SUSANNA FODOR: BUILDING CAPITALIST BRIDGES TO HUNGARY
Visitors to Susanna S. Fodor's office might think they had stumbled into a construction engineer's room. Hard hats of every color line the walls -- "my real estate trophies," she says. Fodor has spent the better part of 19 years as a lawyer handling real estate and construction contracts. Lately, she has combined those skills with one acquired in childhood -- speaking Hungarian -- to recast her career at law firm Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue. Fodor is an East European specialist pursuing deals in the country of her birth.
Now in her early 40s, Fodor came to the U. S. at age 13, when she and her family left a pampered existence in Hungary to seek political asylum. Law wasn't her original choice. But after lengthy arguments with her father, Fodor was persuaded to put aside her first love, psychology. In 1972, with a law degree from the University of Wisconsin, she won her first job, as an environmental lawyer at the New York office of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Sensing that real estate offered even bigger opportunities, Fodor decided to switch specialties and took a job as in-house counsel at the Urban Development Corp. in 1975. Two years later, she left to join a private firm. After several additional moves, she joined Jones Day as a partner in 1989.
In her current role, Fodor functions as dealmaker and hand-holder for U. S. companies investing in Hungary. One of her more recent cases was the $8 million acquisition of the renowned Budapest restaurant, Gundel's, by New York restaurateur George Lang and cosmetics heir Ronald S. Lauder.
Between Eastern European transactions and meeting the demands of her 2-year-old daughter, Fodor says she has little time for much else. But she remains ready for anything. "Who knows? I might give all this up and move to Vermont and open a ski resort," she says.EDITED BY ANDREA ROTHMAN; S. W. B.