Athens.- On Thursday June 25, 2015 – an extremely difficult day for our country as the Eurogroup meeting was taking place and Greece was the main topic of discussion – the 5th Annual Capital Link CSRinGreece Corporate Social Responsibility Forum entitled “Entrepreneurship – Innovation – Society” was held at the Athens Hilton Hotel and was another huge success boosting more than 600 participants and distinguished speakers. The Conference was a glimmer of hope and a proud not only for all the distinguished Greek Americans Business Leaders but also for the important executives from Greek Companies that all presented at the Forum.
The Forum aimed to showcase how the Greek Economy can be reinforced by supporting Entrepreneurship and Innovation and to provide a practical guide to entrepreneurs on where and how they can get support for their business ventures.
Capitalizing on our 20-year track record with the organization of uniquely successful investment conferences, Capital Link has pioneered a series of CSR-focused forums in London, Athens and New York. This Forum, as all Capital Link’s forums, combines unique informational and networking opportunities.
The Forum has two sides – entrepreneurial and social.
From the Business side, the forum aimed to present a range of programs and initiatives that are offered by companies and organizations in Greece and abroad which aim to support and fund new and small & medium-sized enterprises.
From the social side, this Forum offered again the opportunity to approximately 100 NGOs from all over Greece, to showcase and communicate their programs, needs and objectives. It is especially important that through the internationalized profile of Capital Link’s forums, they will be promoted not only to Greece but also to the Greek diaspora.
Forum opened with the welcome remarks of Mr. Nicolas Bornozis, President of Capital Link Inc. who stated that despite the significant progress that has been made in several areas in Greece, we have to note that Greece continues to suffer from the worst financial, social and political crisis in its recent history. This year the 5th Annual Corporate Social Responsibility Forum presented and highlighted ways of reinforcing the Greek Economy by supporting entrepreneurship and innovation. We are very happy and honored that these important Greek American personalities from Greece and abroad, with a special presence in the area of investments participated in our Forum. Also we would like to thank all these startup companies that participated and actively demonstrate the value and importance of supporting entrepreneurship and innovation. ”
KEYNOTE ADDRESS & “2015 CAPITAL LINK CSR LEADERSHIP AWARD”
The Keynote Speaker at this year’s event, Mr. C. Dean Μetropoulos, Chairman & CEO of Metropoulos & Company, was the recipient of Capital Link’s 2015 CSR Leadership Award. Mr. Μetropoulos was presented by the Mayor of Athens, Mr. Yorgos Kaminis.
Mr. Metropoulos delivered a warm, motivational speech, bestowing his trust and confidence on the energy and resourcefulness of the Greeks to overcome the adversities of the crisis. Characteristically, he said that Greece could become the “Miami” of all of Europe. He went on to address several considerations of the audience. He also stated that: “The talent and capabilities of Greek business leaders in Greece and throughout the world, is a unique and powerful opportunity that can transform Greece into a successful participant in this exciting generation of technology, international investments and globally transforming businesses. We all have a vested interest in helping our ancestral and beloved Greece as we encourage its transformation into this exciting generation of opportunities.” He then went on to address several considerations of the audience.
Roundtable Discussion – “Greek American Business Leaders & Greek Startups”
Taking in consideration the amazing achievements and expertise of John P. Calamos, John Koudounis, Dennis Mehiel and C. Dean Μetropoulos and the thirst for knowledge and advice from the young Greek entrepreneurs, there was a panel discussion on the topic of “Mentoring the Next Generation”.
The discussion was moderated by Journalist, Mrs. Sophia Papaioannou, Editorial Director, Huffington Post Greece & & Presenter TV Show “360 Degrees”, Alpha TV and the speakers shared their long-term investment experience, primarily in the U.S. environment, and gave advice to young Greek entrepreneurs.
As an initial statement, Mr. John Calamos expressed the opinion that growth in Greece can only come from small businesses, as is the case in the U.S.A., while he is convinced that innovation is the only way to create jobs, increase productivity and generate wealth for everyone.
Mr. C. Dean Metropoulos spoke of Greece’s failure to properly capitalize on its energy and educated youth, while he insisted upon the value of political leadership and the latter’s ability to maintain a stable, predictable, and reliable environment where capital is allowed to pursue its goals.
Mr. John Koudounis realized the fact that austerity has led to cutbacks, without the simultaneous creation of economic stimuli. He remained optimistic, though, that an entrepreneur with a brilliant idea, keeping faith with it and ready to fight for it, could still surpass the crisis and emerge successful.
Finally, Mr. Dennis Mehiel cited the American saying: “Never waste a crisis!” He believes that the problem in Greece – as opposed to U.S. – is the lack of a consistent framework, where people understand the rules and take conscious risks, in hope of materializing their entrepreneurial vision.
Mrs. Papaioannou asked about the kind of framework, which helped U.S. entrepreneurs to overcome obstacles during critical times.
Mr. Calamos referred to the government’s responsibility to provide the necessary framework in order for businesses to flourish. As an example he used the problem of hyperinflation back in the 1980s, and the tax cuts undertaken by the U.S. government at the time so as to boost economic growth.
Mr. Metropoulos spoke very highly of the power of energy and the desire to succeed. He went on to praise the U.S. “lean and mean” operational framework, whose rules are known by the players, and where decisions are executed fast. Growth is driven by new products, innovation, automation, and competitive advantage.
The journalist posed the question of how Greeks can become global.
Mr. Koudounis highlighted the importance of networking (even at the University level) and the social media. He pointed to the need of having confidence in the environment in which you operate – for which political stability is a prerequisite – while it is essential to be aware of competitive conditions in this environment.
Mr. Mehiel replied on a question regarding the reforms which should be applied in Greece. He advocated the adoption of a flat tax rate and the vigorous enforcement of a fair, flexible, and equitable tax regime. For instance, tax fraud offenders should be penalized.
The roundtable discussion continued with questions asked to the panelists by representatives of participating Greek startups:
AbZorba Games’ representative Mr. Manos Moschous asked for advice on whether – given the bad situation in Greece – a Greek entrepreneur should stay in the country or relocate elsewhere. Mr. Mehiel acknowledged the fact that it is harder for younger people to explore their talent in Greece, particularly during the most recent years. However, relocation remains largely a personal matter, depending on factors like one’s individual situation and the type of industry in question.
The representative of the eLearning Industry Mr. Christopher Pappas asked whether entrepreneurship should be taught in the educational system. Mr. Metropoulos questioned the extent to which entrepreneurship can be taught, as it is primarily instinctive in nature. What he considers important, though, is to develop an entrepreneurial culture. Mr. Calamos characteristically replied that the “academy teaches you what to think. But Greek philosophy teaches you how to think.”
A question by the representative of e-satisfaction Mr. Evangelos Kotsonis was concerned with how the speakers dealt with big disappointments in their career. Mr. Koudounis suggested that one must be passionate and always believe in his/her product, as this can help with overcoming obstacles, while one should never hesitate to seek resources outside Greece, if deemed necessary.
Green Cola’s representative asked the panelists whether they would invest in a product with a growing potential, which they would not be familiar with. Although Mr. Metropoulos did not preclude such a possibility, he insisted in the importance of having a clear vision of where you want to take your business. Investing in a familiar industry facilitates performance measurement and is far more inspirational, he added.
From Iatreio Online, Mr. Manolis Niadas & Mr. Manolis Couclelis, wanted to know what is the best way for a startup to internationalize itself and when is the best time to do so. Mr. Calamos stressed the fact that you cannot go global unless you manage to be locally successful in the first place.
From Necova P.C., Mr. Vassilis Soulios asked about the kind of help that the panelists offer to the startups, in which they invest. For Mr. Mehiel, the assistance in fundamental business tackling is of the essence. Moreover, he claimed that as an investor you must be comfortable with the startup’s team and start providing them with capital once appropriate business practices are in place.
The representative of Pinnatta Mr. George Spanoudakis asked from the speakers to go back in time – before realizing their first big success – and describe their greatest fear, as well as how they handled it. Mr. Calamos readily identified the failure to provide a good job for the client as his greatest fear. All else is a byproduct of it, he claimed. Mr. Mehiel added that if you have a clear vision as an entrepreneur, you should not be afraid.
Finally, TripleInView’s question from Mr. Achilles Chatzinikos related to the choice of a fair valuation method of a startup with no historical data. Mr. Koudounis mainly referred to the valuation method of comparable, using peer company- and or industry& market multiples.
Roundtable Discussion “Greek Government – Greek American Business Leaders & Greek Businessmen”
A high point of the event was the Roundtable Discussion among Greek American and Greek Business Leaders and the Greek Government on the topic of “Putting Greece Back on the Global Investor Agenda” that was moderated by Mr. Athanasios Ellis, Senior Editor & Columnist, Kathimerini and revolved around the potential of putting Greece back to the global investment agenda.
In this discussion participated: Mr. John P. Calamos, Founder, Chairman, CEO and Global Co-Chief Investment Officer, Calamos Investments, Mr. John Koudounis, President & CEO, Mizuho Securities USA, Inc.,
Mr. Lois Lamprianidis, Generel Secretary of Private Investments, Mr. Dennis Mehiel, Chairman & CEO, Four M Investments, Mr. C. Dean Metropoulos, Chairman & CEO, Metropoulos & Company, Mr. Stelios Zavvos, Founder & CEO, Zeus Capital Managers, Mr. Andreas Andreadis, Chairman, Greek Tourism Confederation, Mr. Konstantinos Bitsios, Executive Vice – Chairman, SEV Hellenic Federation of Enterprises and Mr. Panos Papazoglou, Managing Partner, EY Greece.
Most speakers started by pinpointing several current investment problems in Greece.
Mr. Calamos argued that the current political instability is discouraging for investors, and pointed to the need of restoring stability.
For Mr. Metropoulos, predictability is a crucial factor, particularly in areas like legislation. He also highlighted the need of cooperating with a competent, trustworthy local partner, who knows how to maneuver at a local level.
For Mr. Koudounis, it makes sense – given the abundance of investment choices worldwide – that investors seek to balance their appetite for yield with their willingness to take on risk. It is plausible that in the case of Greece, political and economic risks must be considered.
Mr. Mehiel adopted a similar view and acknowledged the difficulty of international capital inflows to Greece, given the prevailing political uncertainty.
Mr. Bornozis contended that there will always be risk-seeking investors; however, due to the ongoing Greek uncertainty their assets constantly run the risk of depreciating severely.
Mr. Zavvos examined why an investor would choose to invest in Greece, when there are so many opportunities globally. He spoke of the importance of the politics-society-economy framework. He expressed the opinion that only the private sector could get Greece out of the crisis and pointed to the fact that the country needs political stability, structural reforms, environmental performance and less bureaucracy. Moreover, he advocated the adoption of a predictable tax rate and fairness in the collection system, an equitable legal system, and the creation of an ecosystem of innovation.
Mr. Andreadis discussed the – still – positive and prominent outlook of the Greek tourism sector, and claimed that there remain several untapped opportunities in this area.
For Mr. Bitsios, the two main preconditions to invest in Greece are i) currency (economic) stability and ii) structural reforms (permeating such areas as the public sector, legislation and regulatory systems, and the tax system).
Mr. Papazoglou contended that although Greece is a wonderful place to live, it is still a difficult place for business. For him a turnaround can only be achieved by assessing i) what we have done wrong so far, ii) what we do right and should continue doing, and iii) what should we start doing. He spoke of the need to adopt a vision and introduce deep reforms, deal with oligopolies and corruption, invest in R&D and education.
Finally, Mr. Lamprianidis’s point of view is that investors wait for “things to settle down” before they decide to invest in the country. He concluded with the critical role of investments in keeping Greece within the value chain, the need of the country to stop the brain drain, and the necessity of changing the ecosystem.
The discussion continued with the challenges involved in selecting a suitable local partner.
Mr. Zavvos realized the necessity of selecting a local player so as to reduce volatility, while Mr. Metropoulos enumerated certain factors, which will determine the ideal local partner – some of them are related to the external environment (like pricing), while others are more internally oriented (like integrity and professionalism).
Mr. Koudounis pointed to the fact that you need to take some time and ponder over such a choice. He also brought up the issue of relationship building and the reputation of the local partnership candidates.
Similarly, Mr. Mehiel spoke of the importance of the cardinal values (such as integrity, transparency, and reputation) in addition to competence.
Finally, Mr. Bornozis advocated the categorization of opportunities, and argued that even a problematic company – when properly restructured – can have a positive impact on society at large and contribute to economic growth. He concluded by coming back to Mr. Mehiel’s quote: “Never waste a crisis!”
The discussion was concluded with a Q&A session, where the speakers had the opportunity to interact with the audience and address a wide range of issues regarding various sectors and areas, such as the shipping sector, the educational system, the banking sector, and the tax reforms.