When he calls time on his high-flying career, Attila Torok, the regional operations director of Millionaires Casino in Nairobi plans to slither back to his native Hungary, to grow flowers and to spend the rest of his life with his family.
Most executives I have interviewed often talk grand on transforming the world upon retirement, from running climate change foundations to environmental conservation efforts and other social enterprises.
But Attila knocks me off kilter with his modesty and still temperament.
Attila, 50, is wearing a thick mass of mid-fade hairstyle and a cream Massimo Dutti suit. Although nearly a geekily thorough dresser, he swears he is “not a fashion maniac.”
“I spend a lot of money on clothes. Not because I consider myself a fashionable person, but because I like quality clothes that make me feel good about myself,” he says.
He does not care if it’s Gucci or a local brand. “If I feel connected to the brand, I’ll buy it.”
His wardrobe is decked with suits by Hugo Boss and his favourite Italian clotheslines. In his line of work, he says, “there’s special satisfaction that comes from being complimented for your dressing, especially by clients.’’
Attila is in charge of operations at Millionaires Casino International, responsible for the Colombia business and the regional market. He spends half his time flying between Nairobi and Bogota.
He flies first class. Not as an expression of opulence, he insists, but for convenience.
“I have no preference for business or first class,” he says. “I’m always working while travelling. I process many confidential data that involves a lot of money, which requires privacy. There’s no room for that in coach class.”
He looks vulnerable when I ask him about his family. He talks about them with passion, sometimes appearing lost for words. Attila and his partner, also a Hungarian and a former ballerina, have three children, two sons aged 21 and 17, and a daughter, 11.
Turns out the lovebirds met in the storied Venetian city of Padua in northern Italy where both were performing. Theirs is a novel-esque romantic tale that clocked 32 years this month.
“When I saw her, I just stood there, my mouth open in wonderment and unable to take in her beauty,’’ he recalls reflectively.
“I wondered: how’s that possible? She was a mature young lady and I considered myself a stupid boy. She is a year older than me.”
They didn’t break ice then, but “something very intense had been sparked in me.’’ Then one night, while returning from a play, she appeared like an apparition “walking beside me.”
“I was cornered and had to greet her. We talked as I sweat and shook the whole time. It’s been a hell of an experience,” he says.
I wonder aloud if she still inspires in him the same magical sensation.
“You can only be with someone for so long if you respect and love them passionately.”
Their greatest joy is their “blonde beautiful” daughter Emily, whom he calls “our princess.”
But he doesn’t care much what his children will become. “Emily is among the best painters in her class. As for the boys, they’re also yet to figure it out too. What matters to me is that they’re my children,” he says.
Has fatherhood changed him? “What is life all about? What’s our mission on earth?” he starts while I lock our gazes, unsure about the new course of our chat.
“There has to be meaning in life. I was present to support my wife when she delivered all our three children. The babies would smile at us shortly after birth. This made me realise that life is about loving unconditionally. Children love you without expecting anything in return.’’
At 14, Attila had visited the US, South America, Russia, Israel, England, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Italy. The list is dizzying and endless.
It is these global excursions that anchored him on the path of his future career, except “I never visualised living this high life.” It’s a dramatic about-turn for someone who started as an acrobat “doing somersaults five men high.”
Today, he still believes the circus is the perfect and most complete thing he has done in half a century of life.
So, what is it like to run the largest casino in the region, 5,700 kilometres from home, I ask.
“I joined Millionaires Casino in Colombia as the general manager two years ago. I was then appointed to head the Kenya business. My job is to help our brand grow as the market leader,” he says.
It is an enormous task because the casino business is still in its nascent stages in Kenya and East Africa. “I have managed casinos for the last 27 years in different parts of the world,” he says.
From crystal chandeliers to carpets and wallpapers, the interior décor of the casino is made of handcrafted items mostly imported from Italy. This prompts me to ask: is the casino for patrons with bottomless pockets as its name suggests?
“The luxurious environment and the service here makes you feel like a millionaire even when you’re are not. It doesn’t matter your financial standing. We create adrenalin and deliver dopamine.”
Like most executives, Attila is a workaholic. “Overworking is my biggest vulnerability. I sleep for four hours everyday,” he says, admitting that he’s still trying to find the right work-life balance.
On things he is ashamed about, ignorance features high in the list, he says. I find this rather odd for someone who is so well travelled and so well read.
“You can never learn enough. You have to have the curiosity to learn more.”
His hobbies are mostly mental aerobics, solving puzzles and, rather interestingly, building ship models.
“A model ship will have between 45,000 to 75,000 pieces. From decking to the hull, you have to get each piece right.’’
Attila is a teetotaller and does not smoke. ‘‘I don’t need alcohol,” he says.
An enthusiastic traveller, Attila and his family recently took the Mediterranean luxury cruise from Barcelona, a trip that he says cost a fortune.
“It’s an experience of a lifetime. It gives you a memory to live for every day.’’
Has any country ever blown his mind? Bermuda Island and Sweden were remarkable, he says. The Swedes’ way of life awestruck him.
For a globetrotter, it’s his retirement plan that’s astonishing.
“I inherited an old house from my grandparents in our village in Hungary. The total population here is 70. My wife and I plan to settle there soon.”
Here, the casino boss hopes to learn carpentry, his favourite hobby, and do flower gardening.
A quiet, free and fun retirement.