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Powering equality – Q&A with Magdolna Tokai, Deputy CEO of MVM

Energy revolution cannot happen without women. This interview is published as part of a campaign launched by the Women in Energy Association (WONY) .

Magdolna Tokai, Deputy CEO of MVM Group and member of the Women in Energy Association, shares her insights about the challenges and opportunities lying ahead of the energy sector and also how women can take an active role in shaping the future of the industry.

MVM Group is the largest power company in Hungary. How did the coronavirus pandemic impact the operations of MVM? What were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you manage to adapt and overcome these?

As MVM is not only one of the largest power companies in Hungary – moreover, even in the region – but a very diversified one as well, our operation ranges from the supervision of critical infrastructure to the daily and face-to-face contact with residential consumers in our customer service offices countrywide. Therefore, the pandemic had a significant impact on every level of our operation, threatening the health of both our colleagues and our customers, which could have had serious impacts on our business continuity as well. But, with the amazing effort of all our colleagues, we succeeded in keeping up the business continuity.

Thanks to this tremendous effort and dedication of everybody at MVM we managed to secure our operation by implementing diverse internal and customer-friendly digital solutions, fast (for example, less hierarchical, small-team) decision making, elaborating new regulations and more flexible processes  – focusing on home office and teleworking – to minimalise the personal contacts, applied the necessary health-preserving measures in our offices and customer service locations.

The transition period from normal operation to pandemic mode was challenging for us both on individual and on an organisational level as well, but we overcame it successfully and implemented such future-proof measures that guarantee the safe and continuous operation of the MVM Group.

Taking all this into consideration I personally am very proud that MVM –even in these extremely challenging times- managed to win the Family Friendly Company of the Year award in 2020. This means that not only have we managed to overcome the challenges, but we did it in an employee-friendly way.

What were the lessons that you learned in the past year? Do you think that the pandemic will have long-term implications and it will permanently reshape the industry, or we will go back to the business-as-usual scenario?

I think the best lesson is that flexibility – in terms of employment, processes, decision making and the approach towards our B2C and B2B customers – combined with the application of digital tools is key not just in tackling such challenges like this pandemic, but to take the traditional operation of a large energy company to the next level, ensuring business continuity and – in parallel – supporting our strategic goals as a regional player on the market.

I sincerely believe that we will never Go Back to Work, but rather Re-shape & Restart, meaning that implementing the positive lessons of the pandemic will be a key milestone in future operations.

Looking ahead, what are the big challenges and opportunities that will shape the future of the regional energy market this year?

The pandemic has made a strong impact on the demand for commodities. Needless to say, the region has witnessed some downfall in both electricity and gas demand because of the contracting economy. This may vary over the region, there is certainly a considerable difference among the countries. The major question is: how long will it take to catch up to pre-pandemic levels.

In addition to this major macroeconomic challenge, there are certain market developments worth looking at. On the gas market, the region is still obsessed with source and transit route diversification. This market is still dominated by Russian gas coming from Ukraine, Nord Stream or Poland. Yet, the geopolitical risks have not disappeared, which is why transit route diversification is still on the table (South Corridor, AGRI). A major development of this year was the opening of the Krk LNG terminal in Croatia, where MVM Group via its subsidiary MFGK Croatia played a major role, and which is a real new origination source of natural gas for the entire region.

As for the power market, the major challenges are intact: electrification, renewable integration, coal phase-out and developing flexible energy generation sources to maintain sustainable decarbonization. A recent event in January Croatia, however, showed that the SEE region’s electric grid is very vulnerable. A single bottleneck collapse in the transmission grid caused a major detachment event. It means that without a major overhaul of both TSO and DSO systems in the region, neither extensive electrification nor extensive decentralized renewable development is possible. These hurdles are nothing to be resolved easily or in just a couple of years, however, I believe that these are problems to be addressed in the coming years.

How do you see the role of women shaping the future of the energy industry? Do you think that companies are placing more emphasis on diversity and inclusion and which ways the Women in Energy Association can contribute to support these ambitions?

I do believe companies have started placing more emphasis on these topics, but there is room for improvement. Unfortunately, the glass ceiling is a barrier that primarily comes from the inside: from our society, institutions, education, our colleagues and sometimes even ourselves. That is why I personally find it very important to have and interact with associations like WONY, where we can – from one hand – meet other ladies from our sector and talk with them and – on the other hand – have happenings where our male colleagues are also present and we can all discuss important topics relating to this issue. In addition, it is also great that WONY has started to approach other similar associations.

I truly believe that it is very important to understand the differences between the various approaches and point of views and to learn to respect each other in order to answer and successfully overcome all the future challenges of our sector (which cannot be achieved without diversity in their approach). That is why – based on my initiative – we formed the Women@MVM last year. Despite the pandemics, we have already done a detailed analysis of the situation in our Group and defined the next steps, among which – just to mention one tangible action – there is the mentoring program that we are launching this year.

On a personal level, how can you balance your professional life with your family?

Every day is a new challenge for us, especially since our family has grown with a new member in December.

In a nutshell, my “receipt” is the following:

  • Set priorities: In a tough situation/timing always go through your tasks, see what is really important (for example, where is your intervention required immediately otherwise “there will be blood (for example, between the siblings)”.
  • Efficiency: try to be as efficient as possible – do not check your mail every 2 minutes, but when in an elevator or standing in line, take a short look at them.
  • 80/20 rule: do not be too hard on yourself, if 80 per cent of things you managed to do today, it has been a good day. There will be time tomorrow for the remaining 20 per cent (and the addition of 100 per cent tasks of the new day).
  • Follow the airplane rule: put the oxygen mask first on yourself and then on your kids (colleagues). Meaning: find time for yourself to fill up your batteries. Only this way you will be able to face the everyday challenges.
  • Learn to outsource things that are not that important/may not require your presence all the time – this is something I use both in work (and colleagues are happy, as they get more freedom or challenging tasks) and back home as well.
  • Having somebody to talk to is very important, may that be a friend or a colleague at work facing similar challenges like you do or somebody from the WONY meet-up.

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