Changing mantras, from ‘no can do’ to ‘it can be done’

If a country?s current state of mind vs its potential could be summarized in just a few words, Peter Economides has no doubt come up with two signature notions of the Greek psyche. Moving from what tends to be a national mantra of ?den ginetai? (no can do) to ?ginetai? (it can be done) could be the key to rediscovering a country and its people.

In Athens to participate in ?Moving Forward,? a two-day investment forum focusing on Greece co-hosted by the International Herald Tribune and Kathimerini which started on Monday and ended yesterday, the visionary brand strategist?s task was to introduce a panel of highly successful Greek businessmen whose global accomplishments have everything to do with the latter.

Economides took his cue from a keynote speech delivered by prominent policy adviser Simon Anholt at the same conference. In his presentation, Anholt spoke of Greece?s top-ranking position on his agency?s Nation Brands Index in terms of culture (alongside Egypt and China) and how the country found itself at the bottom of the index when it came to government reliability (again, next to Egypt and China). For Anholt, the country?s primary focus ought to be restructuring, as opposed to improving its image.

?We need communication in every single aspect; we need to reconnect Greeks with Greece and we need to reconnect Greece with the world,? argued Economides, who spoke about Greece as ?the brand that is in deep inside of us.? He noted that Greeks were in need of a common brand narrative, where instead of selling tourism, for instance, they would focus on ?managing impressions.? started out in the downtown Athens neighborhood of Exarchia before being voted as one of the globe?s top 10 websites on design by the Financial Times. In Athens, the website?s founder, Costas Voyatzis, spoke of the website hitting the 3 million unique visitor mark last year and told his audience how it all started: 5 dollars for the domain name, a small price to follow one?s instinct.

?Greek salad is not in crisis,? said Aris Kefalogiannis, founder and chief executive of Gaea, an eco-friendly Greek olive oil company currently exporting 82 percent of its products with the remaining 18 percent ending in the domestic market. Focusing on the Greek Mediterranean diet, Gaea?s natural products are doing particularly well in countries such as Germany. In the United States, where the company?s spokesperson is star chef Cat Cora, sales were up 53 percent this year, a success also due to innovative products such as the Gaea olive snack pack, free of preservatives and with a 12-month, out-of-the-fridge shelf life.

Nikos Mouyiaris left his native Cyprus for the United States in 1964 and went on to build Mana Products, a leading beauty supplier and contract manufacturer with a staff of 850. ?We all have to give back,? said Mouyiaris in Athens, as he explained his notion of cooperative capitalism and wealth redistribution, which he put into practice two years ago through charitable brand Make. At the forum, Mouyiaris said that local business sectors active in the field of olive oil and herbs, for instance, could largely benefit from the establishment of such a scheme and pledged to drum up 2 million dollars from diaspora Greeks if such a venture was ever established.

One of the things that struck Vangelis Gerovassiliou during his time spent in French vineyards was the importance that the French bestowed on the branding of their wine through generations. Years later, in 1981, the winemaker took a chance on the local Malagousia grape, a move which gave his brand a strong Greek identity. At the forum, the award-winning winemaker spoke about his and his family?s love for wine, the establishment of the Gerovassiliou Wine Museum (home to a spectacular collection of corkscrews) and one of his most recent ventures, Escapades Wines, a small winery established with Vassilis Tsaktsarlis and Takis Soldatos in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

What does it take to reinvent olive oil for a niche, high-flying clientele? In the case of Giorgos Kolliopoulos, a 72-square-meter flat, a laptop, a cat and the ability to ignore the advice of experts who repeatedly tried to dissuade him from coming up with Lamda, the world?s first ultra-premium virgin olive oil in 2006. Lamda, selling at 100 to 360 euros per liter, was followed by its bespoke, personalized version, selling at more than 15,000 dollars. For Kolliopoulos, it all comes down to ?creating extreme value from extreme persistence.?

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