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Hidden Greek gems billionaire emerges with Folli Follie

By Tom Metcalf

Dimitrios Koutsolioutsos, the founder and chairman of Folli Follie SA (FFGRP), has become a billionaire as the Athens-based maker of jewelry, handbags and fashion accessories increased almost 10-fold in the last two years.

Folli Follie, which owns jeweler Links of London as well as its namesake retail chain, weathered Greece’s economic turmoil selling mid-priced items such as $60 Match & Dazzle Bracelets and $135 K Chic Handbags, and partnering with Shanghai-based Fosun International Ltd. and Basel, Switzerland-based Dufry AG.

"The Koutsolioutsos family managed to get the company out of a very difficult period when there was doubt whether Greece would stay in the euro zone," Iakovos Kourtesis, an Athens-based analyst at Piraeus Securities SA, said in a phone interview. "Through strategic agreements with Fosun they’ve managed to expand into China. The tie-up with Dufry promises growth in areas like Latin America and Russia."

Koutsolioutsos controls 36 percent of the company, according to a 2013 financial statement, a stake valued at $1 billion. The 71-year-old has at least $75 million in cash and other assets derived from share sales and dividends, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The billionaire didn’t respond to e-mail requests for comment.

Koutsolioutsos opened the first Folli Follie store in downtown Athens in 1982 with his wife, Ekaterini, according to the company’s website. The company sold shares on the Greek stock exchange 15 years later. It merged with Hellenic Duty Free Shops SA and Elmec Sport SA in 2010. His son, George, is the company’s chief executive officer.

'Cautious optimism'

The company navigated the global financial crisis by selling a 9.5 percent stake to Fosun in 2011, which bolstered the retailer's expansion into China. They also completed the sale of the group’s duty-free business to Dufry in 2013, which allowed Folli Follie to pay down debt.

The company’s revenue dropped to 934 million euros ($1.3 billion) in 2013 from 1.1 billion euros the prior year while debt was reduced by 519 million euros to 223 million euros. Its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization margin rose two percentage points to 21 percent.

Folli Follie’s performance stands in contrast to the weakness of the broader Greek economy, where gross domestic product fell 1.1 percent in the first quarter of 2014 and unemployment stood at 28 percent at the end of February, according to Greece’s statistics agency.

"Looking ahead, there is cautious optimism regarding the outlook for the Greek economy," Koutsolioutsos said in his 2012 letter to shareholders. "We believe that our competitive strengths, along with the growth strategies that we have implemented, will enable us to achieve continued financial success." [Bloomberg]

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