Greece: Land of Economic Tragedy or Entrepreneurial Opportunity?



Greece

Researcher Tom Kadala asked fifteen Greek young professionals in Athens to share their views on the future of Greece, including their comments and recommendations for their leaders and Troika. See the findings in the following story:

By Tom Kadala* – Would an ancient Greek playwright like Euripides have ever considered Greece’s current economic malaise a source of inspiration for a modern day Greek tragedy? Probably not. …and yet, an audience for this unwritten, modern-day Greek tragedy has surged as members of the Troika continue to relentlessly pressure Greek politicians to address their overdue financial public obligations now teetering above 170% of GDP.

One can just imagine the utter frustration that Greece’s Government VP and Foreign Minister, Evangelos Venizelos, must feel every time he updates ECB officials of Greece’s economic progress or lack thereof. At a recent ECB review meeting, Venizelos, a burly looking character, bellowed a strong opinion in the nearly empty chambers of onlookers. He told anyone who would listen that to view Greece as the “central problem” of the European and global economy was “false, dangerous, and unfair”. When I read his quote in a local paper, it sounded like the perfect opening line for a riveting and engaging modern-day Greek tragedy, whose first scene might begin as follows:

A Modern-Day Greek Tragedy
As the sun sets over the Athenian skyline, scene one begins. A spotlight, as though originating from the night sky, shines brightly upon the Acropolis. The stage is the city of Athens, while the audience is a virtual network of headline news readers who watch with great anticipation for clues on how this extraordinary Greek tragedy will unravel.

The first scene begins with a narrator’s soliloquy on Greece’s current financial woes. In a monotone voice, he tells the audience that Greece is in debt up to its eyeballs. The country of 10 million inhabitants owes over 317.31 billion euros plus interest to European bankers and other investors, …which translates to a shared debt of over 317,310 euros per Greek citizen. With unemployment at 27.8% and almost twice as high among its youth (58%), the Greek population has a slim chance of ever paying back its creditors. Increased austerity measures have helped reduce the need for more debt but have done little to address the amount the country owes overall. The severe cut backs have made Greek everyday life exceedingly difficult by spreading public misery, triggering social unrest, encouraging talent drain, and fostering capital flight.

In a baffled voice, the narrator turns to the audience and asks the following questions:
If austerity has truly brought the Greek people to a dead end, what can Greece’s leadership do today to help secure a better future? How can their government policymakers attract foreign direct investments, create local employment opportunities for its citizens, and eventually reignite a new and sustainable Greek economy? Are we doomed or is there hope among us?

Suddenly, the silence is broken. From the audience, a group representing the future of Greece, speaks out loud. Their message is direct. Their recommendations spot on and their intentions, genuine. They are none other than representatives of Greece’s young professionals.

A Dynamic Facilitated Discussion
Unwittingly scripted into this next scene, I arrived in Athens for a last-minute business trip earlier this year. Prior to my departure, I had asked various groups of Greek young professionals through LinkedIn and other sources to meet with me for an informal discussion. For nearly two hours, we chatted candidly about the future of their Greece.

They were an eclectic bunch, fifteen in all. They covered a wide range of backgrounds including post graduates, young entrepreneurs, teachers, and professionals working in the private sector. Many had spent time outside of Greece either studying or working internationally. For them, Athens was their home, and they had a vested interest in her future. I agreed to write an op-ed expressing their views so their collective recommendations could be read globally.

I began our facilitated discussion with a hypothetical question that went as follows:
If this Group was offered access to a 100 million euro fund to spend in any way they chose for the betterment of Greece, what would they do first and why?

The Group offered three suggestions, which together revealed some fundamental issues that go far deeper than the well-documented mistrust between Greeks and their government. First, funds should go toward changing Greece’s educational system and specifically toward the placement of more non-Greek teachers. Group members felt that the practice of recruiting teachers from the same student body had potentially fostered a myopic view among Greek academics. Bad teachers who have little fear of losing their jobs are rarely challenged by outside peers nor formally evaluated by their students for their comments and suggestions. With a strong bias towards ‘teaching to the test’, teachers have become unchallenged, while students have lost their genuine desire to learn for the sake of gaining new knowledge. To make matters worse, students are never certain if and when they will graduate as teacher and student strikes are common.

Exposed early on to disinterested teachers and unpredictable graduation dates, Greek students have developed an inherent dislike to academia. Their disdain for their educational system has resulted in a long-standing rift between industry and academia, one which has severely lessened the government’s support and industry interest in the development of Greek-based R&D initiatives.
From an early age, children are taught to aspire to public sector jobs. These jobs form part of a government promise that offers lifetime, financial security for its citizens. Aiming for a different career path is considered out of the main stream. Under these preconceived notions, entrepreneurship ranks low as a worthy career among Greek family members. They view young would-be entrepreneurs as fools rather than business pioneers. In fact the literal translation in Greek for entrepreneurship is ‘business man trying to do something’. …they just don’t know what that might be!

Not surprising, the second suggestion for the allocation of the hypothetical 100 million euros was to boost the poor image of entrepreneurs within Greek society. At first I thought the Group’s suggestion would also include financing for an entrepreneurial eco-system which might include a startup incubator and an innovation center. Instead it focused entirely on addressing the severely marred image of entrepreneurs within Greek society. Intrigued, I verified this stigma with other young Greeks I met during my trip and found that indeed it was true. They also felt like ‘social outcasts’ who preferred not to share their dreams with their respective friends and families.

Where American entrepreneurs relish the rebellious freedom associated with entrepreneurship, Greeks do not. Greeks rank social acceptance of their entrepreneurial dreams as a top priority. Not addressing this social concern first could significantly lessen the long-term effects of any experimental entrepreneurial program. Certainly much more can be read into this social angst, and I encourage readers to delve further into this discussion among their friends and colleagues to explore innovative approaches that will turn the tide of traditional thinking.

The third suggestion for the fund was expressed as an off-handed comment but nevertheless unveiled some valuable truths. To the Group funds should be spent to create a new and independent political party, one that would be open to delivering new government promises for financial security that were not associated with a position in the public sector.

A New Normal
Undoubtedly the Troika’s demands have forced layoffs and salary cutbacks within the Greek government that have jolted the fundamental foundations upon which Greek life has been based for decades. Today, a new normal is evolving between traditional Greek family expectations for job security and government promises. Neither has experience navigating through these troubled waters and as a result blame the other for Greece’s severely weakened economy. Workers strike frequently, making matters worse, while lawmakers struggle to acquiesce to the demands of their key industry groups. Last year alone, the government published over 240 legislative reforms, which created havoc among business owners and investors who remain on the sidelines awaiting greater economic and political visibility from their government.

The Group’s Recommendations
Hanging Merkel in effigy may help release some anger among the Greek population but as the Group pointed out, there are better ways to deal with the current crisis; however, first things first. Steps to favorably reassess the role of the entrepreneur in Greek society will very likely spark a cottage service industry of business coaches, entrepreneurial therapists, web designers, mentors, and more. Their growing presence will encourage other young adults to consider entrepreneurial pursuits, while simultaneously, reverse the current ‘social outcast’ stigma associated with entrepreneurship. If supported by favorable policies and legislation, Greeks living abroad may see this initiative as their calling card to return to Greece. Their expertise, networks, and enthusiasm should further unleash the many innovative capabilities currently bottled up within the Greek population.

The Group felt Greece could one day become a low-cost solution for big data and data analytics services globally. Just as India captured the call center and IT sectors, Greece’s mathematical prowess, recognized throughout history and the world, could drive both the low end side of the business where big databases require meticulous ‘cleaning’ as well as the high-end side of the business where sophisticated algorithms for machine- to-machine communications among devices or robots are required.

Institutes for Excellence
The Group suggested the development of an independently operated Institution for Excellence or IE whose purpose would be to teach and mentor students on the educational tools and skills needed to launch a big data and data analytics eco-system, specifically a human capital engagement research center. The Institute would reside within an existing university but operate independently. Their campus presence should reignite a new sense of purpose at academic institutions, one that industry could value and be willing to support financially. The Institute would have to be fully insulated from political influence and be governed through an independent board whose members represent its constituents equitably. The IE’s footprint should be designated a tax-free zone to help students finance their startups. Startups that reach a specific threshold in sales would be spun off into the Greek economy under a gradual legislative assimilation process.

Funding for an Institute for Excellence could come from three sources. First, from Greek diaspora who may be willing to return to Greece and actively participate in a teaching/mentorship program. Second, from a modified tax amnesty program similar to one implemented in the UK where tax avoiders can come clean with their overdue tax bill by investing in qualified startups. To help Greeks make the transition to entrepreneurship, however, this tax amnesty program could be further simplified by issuing shares from a fund whose charter includes the establishment of multiple Institutes of Excellence throughout Greece and, potentially, other countries.

A third funding source would come from international private equity funds whose involvement could lead to future investments in the IEs startup companies and relevant initial public offerings or IPOs at both local and global stock exchanges.

Existing organizations such as MIT’s Venture Mentor Service ( http://vms.mit.edu/) can be tapped for guidance, know-how, and strategy. As is often the case with entrepreneurship, the initial phases for proof of concept are the most difficult, however, there is little doubt in my mind that the 15 Greek young professionals who worked through these ideas with me in less than two hours can lead this charge. If given the chance, they and their peers could offer Venizelos with another set of talking points that will change the Troika’s next discussion from one of exasperation to one of opportunity fueled by sustainable economic growth.

*Tom Kadala is an internationally recognized researcher, writer, syndicated columnist, speaker and facilitator on topics targeted to chief executives and political leaders. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering from Cornell University and a Master in Business Administration from Harvard Business School.


38 COMMENTS

  1. Entrepreneurial opportunity? With corruption that starts from the Greek Parliament -government to all the Greek banks what kind of entrepreneurial opportunity can one undertake? You have to become one among them corrupt and connected to invest. Who in their right mind would want to take a chance unless they clean up their mess?
    Land of Economic tragedy that was created by two political families over a 40 year period. PASOK and ND. The epitome of Nepotism created by Andreas led to the demise of current Greece.
    The question that needs to be answered is how do you eliminate corruption on every level in Greece and how can a new Greek parliament be formed consisting of all NON GREEK POLITICIANS. This will bring new laws and jurisdiction and a new Constitution to be written. As long as Greeks rule Greece there will NEVER EVER be a brighter tomorrow for anyone there.
    MARK MY WORDS!

  2. Please stop giving lectures to Greeks. Move back to your own homeland and leave the Greek people alone.

  3. You tell us to vote for COMMUNISTS then have the audacity to lecture about “Entrepreneurial opportunity”?

    Communism is a system of institutionalized thievery. Lazy untalented poor people abuse state force to steal the wealth of those that produce it through entrepreneurial spirit. It makes sense fanatics like you support communists.

  4. that’s interesting. who else will rule Greece but Greeks? This is an awkward comment if not sarcastic.

  5. No, the people that have lead Greece to where it is today was the right-wing extremists and the left-wing monsters of PAME. Greece needs a new constitution. Church and state should be separate. Same-sex marriage should be legalized. Reduce the size of the state. Privatize all of Greece major state owned businesses. And Greece should abolish all of the socialist slavery laws of Karamanlis and Papandreou. Greece needs new businesses to grow. Greece’s only way out of the crises is to remain in the euro.

    Vote Drassi/Liberal Alliance!

  6. Όχι, οι άνθρωποι που έχουν οδηγήσει την Ελλάδα στην οποία είναι σήμερα ήταν οι ακροδεξιοί και τα τέρατα της αριστερής πτέρυγας του ΠΑΜΕ. Η Ελλάδα χρειάζεται ένα νέο σύνταγμα. Εκκλησία και το κράτος θα πρέπει να είναι ξεχωριστό. Γάμος ομοφύλων θα πρέπει να νομιμοποιηθεί. Μειώστε το μέγεθος του κράτους. Ιδιωτικοποιήσει όλη την Ελλάδα μεγάλων κρατικών επιχειρήσεων. Και η Ελλάδα θα πρέπει να καταργήσει όλες τις σοσιαλιστικές νομοτέλειες δουλεία του Καραμανλή και Παπανδρέου. Η Ελλάδα χρειάζεται νέες επιχειρήσεις να αναπτυχθούν. Μόνος τρόπος στην Ελλάδα από τις κρίσεις είναι να παραμείνει στο ευρώ.

    Ψηφοφορία ΔΡΑΣΗ / Φιλελεύθερη Συμμαχία!

  7. Greece has never been rightwing. Economically speaking ND had socialist spending type projects which makes them closer to liberal (which is how they ended up spending us into the ground along with Pasok) The only reason we call ND rightwing is because our leftwing is so extreme. (PAME is run by communists)

    As for Drassi, its a party of Ferengi that care more about money than protecting hellenism, The fact they had that treasonous fool Nick Dimou running for their party (or even Boutaris that refused to condemn FYROM) says all I need to know about them.

    Greece does need business but it also needs patriots that care about Hellenism not sniveling cowards.

  8. I am a secular human as well but I am also Greek.

    The anti-nationalist extremists that don’t care about Hellenism should stop calling themselves Greeks rather than harassing Greeks. Problem solved.

  9. If the treasonous leftist imbeciles have their way with unrestricted illegal immigration, Greece will eventually become an Islamic theocracy again. (possibly even annexed back up to Turkey). Demographic time bomb is ticking.

  10. I never ever said for anyone to vote for Communists. Go back and read all my posts. I’ve never told anyone to vote for Tsipras. All I’ve said was I am not a communist nor do I support Communism BUT I want SYRIZA to win it. I’ve nvere voiced my opinion telling anyone on how to vote. Are you getting early onset dementia?

  11. My comment was neither awkward nor sarcastic. Your statement indicates your ignorance and lack of understanding the history particularly the government of Greece during the past century. Greece has never had a modern day Democracy. If you knew this you would never have made ur stupid comment. Open up a book and educate yourself. Greek needs anew Constitution and new politicians all NON GREEK to rule Greece effectively. Greeks cannot rule Greece. Think before you speak next time.

  12. Uhm… Greece holds elections. It is not a “theocracy”. This is different than Saudi Arabic.

    If you do not see yourself as Greek, do not call yourself Greek and stop[ pretending to speak for the Greek people.

  13. “Greek needs anew Constitution and new politicians all NON GREEK to rule Greece effectively”

    This is your most idiotic antihellenic comment yet.

  14. Nikos Dimou is correct when he talks about Greece. We Greeks are pathetic when it comes down to our own country. Why are we bothering Macedonia. Boutaris is a great mayor. So is Kaminis. Look none of these guys are bad. As far as the Liberal Alliance. Grigoris Vallianatos is a great guy. The Liberal Alliance is full of free thinkers. We study the great economics of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. We study the great ideas of Ayn Rand.

    Vote Drassi/Liberal Alliance!

  15. what a stupid argument.
    think of this: Germans can’t rule Germany. How’s that sound 😀

  16. Yes, Greece has elections. So does Iran right? Greece is a theocracy because we fund the church and pay the priests and monks their salary. The church supports political candidates and lobby’s around parliament and dictates legislation. They are against civil rights like gay marriage. Why as a greek taxpayer should I be giving my money to a bunch of priests and monks so they can be rich.
    Stop this theocratic socialism!

  17. What’s so anti Hellenic about it? Explain to me. Do you want to see Greece ever progress or remain a circus with these corrupt clowns? Simple question can u answer it?

  18. Germans know how to rule their country effectively moron. The Greek Parliament is useless with corruption on every level. They haven’t ruled their country effectively since the fall of the junta. Read a book before displaying ur ignorance.

  19. Hey calm down okay boy. you must be 10 or something : )).
    So, what’s the Greek population 11 million? 11 million can’t be corrupt altogether right? If non-Greeks are to “govern” Greeks, that will be Caesar governing Gaul and you don’t wanna be the Gaul 😀

  20. The Greek people are wonderful people. It is a shame. From a business standpoint, Greece is in a death spiral. No one will do business with Greece in the modern business world, until the Greek banking system which is fifty years behind the American banking system, is updated.

    In addition, even if the Greek banking system joined the modern world it is much to corrupt, and incompetent.

    Couple that with an extremely corrupt, and incompetent government, and it’s a formula for disaster.

    As an American businessman that did business internationally, the Greek way of doing business is 75 years behind times. The young Greek minds are very well educated, but are suppressed from using that education by the current powers that be.

    The Greek government has chased the manufacturing businesses out of Greece through taxation. Greece recently lost a steel manufacturer that was responsible for 9% of Greece’s GNP which employed 7,000 Greeks. Greece can not afford losing businesses like that.

    It’s hysterical, when I hear stupid Greek politicians asking for businesses to invest in Greece. No one will invest in Greece with the outrageous taxes that exist. The elite Greeks exploit their own countryman.

    The euro will fail, as will Greece.

  21. Guest,

    Your theory is incorrect. First, the Greek government allowed these refugees to enter Greece. Why ? Because the Greek government gets paid for each refugee it allows to enter the country. These people want to leave but your corrupt government won’t allow them as they will lose money.

  22. I agree with you 100% Robert. Everything you stated is TRUE! You know the deal well.
    Your final statement ” the euro will fail as will Greece.” -Absolutely CORRECT !
    The only reason Greece is on life support has nothing to do with solidarity of EU and Germany protecting Greece. This is garbage. They are doing anything and everything they can to prevent the historic and monumental collapse and embarrassment of the euro. Everyone knows it.

  23. You neo-nazis have shown yourselves to be very poorly educated. How could you possibly know anything about banking. Especially global banking.

    Alan Greenspan was never a banker. He was formally a talking head as a stock analyst. So before posting something that isn’t accurate try checking your facts first. You have no idea, which is no surprise, what you are talking about.

    If you want to believe the propaganda from conspiracy nuts like your YouTube video be my guest. It just exposes how gullible and ignorant you are about reality, and how the real world functions.

  24. Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen, are all good chairmen of the FED. Alan Greenspan was influenced by Ayn Rand. We need more objectivism in Greece.

  25. Sorry to disagree but none of those people knew anything about the American economy. There now is a movement in Congress to eliminate the U.S. Federal Reserve. I would agree as the Federal Reserve now serves no useful purpose. The Federal Reserve has now become a bunch of private corrupt and incompetent bankers. The Federal Reserve is no longer needed.

  26. Don’t make me laugh. If it was National Socialist Germany versus the USA all Americans would be speaking German today. The US military was humiliated by the German army at the battle of Kasserine pass, the US military was bogged down for months in Normandy and only managed to break out due to the support of thousands of Allied aircraft that bombed and strafed the German army. The German military had also suffered heavy casualties in 3 years of brutal war against the Soviet Union before the US and British and Canadians and Australians etc landed at Normandy.

    One on one, division vs division the German military always proved itself superior to US ground troops in nearly every single engagement. Even US infantry admitted this. It was only US airpower which saved the US ground forces. Look at the battle of Hurtgen forest where US infantry were soundly defeated after months of fighting in the forest, primarily because they could not make use of their airpower.

    You yourself served in the US airforce during the Vietnam war. The US military could not even defeat some semi-emaciated rice eating, sandal wearing Vietnamese midgets.

    Since the Korean war the US military has never fought an opponent that was even remotely their equivalent in terms of firepower. The cowardly US military is used to bombing AK47 equipped Arabs using A10 gunships, F16’s and Apache helicopters. When Russia’s military stormed into Georgia in 2008 the cowardly US military didn’t do anything cause they are afraid to fight against an opponent that has the technology and firepower to hit back.

    You are not worthy of even speaking the words Golden Dawn. We are the descendants of the Spartans. Our ancestors fought at Thermopylae against the gargantuan Persian Empire and blunted the Persian assault. The Persian army was later soudly defeated at Marathon and the Persian navy was destroyed at Salamis. The hubris of the Persian empire was of no use to them. Golden Dawn will govern Greece in the not too distant future and we will teach your pathetic overrated US military such a painfull lesson that it will not recover. Ofcourse youAmericans are so stupid and brainwashed that you will allow AIPAC to drag you into a war against a Golden Dawn led Hellas.

    Most Americans wouldn’t even be able to find Iraq on the map even though the US military slaughteresd millions of Iraqis. They certainly wouldn’t be able to pinpoint where Vietnam is. Ofcourse a large percentage of US citizens wouldn’t be able to find Syria or Iran on the map.

    Golden Dawn is rising! The Hellenic municipal elections and EU parliamentary elections both scheduled for May will result in convincing Golden Dawn victories. From then on forward it will become obvious to everyone both within and outside Greece that Golden Dawn will ultimately govern the nation.

  27. Shut up you anti-american idiot. America will bomb the f**k out of every single nation that threatens us. America will bomb the f**k out of Greece and the Golden Dawn. Watch out! America has smart military and superior firepower. More firepower than you ever wished. First, Golden Dawn will never get into power because we will make rigged elections.

  28. Like the Russians care about Greece. They only care about their interests. History proves it so many times. They have never been dependable allies. Greece has to act in some ways like Israel. Be friends with the West and Russia. Don’t over rely on one or the other.

  29. You wrote and I quote: “Golden Dawn will never get into power because we will make rigged elections”

    This statement alone shows the depraved anti-democratic criminal mindset of Golden Dawns enemies.

    The US economy is $17 TRILLION in DEBT! The US public is war weary. The US military is exhausted from over a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fewer and fewer Americans want to join the US military which has forced the US military to drop recruitment standards. Masses of impoverished Negroes and Mestizos who could not find a job elsewhere saturate the poorly motivated US military. Homosexuals are encouraged to join the US military. Over 19000 US military personell were RAPED by other members of the US military in 2010 alone! The US military has been heavily infiltrated by Negro gangs such as the Crips, Bloods, Mestizo gangs such as MS13 and Aryan White Supremacist gangs. Is Golden Dawn supposed to have any respect for the rabble that comprises the US military? We are not impressed. Not even a little.

  30. Ha, ha, ha, you really are an idiot. You must be reading comic books, which is probably as high a reading level as your lack of intellect allows.

    Really ? Last time I checked Germany lost both wars. WW I and WW II. America kicked their asses twice. You Golden Dawn clowns are a bunch of loser punks that want to emulate the past of 75 years ago.

    You attack innocent people that can’t defend themselves in gangs. Try that in the USA and you’d be dead.

    Yeah, we slaughtered Muslims that killed 3,000 of our innocent citizens. They deserved to be slaughtered.

    The decedents of Spartans ? The Spartans would laugh at you clowns. You call Americans stupid ? Look at your spelling moron. Golden Dawn are the descendants of chimpanzees. Although, I don’t want to insult Chimps.

    In case you aren’t aware, it is now 2014 AD. You are delusional and live in the past. You didn’t fight at Thermopylae. A brave king (Leonidas) who was willing to give his life to save his people fought there. If Golden Dawn had been at Thermoplae they would have wet their pants in fear.

    You’re going to teach America a lesson ? Are you on drugs ? Like I said, Golden Dawn are a bunch of punk Nazi wannabes, who couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag.

    Golden Dawn will disappear into the abyss. The Greek people deserve much better, and are a lot more intelligent than anyone that belongs to Golden Dawn. By the way, Golden Dawn is such a corny name. However, it does make me laugh.

  31. I guess you really believe that propaganda. However, I believe American homosexuals or any homosexuals for that matter, are capable of beating the hell out of Golden Dawn.

    Yes, America is 17 Trillion in debt. However, it pays it’s bills unlike the current Greek government. America is still the strongest economy in the world.

    Mestizo gangs ? What is that ? Are you talking about Mexican gangs ?

  32. Entrepreneurial opportunity??? Where does this invention comes from??? Entrepreneurial opportunity and in Greece??? In my years living in Greece I never heard or seen anything of this kind of the so called “Entrepreneurial opportunity”…I myself tried during the 90’s to set-up a business here in Athens but never manage to do so…Greece is not a country for anyone to set-up a business in and we all know why…Public servants are strangling any opportunity for the “Fakelaki”…That “Fakelaki” is the cause of our bankruptcy…

  33. 10000% agree with you. I got burned by this silly quote few years ago…Greece is not the land of opportunities…

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