Alumyl defies Greek odds to grow into a multinational

Giorgos Mylonas could not be described as a typical businessman; although he has created a Greek multinational group with 24 subsidiaries, of which 18 are abroad, he shuns publicity. Nevertheless, he agreed to unfold his personal business story in an interview on the sidelines of a European conference on the promotion of entrepreneurship, organized by the Development Ministry in Thessaloniki recently. This story holds special interest because it presents the stumbling blocks and the disincentives that Greek businesspeople frequently run up against when trying to create innovative companies and products that can survive in a global competitive environment. The story could also be taken as a case study for future prospective businessmen. Today, Alumyl, of which Giorgos Mylonas is the basic shareholder and chairman, is Greece’s biggest aluminum sheeting company and one of the biggest in Europe, with seven plants in Greece, three abroad and two more under construction, employing a total of more than 1,000 people. Nevertheless, Mylonas insists on speaking as a representative of «a provincial aluminum industry launched in Kilkis, 60 kilometers from Thessaloniki 13 years ago.» Mylonas tried to launch his innovative for Greece investment in 1988, but did not find a receptive ear in the government then in office; his application was rejected. Banks were also negative. Nevertheless, he went into business, employing initially 12 people. «As a new businessman, I came up against all the obstacles that kill entrepreneurship; government inertia, red tape, lack of finance, disoriented and ‘literary’ development programs, technological infrastructure best described as a joke, minimal encouragement to firms, untrained personnel with irrelevant knowledge, and much else,» he says. Yet he was not discouraged. «We knew that we should not let the obstacles dent our business drive; we had vision and persisted in a systematic fashion. We put emphasis on quality, competitiveness, flexibility and the creativity of our people. Went abroad and saw international competitiveness as a challenge for still stronger performance.» Mylonas is a realist. «If someone expects the government to have all the problems solved for him in a perfect economic environment in advance, he or she better become a public servant,» he says. Still, he believes that the role of government in supporting business is catalytic. «We had reached the point where businesspeople were considered parasitic and profit-making a crime. Fortunately, this is all behind us now… It is the responsibility of government to create an economic environment that is stable and transparent, with clear and durable rules. Public services must not operate like terrorist organizations. Red tape must be cut down; even support programs are not used by firms due to the large amount of bureaucracy and the cost it implies. Businessmen must stop being treated indiscriminately as something like thieves or fraudsters and being in danger of big fines.» Facing pressing competitive conditions from low-cost competitors abroad, Alumyl today is intensifying efforts for innovation and quality improvements. «Research is taking an increasingly larger share of our activities. Innovation is becoming our flag,» Mylonas says. Group sales in 2002 are estimated to have exceeded 124 million euros, of which about 50 percent is accounted for by foreign subsidiaries. Pretax profits are in excess of 8 million euros. For a third consecutive year, Alumyl received the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s award for the Greek firm most active in investment abroad. «Our aim is continuous growth and perfection in an imperfect economic environment. Our strength lies in our people, whom we encourage to operate as entrepreneurs in our company; but we set the entrepreneurial environment which, without being perfect, is much better than the external social and economic conditions in which we find ourselves.»