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Robert Knuepfer '78, shown here at a 2010 Kellogg Awards Dinner, recently was awarded Hungary's top honor for his social and economic work.

Robert Knuepfer

Hungarian honor

Kellogg’s Robert Knuepfer ’78 was honored by the Hungarian government

By Dan Campana

1/23/2014 - Robert Knuepfer ’78 didn’t realize at first exactly what he agreed to do when a superior at the Baker & McKenzie law firm asked him to go to Hungary in 1992.

“I said sure. I assumed it was a short-term assignment,” Knuepfer, who has taught at Kellogg since 1995, recalled.

He was so sure, in fact, that he didn’t even ask his wife about it. As it turned out, Knuepfer was headed overseas to start up the firm’s practice in post-Cold War central Europe where mergers and acquisitions became prominent after the Iron Curtain fell.

With his wife – she agreed to the move – and four kids, Knuepfer lived and worked in Hungary from 1992 until 1995, with two years of commuting after that. Two decades later, Knuepfer received the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Order of Merit, the country’s highest honor, during a Nov. 22 ceremony at Baker & McKenzie’s Chicago office.

“I was stunned; a complete surprise,” 61-year-old Knuepfer said, noting he was honored for his diplomatic and economic work throughout the years.

Those contributions include among other things, lobbying for business-friendly laws in Hungary and his continued promotion of relations between the countries. In 2013, he was appointed Foreign Economic Counsel to Hungary.

Personal and professional

Knuepfer arrived in Hungary to find a country with a 17-year wait for a telephone and no simple way to locate housing. He showed up at the law office, located in a rented house, on the first day to have the only other lawyer quit.

“It was not Chicago,” Knuepfer quipped.

Sent to Hungary to build up the practice, Knuepfer did just that. He helped grow that one-person office into a practice with hundreds of lawyers in offices throughout central Europe and central Asia. On a personal level, Knuepfer met people through his children’s school. He helped start up a Rotary International chapter and Boy Scout troop, while the family supported an orphanage by hosting a coat drive and a Thanksgiving dinner.

"Each one of those experiences created another network,” he said. “When you’re out of your comfort zone, you make friends much faster.”

A passion to teach

Knuepfer earned his law degree and MBA from Northwestern in 1978, picking up lessons about teamwork and collaboration in the process.

He passed those values on to law students he taught in Hungary at Eotvos Lorand University and Central European University. The experience sparked Knuepfer’s decision to teach international business transactions classes at Northwestern. He believes his overseas work in the classroom has been helpful as a growing number of students in the program have international backgrounds.

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