Home November 2012 Out of Budapest

Out of Budapest

You name it, and Attila Szenczi-Molnar has been there and done that.  The colorful episodes in his life are what novels are made of, and, at 70, he’s ready to create the next exciting chapter.

He can sell anything, and he can survive anything.  He’s been robbed and “stiffed,” but he always bounces back.  He’ll find a way to give his wealth away.  If he can find a way to help someone, he won’t ask for anything in return.

He loves cars.  He collects them.  He has raced them.  He nearly got killed in a car race, prompting him to learn enough about insurance to become a top sales agent.  Somewhere along the way he learned about God too.

Born in Budapest in 1942 during World War II, Szenczi-Molnar fought in the Hungarian resistance in the 1950s and ended up seeking political asylum in London.  As a student, he sold vacuum cleaners door to door.  Realizing that 98 out of a hundred people were slamming the door in his face, he moved on to selling educational books and then encyclopedias.

“From a very early age I was making good money,” he said.

Szenczi-Molnar joined IBM and became the first non-English-born representative in the United Kingdom.  He broke sales records, selling “more than all the other trainees put together after 90 days.”

He started racing cars, got into an accident in which he “nearly got killed” and moved to Switzerland for 90 days to recover and get life insurance.  That junket led to a new career in life insurance sales with Szenczi-Molnar joining Sun Life of Canada and, of course, outselling everybody else.

To celebrate his 30th birthday in 1972, Szenczi-Molnar ordered a Lamborghini, went to a famous chess game in Iceland (Bobby Fischer of the U.S. versus Boris Spassky of the U.S.S.R.), had a reunion with a Hungarian schoolmate in Phoenix and “gallivanted around Europe for 3 months.”  He added, “I had a strange feeling when I landed in Phoenix.  I knew I wanted to live there.”

In 1973 Szenczi-Molnar made his dream come true and rented a house in Phoenix.  There, on his balcony, he heard a man talking about God.  It turned out to be someone from Jews for Jesus.

“I realized that my family and I survived the war, I managed not to get in with bad crowds and I learned how to make a nice living, but I didn’t realize that God had anything to do with it,” he said.  “I got rid of everything I owned, giving half to Israel and half to Jews for Jesus.”

Then the 1973 war broke out in Israel.  Szenczi-Molnar learned where his heart was.  He began dating an Israeli woman and decided to go to Israel.

In 1974 he got a 90-day assignment with BMW.  Living in New York and Cleveland with the mission of increasing sales and exposure, he increased sales by 600 percent.  He then started an automobile leasing company in Houston, sold it and moved back to Phoenix.  He bought a huge historic house on a 2½-acre estate overlooking the mountains, subdivided the property and made enough profit that “the house cost nothing.”  In 1978 he forecasted what would happen to the automotive industry and began to think about energy-efficient cars, something he would get involved in later.

Then disaster struck.  In 1982 Szenczi-Molnar was the victim of an armed robbery, with claims that would take 10 years to settle.  Bandits, who severed telephone lines and barged in, took more than $200,000 in gems and cash.

He moved to southern California and went to work for BMW in Glendale.  He began selling for Rolls Royce and even had the inspiration to sell a house in San Marino that had been on the market for 2 years by parking a Rolls Royce in front of it, taking a picture of it and offering the car as a bonus for buying the house.  Naturally, it worked.

He moved to Newport Beach to work for Sterling BMW.  Later, he sold planes to Nigeria.  Afterwards, he had a prosperous insurance practice.  He “came out of retirement,” because he thought “hybrid cars had a future.”

But Szenczi-Molnar hopes that he will be remembered more for his charitable endeavors than for his wealth and his adventures.  In 1999 he became the co-producer and a major contributor to the Newport Beach International Film Festival.  He commissioned a Carrara marble statue of an angel made by master sculptor Marton Varo for the occasion.

Szenczi-Molnar was so touched by the events of September 11, 2001, that he served as an ambassador for the September 11 Memorial Quilt Group.  To remember the victims of the tragedy, quilting groups in various parts of the country were invited to assemble three quilts that included photo blocks of each life lost.  Then each quilt went on a 70-day, 14-city tour before being delivered to the City of New York, the Pentagon or Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

Szenczi-Molnar took a year off from his insurance business to be part of the memorial quilt program.  He bemoaned the fact that nobody took care of his clients as promised, but he continues to revel in the letters his two sons wrote, encouraging him to accept the honor.

The latest tzedakah project on Szenczi-Molnar’s plate is helping Holocaust survivors to get restitution from the German government for atrocities committed during World War II.  He helps to translate the paperwork for elderly Hungarians eligible for the funds.

“I’ve never taken a cent from charities, but I’ve met a lot of interesting people,” he said.

What’s next for Szenczi-Molnar?  He admits that he’s looking for his next project.  While he hasn’t decided what it will be, it certainly will take advantage of his intelligence, connections, gift of gab and big heart – and it will be one more great story in a life well lived.

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