‘Socialist’ London has lost its mojo, says Wizz Air boss

The prospect of Váradi receiving his £100m bonus, first promised in 2021, is vague. Under the terms of the deal, the Wizz chief must increase the company’s share price to £120 by 2028 to unlock the prize.

Váradi, 58, will put those concerns behind him on Tuesday, when the airline celebrates its 20th anniversary at a party in Budapest, attended by 3,000 employees flown in from its 35 bases in Europe and the Middle East.

The message he wants to convey is that a low point has already been reached in terms of fleet disruption, with the number of aircraft grounded due to the engine crisis at a maximum.

“This will be one of the biggest events in our business community,” he said of the meeting. “We should be very proud of what we have achieved and that should give us energy and pride for the future. We still have twenty exciting years ahead of us.”

Then it’s back to London on Thursday for the presentation of the annual results, followed by the appointment on Friday on the London Stock Exchange.

It will be the first time he rings the opening bell of the market. When Wizz went public in 2015, the privilege fell to Bill Franke, the airline’s chairman and the founder of its largest investor, the American private equity firm Indigo.

Afterwards, Mr Váradi will retire to the Mayfair apartment he has called home since late 2020, driven by Wizz’s business setup, the desire to be closer to the financial markets, the growth of the UK operations (Luton is now the largest branch) and the ease of worldwide travel from Heathrow.

There will be little time for relaxation. Mr Váradi is months away from completing his dissertation at King’s College London as part of the master’s degree in war studies he started two years ago.

The subject: Palestinian state. He said he had chosen to do so long before the October 7 Hamas attacks and Israel’s subsequent military operation in the Gaza Strip. He declined to reveal what his thesis will conclude about the prospects for a lasting peace.

It will be his fifth degree, following a BA in business administration and an MA in economics obtained as a young man in Hungary, an MA in law from University College London, and another in international directorship and governance, awarded by the French business school INSEAD.

“It’s purely intellectual,” he said. “You know, there was a game called Brick Breaker that I started playing, and at one point it flashed that I was in the top 100 in the world. I thought, my god, if you have time to do this, you have time to do something else.

The war studies course in particular resonates for reasons beyond the pure pursuit of knowledge, harking back to his days of national service in Hungary before the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

He said: “I have always been interested in global affairs. I served in the army. I was a sniper. I started shooting again 10 years ago and now I do it for competition, with pistols, not advanced weapons, I don’t have eyes for that. But I am interested in the military.”

Mr Váradi is full of praise for King’s – “it is the world leader in war studies” – and the British education system in general. He reveals that his son will follow in his footsteps and start an MA course in London this autumn after graduating in the US. .

“It’s excellent, the best in the world, and I can make some comparisons. Your leading schools are truly top notch. The European academic attitude is very restrictive. In Britain they say: there is a problem, explore the options to solve it.”

That’s an approach the government and the City of London might consider as the LSE battles to retain its biggest companies, and therefore its global position.

Mr Váradi said: “The conditions for money must be well worked out. The pendulum has swung too far and must now swing back to restore balance.”

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