Following a year that put us all to the test, 2021 has arrived bringing hope and the promise of fresh possibilities and better times ahead. Each and every sector has felt the impact of the pandemic, and as vaccines are rolled out and a return to normalcy seems within reach, it is up to each of us to make the necessary decisions and take action to ensure we hit the ground running in our effort to recover from this ordeal. This Thought Leaders feature brings together the Chamber’s leading voices in a special presentation of AmChamGR’s Leadership Committee to share their thoughts, projections, and insights on how to best navigate the road ahead to recovery and set the tone for a positive and productive year ahead.
We may feel unlucky that in such a turning point we are held back by this pandemic, but this will soon end and what it leaves behind is a tremendous investment and know-how in applied everyday technology
Aside from the economic figures and indicators, there is this feeling one gets about the potential of the society around you. In my capacity as a leadership development professional, I have the privilege to communicate daily with senior business people, and it seems we all share the same unspoken feeling of real, genuine optimism about the imminent future of Greece. It is not the same everywhere in the world. I was talking the other day with an ex-colleague in Romania, and she was describing the feeling in that country as gloomy and pessimistic; we sense the same from what we see in other countries, such as the US or Turkey. We have been in that position, suffered and, thank God, left all this behind. Our hard-toiled past is now our competitive edge. Now the Greek spring is coiled and there is an impatient peace before the ring of the bell.
We may feel unlucky that in such a turning point we are held back by this pandemic, but this will soon end and what it leaves behind is a tremendous investment and know-how in applied everyday technology. We would never do that in normal circumstances. As for the diplomatic problems with Turkey: It seems unlikely that they will be resolved in the foreseeable future, but in any case, Greece thrives in challenging times. Here again, the benefits outperform the damage; a splendid diplomatic effort, the like of which we hadn’t seen in decades, showed there are neighbors that stand by us, neighbors we had sadly neglected. I was talking to an Israeli official during a trip to Cyprus, and when I admitted I had never been to Israel, he joked that “after all, it’s so far away.” Then I realized it is not. The West is great, and it is where we institutionally belong, but our neighbors love us and we should show we love them back.
It seems the decade 25-35 in one’s life is extremely transformative. When you are 25, you are a student, probably still depending on your family; when you turn 35, you are expected to run the world. This is where AmCham’s Leadership Committee (LC) is investing.
The LC is a group of CEOs and owners of large Greek and multinational organizations, loosely tied in a casual and friendly manner and open to anyone who wishes to contribute towards our main goal, which is to get in touch and communicate sincerely with young people. In our events, we avoid ppt presentations and corporate etiquette and instead engage in an open dialogue on what we want from you (as employees) and what you want from us (as employers). Both sides learn, but it is us, the members of the committee, that receive the blessing of being around young people with their energy, freshness and hope. Personally, I am grateful to my good friends AmCham President Nikos Bakatselos and Executive Director Elias Spirtounias who are always present in LC gatherings to support and contribute in securing an opportunity young people rarely have, to meet face to face and talk with the business leaders of our country.
2021: The Season We've Been Preparing for
By Konstantinos Alexopoulos, CEO, Domotel Hotels & Resorts
Though the challenges of the previous year were universal and had a direct impact on the hotel industry, Greece stood its ground once again, proving the resilience of hospitality against the odds. If we were able to share the Greek Summer with our guests during such an unprecedented year, it seems more plausible than ever that we’ll welcome them again in 2021—maybe not with “open arms” as we are used to, but with a collection of valuable insights in our arsenal that we lacked during the 2020 season. With a reinforced emphasis on safety and privacy, a continued commitment to robust testing procedures and the prioritized vaccination of hotel staff members enhancing our feeling of safety, we enter a new season which we foresee to be more positive than the last, while looking to the future, to 2022 and 2023 when we will—finally—return back to normalcy.
The past year has been full of challenges, the repercussions of which we will continue to see over the coming months. But 2021 will also be a year full of opportunities, as our country will have access to funds that—if utilized properly—have the power to truly support the transformation of our economy and society overall. Transformation is always a journey that requires effort. Aiming at a more resilient economy and a more digitized and inclusive society, my view is that the effort needs to focus on three things: strategic policy planning, investment in infrastructure, and efficient utilization of the abundance of talented professionals that exist in Greece.
Vodafone Greece is committed to remaining an active partner in this effort. We are dedicated to leaving a solid investment footprint that will unveil the possibilities of technology and will support Greece in making its digital leap. We want to leave our mark and contribute to a more inclusive society, full of equal opportunities, by making next generation connectivity accessible to all Greeks.
The Future Requires a More Inclusive Leadership Style, Broader Collaborations and Stakeholder Trust
By Ourania Εkaterinari, CEO, Hellenic Corporation of Assets and Participations S.A.
The challenging year that just ended has tested the leadership of private and public corporations alike. Surveys show that companies that effectively managed their human capital during the pandemic, have gained their trust and shielded their organizations from the full impact of the crisis. Moving forward, as the global economy recovers, businesses and governments must work systematically to face a completely new set of challenges. We need to see a larger opportunity—the chance to build on pandemic-related accomplishments and re-imagine the identity of each organization, how it works, and how it grows, but also formulate a clear vision for the new normal. This involves accelerating digital transformation while keeping our focus on the human factor, strengthening corporate governance and inclusiveness, increasing resilience and moving ahead with our sustainability agenda. In an environment drastically reshaped by the pandemic, corporates have to leverage data analytics and AI to better understand their clients and their evolving needs and expectations. Above all, we must all analyze carefully the changes and new trends set in motion by the latest crisis, understand whether they are transitory or long-lasting, identify their consequences and redefine the purpose of our organizations in a way that will gain the trust of our stakeholders and society.
Experiencing and Acknowledging the Value of Pharmaceutical Innovation
By Spyros Filiotis, Vice President and General Manager, Pharmaserve-Lilly S.A.C.I.
The pandemic has permanently changed our lives. Everyone in the world is living through scientific discovery firsthand, and clinical research is being discussed outside take out coffee shops and in kitchens everywhere. The uncertainty inherent in scientific progress, the “two steps forward one step back” reality is being taught to us as we travel through it in real time!
There has been progress over the last year. We have gotten good at reliable testing. We discovered, developed and now mass produce therapies that are saving the lives of people infected by the disease. We have created and have begun mass vaccinations of populations in a staggeringly short amount of time. The ability to mass produce such technologically advanced and complicated tests, therapies and vaccines is one of the greatest hurdles we have had to overcome.
Less than a year ago, the world was looking to the pharmaceutical industry to develop the “weapon” that will allow us to return to our normal lives. The industry is now in the middle of delivering on that hope.
Society is benefitting from the result of pharmaceutical innovation. It is time to fully acknowledge the importance of the pharmaceutical industry to the healthcare system, the economy, and society.
If we are able to claim victory over this pandemic by the end of 2021, it will be, by far, the shortest of the many pandemics in recorded human history. Mostly possible because of the number of highly skilled people, the previously existing capabilities and the necessary capital that the global pharmaceutical industry has been able to direct toward solving this problem.
Perhaps the most important lesson to keep with us is that there is no greater insurance policy against the next pandemic than a healthy, robust, sustainable, and yes, profitable, pharmaceutical industry.
People are fatigued and are dreaming of a new year that resembles 2019. There is no doubt in my mind that 2021 will be a year of transition. Assuming that vaccinations continue at a good pace, a sense of normalcy will allow confidence to return in Q3, and that is highly likely to unleash a consumer rebound and cause investor sentiment to soar. 2021 will present incredible opportunities for those who plan ahead.
Covid has definitely humbled many of us and forced us to become more creative. The pandemic accelerated the digital revolution and put innovative ideas to work in record times, and we saw a new generation of entrepreneurs appearing. The lessons learned during the turbulent 2020 are now the best navigation tools we have to lead us out of the crisis.
The Transition into a New Era
By John Kalligeros, President and CEO, Mercedes-Benz Hellas Single-Member S.A.
2020 has been a year to draw wisdom from. It started with high hopes and expectations but all of a sudden, we had to hit the brakes. Like F1 drivers, forced to do so due to the safety car slowing everyone down in the racetrack. This was not wasted time, though. We kept our tyres warm by reassessing our priorities and our strategic direction. We focused on people and their safety, securing jobs and maintaining business robustness and profitability at the same time.
The first arrival of the vaccines together with the experience gained in 2020 has brought us hope that our day-to-day life may return to a certain normalcy. However, in business nothing will be as it was. The pandemic has acted as an accelerator, mainly in digital transformation, that concerns all aspects of everyday life. The landscape is changing rapidly, reminding us that the 4th Industrial Revolution is already here. Digitalization has come to stay and Mercedes-Benz, living in times of transition into the new era of mobility, knows that well.
Α mindset reset is imperative, as we need to respond to challenges faster, more open-mindedly and more flexibly. Therefore, it is now crucial for leaders to do what they know best: to exit their comfort zone, to have an open ear for new ideas and to adapt to the new landscape, in order to solve the riddle of a constantly changing environment. Skills such as empathy, solidarity, flexibility and critical thinking are required, so that decisionmaking is as safe as possible. Because the world is not going to be the same again.
Heraclitus Was Right! Time to Rewrite the Manual
By Antonios Kerastaris, Chairman and Managing Director, Brinks Hellas
If there is one thing that this pandemic has taught us, it is that we should take nothing for granted. Personal relationships, business practices, everyday life all overthrown in a blink of an eye, over some virus. Centuries of social and business paradigms uprooted, and we still have not seen the end of it.
In this environment we must do what all mankind has done over the centuries: adapt and overcome. We must rewrite the manual from scratch. It is up to the leaders of this world to redefine the how and who. We must lead the way, work with our people and close to them in getting through this peril. The day after for our country and the world will have different, but as many, opportunities. People will still work, in a different way probably, still venture, still make money and lose money.
In times such as these, historically, new leaders emerge, wealth is redistributed and champions of change thrive. In a nutshell, everything that we are living through today is an opportunity more than it is a threat, and the people that view it as such are the leaders of tomorrow.
2021 kicked-off with loads of hope and positive developments. The initial shock has given way to a routine that, although volatile, allows optimism that will lead to growth, strategic investments and smart moves by strong players.
Businesses that can foresee the needs of the new norm and understand the importance of health, sustainability, innovation and technological development, and put them at the core of their offering will be the winners. Especially if they are prepared with different scenarios and can quickly adjust to the current changing landscape.
At the same time, leaders should be urged to focus on the inside of their organizations, support and strengthen talent and maintain with their actions a positive and optimistic environment. We shouldn’t forget that our people are a force multiplier.
Covid-19 has had a diverse effect in different industries, but there is one universal consequence: It forced everyone out of their comfort zones.
As companies struggle to redefine the way they operate or even lead in their markets, their leaders focused on their human side much more than before, showing genuine care for their employees, customers, and communities.
I’ve heard many people say how they’re looking forward to going “back to the way things were.” I don’t think we are ever going back; but we can move forward and keep what was good in the past while improving what was not. Leaders must make sure they maintain this human-centric mindset while balancing empathy and execution, understanding the individual needs of their people and taking nothing for granted.
I see leadership as both a privilege and a responsibility; let us use this time to shine.
Let’s Make the Pandemic and the 2020s an Opportunity
By Nikolaos Negas, CEO, Friday's Kifissias S.A.
The pandemic violently entered our lives in 2020. It caused tremendous loss of life, economic and social unrest throughout the world, and acceleration of evolving changes in business practices and daily routines. At the same time though, we were allowed to reevaluate how we live, work, lead, and manage. For our country, it coincided with what seemed to be the end of the economic crisis and the election of a new government promising to move ahead with reforms, a better understanding of the economic environment and a willingness to act beyond the partisan scope in order to bring economic stability and growth. Even though the pandemic seems to disrupt these efforts, it must also be a unique and unprecedented opportunity that we cannot afford to lose.
The government can learn from this experience. Tough decisions received full support from society. The infamous Greek public sector, under heavy pressure, proved it can act and perform quickly and efficiently. Succumbing to different groups’ needs and interests brought back a second wave. Even so, 72% of public opinion still supported stricter measures. (Alco Pulse, November 2020). And then again, a society reacting with calm and patience during the Christmas season. If not anything else, it looks like we are ready to act and think more responsibly.
It is time our political parties start leading. We need to move forward. Let’s make the ‘20s a decade of opportunity and not another lost decade for Greece.
The New Normal Needs Culture
By Pantelis Panos, General Manager, American School of Classical Studies at Athens
As the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic today and the need to rebuild our societies tomorrow, culture should be at the heart of our response to the challenges that lie ahead. We have a duty to investigate weaknesses and consider potential contributions of the cultural sector and to demand action in order to harness that energy.
I am confident that our tangible and intangible heritage, creative industries, and artistic expressions, can promote the powerful economic development that our society needs. We have a unique opportunity to shape the future we want by designing policies that allow culture to fulfill its role as a pillar of sustainable development. Moving from analysis to action requires, however, sober and rational decisions about how recovery strategies and programs can be implemented within an environment of limited resources. Such analysis should provide a comprehensive framework for understanding our post-pandemic world and for creating stronger, more innovative, and more resilient cultural communities of tomorrow.
Food retail was one of the few sectors that were not severely affected by the pandemic and overall performed well, as outlets mostly provide necessary supplies and they remained open during both lockdowns. Without a doubt, in 2021, we will still operate under the new normal, at least for the first few months. As we move on, more and more people are going to be vaccinated and gradually consumers will get back to their previous habits.
As I believe that the recession we are experiencing will subside sooner rather than later, I am very optimistic that tourism will make a strong comeback and provide the Greek economy with a significant advantage. People frustrated by the prolonged lockdowns feel the need to go out more, relax and leave this past overwhelming period behind them. To this end, they will go to restaurants more, enjoy cafes and bars more often and travel more. As a result, supermarkets will aim to maintain their turnover and the wholesale sector will grow again, especially as HO.RE.CA businesses will gradually reopen.
Our mission is to continue providing a safe, secure environment for everyday needs and ensure product adequacy through our supply chain’s optimal performance. Additionally, digital transformation is an essential part of our business development that will further advance in the years to come.
It seems that the Covid-19 crisis has made us rethink: Is the thought of having control over things an illusion after all? I believe that the best way, as a leader, to navigate the road ahead to recovery is to manage yourself first and adopt the right—positive!—mental model, to be aware and prepared of the decisions that need to be made on the steps we take from here. This experience gives us an opportunity to appreciate and define what lesson we learned from this. It’s an opportunity to create new meaning, to identify what we should change, and renew out of this experience instead of going back to work as usual. At the same time, it’s important to have awareness of what is going on in your team in the recovery phase and adapt your leadership accordingly. It’s a matter of balancing a smooth return to normal while keeping the insistence to revitalize.
Health and Safety at the Top of the Insurance Market Agenda
By Marianna Politopoulou, Chairman and CEO, NN Hellas
The unprecedented pandemic ignited a worldwide acceleration of changes, our everyday life being no exception. We, at NN Hellas, showed empathy, resilience and flexibility, while at the same time prioritized our people’s wellbeing, along with business continuity. Capitalizing on our digital infrastructure, we adapted rapidly, offering seamless customer service through an upgraded digital experience. The recent roll-out of the anticipated vaccines finally brought a positive outlook and shared optimism. The rising hope for a widespread inoculation of the population will mitigate the anxiety and improve social as well as financial indices. With the post-pandemic future still being formed, health and safety will certainly remain at the forefront of our strategy. Thus, always guided by οur values and regardless of the challenges, we commit to remaining consistent with our clients and partners. We continue to operate with transparency and care, always helping people ensure what matters most to them and their families.
We Must Make the Most of the Pandemic’s Positive Legacy
By Vassilis Rabbat, Managing Director, Xerox Hellas A.E.E.
Beyond its obvious impact on health, society and the economy, the Covid-19 pandemic radically impacted the ways we work and communicate, while also accelerating the adoption and use of digital technologies. Remote working became part of all our lives and we all had to learn how to do it. Communication with our colleagues, clients and business partners—even with our friends—now takes place online. E-commerce has taken off, and so have our digital interactions with banks and the state. All of these were pre-existing trends, but the conditions of our new reality dramatically sped up the process of their adoption and implementation. This is the pandemic’s positive legacy, and I believe that things will never really go back to the way they were—not in how we work, and not in how we interact with the state.
What we need now is to ensure that we push through with the country’s digital transformation, that we introduce the necessary policies to transition to the workplaces of the future, to push through 5G implementation and to fully support and empower our country’s health and welfare sector so that we are truly prepared for the future. Let’s make the most of this opportunity we were given to become more productive.
Sustainability Is About Embracing Responsibility
By Lefteris Samaras, Managing Director, Greece, Cyprus and Malta, DHL Express Hellas S.A.
Businesses across sectors and around the world have been severely tested by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past year. At DHL Express, adaptability, quick decision making and the flexibility to adjust goals and priorities became central to all business activity. We remained Employer of Choice for our people by prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of our staff, and at the same time, we remained Provider of Choice for our customers by maintaining an excellent level of service. At the same time, the logistics sector faced significant challenges such as the extreme boom of e-commerce due to lockdown in local markets as well as the business impact because of Brexit. Through these efforts, we also identified points and processes that can be improved upon not just in the context of the ongoing crisis but to deliver lasting benefits for our sector in general.
As the biggest opportunity since globalization, digitalization plays a crucial role in our strategy, aiming to increase operational efficiency in order to deliver great benefits for our people, our customers and our environment, throughout the next years.
And of course, sustainability continues to be a key factor for healthy modern entrepreneurship in every corner of the world. At DHL Express, it is expressed perfectly in our purpose of ‘Connecting people, improving lives’, while our G’ programs of social responsibility—GoTeach, GoHelp and GoGreen—have become an integral part of our DNA. In the end, sustainability is no longer limited to environmental protection; it also encompasses responsibility for our employees and society as well as corporate governance practices.
2020 reminded us all that we should take nothing for granted and that adaptability is probably the most crucial element of success, both personally and professionally. I expect 2021 to further test our commitment to change and our ability to build successful and prosperous lives on new grounds. I wish good health to you and your beloved ones. Strength and creativity to cope successfully with the upcoming challenges. Optimism so you can enjoy the journey, and last but not least, gratitude for all the things you will achieve in this new promising year.
This Will Be a Year of Accelerated Transformation
By Andreas Xirocostas, Managing Director, SAP Hellas S.A.
Trying to predict what is coming, after a year of such uncertainty, is challenging to say the least. During the past 12 months, we faced many difficulties and extraordinary situations, but we were offered the opportunity to discover agile ways of doing business, working together, and collaborating. With this in mind, 2021 will be a year of further change and acceleration of disruption. The new reality will not be going back to how things were before the pandemic. Business leaders will ask for creativity and resilience, they will help their teams focus on making an impact and driving innovation. Customers are more mature, with new habits, thus customer experience will be of strong focus to companies and bold actions will be expected—and technology will support this fast-changing environment. Increased technology adoption, operations optimization and digital communication will shape a different, but promising, reality in 2021.