisory practice.

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