Lessons from an old hand

In history, nothing is entirely new or unrepeated – only the conditions and key players change, says businessman Dimitris Marinopoulos, who is among those who played an important role during the country’s difficult period of transition to the European single market. Marinopoulos has been active for more than 50 years in commerce and industry and has served as the chairman of Greek industrialists for several years. He has literally lived through all the upheavals of the Greek economy since World War II. In this interview, he sets out his views on the prospects of the world and the role that Europe must play. He warns of the dangers of the Greek economy slipping. Current developments are a cause for concern but have not caught him by surprise. «In history, there is nothing new…» Which period in history could the present be compared with, we asked him. «The end of the interwar period,» is the answer. There are many analogies, he argues, whether you analyze the economic cycle or the world of intellect and lifestyle. «As then, we continue to live in comfort, drawing on a prosperity that cannot be maintained and which is receding dangerously. Such periods sharpen economic and social conflicts. The results are usually unpleasant for progress. Today, we need more thought and prudence from everyone in order to go forward in Europe with the least possible poverty and in order to prevent unhappiness later on,» Marinopoulos says. He thinks Europe must play a hugely significant role in world developments. «Europe has to promote the spiritual balance of the world today. America dominates the game with its huge economic power; such a force always needs to be balanced out. The antagonism between the USA and Europe will change direction tomorrow. China is likely come into the game, creating a second strong pole. But in history, it has been the force of civilization that wins, not economic power. Europe, therefore, has the advantage and it is the duty of the young European leaders to win this bet. Greece, for its part, has to contribute the values and civilization it has inherited.» Are you optimistic? It would be true to say that leaders with great political stature are lacking today, although the clash of positions on Iraq was a beginning. Ten years ago, we did not even discuss such problems. I am more optimistic today. Were you concerned by the stand taken by the EU candidate-countries? Sure. Their leaderships proved immature in action. When you enter a house, above all you have to respect it; you do not seek to overturn the rules. These people have not really understood what Europe really means. Evidently, they are used to following the strongest power. What should be Greece’s priorities in this changing economic and political environment in Europe? For Greece, the battle should be about stopping the slide into poverty. The tactic of hiding behind others and reaping the advantages is good up to a point. We cannot go on sitting under the tree and enjoying its fruits while staying idle. We must really integrate ourselves into the European Union in order to survive. Marinopoulos notes that Greeks’ real income has multiplied since the 1950s or 1960s but is still at least 30 percent below the European average. «The biggest danger is that it may slip further behind. Current developments confirm that we still lag far behind in productivity and competitiveness. Everyone must make a contribution, including the State, of course. I think the problem is that we do not want to work any harder. We are just happy with our present economic level and take advantage of it. We have to safeguard our future prosperity, create wealth and education. ‘Work and education’ must be the slogan for Greece. «I do not think that political developments are favorable for Greece today. It is positive, however, that a consensus is emerging on crucial national issues. It is encouraging to see quite a few upright young leaders, in politics, as well as in business, with adequate sense and an understanding of problems. We cannot go forward, seeking solutions for the future with people of the past.» How do you describe the personality and attributes of a business leader? Above all, they must be endowed with intellect. The real leader of a group is the «brains and hope.» He must possess power of thought, knowledge, ambition and responsibility… There is a new generation of very good young businesspeople in Greece who provide more knowledgeably and with greater aptitude than their predecessors. They have to show Greek society the right path, to persuade that much more work is needed, better education, a change in mentality. They must struggle for it but they are also obliged to do so. They have to realize that they bear a responsibility toward society, because enterprises draw their strength from it; they are an inseparable part and cannot move forward if it goes downhill.