Brave new world has enterprises floundering

Ninety-nine percent of enterprises in Greece are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that were set up and flourished in a protected environment by people who were sharp enough to see far ahead. But times have become more complicated. Many of the owners of SMEs appear not to have grasped the possibilities offered by the Internet in the opening of markets and the simplification of product sales procedures. Fountoukakos points out that «only very large companies have taken advantage of the huge opportunities offered by technology. If entrepreneurs who once were pioneers do not become aware that there is a new work tool, they’ll be out of the game.» The Information Society program for small and medium-sized enterprises «should have met with a greater response.» Nor have business people realized that in the new, open and integrated market, they need sales experts. Athens National Technical University engineer and economist D. Yperifanos, who has been working in SMEs for 20 years, said: «Greeks have not learned what marketing means, nor to have an aggressive sales policy. They don’t know the peculiarities of foreign markets. Usually, they don’t even know the legal requirements of the countries they want to sell to. «They try to sell handmade Greek jewelry in England and they don’t know that they need a British stamp, and then get stopped at customs.» Moreover, ISO certification of quality is a requirement if exports are to increase. «But in Greece, this is still at the infant stage,» said M. Kozanis, general director of the certification body Letrina SA. «Through funding, the State attempts to provide incentives for quality. However, it does not succeed in its desired aim. Because most companies get certification to lay their hands on the subsidy and then let it collapse. Not even managing consultants believe in the system.» A possible solution, says Kozanis, might be for the State «to give the money for certification in installments and not all at once, so that business people are force to demonstrate they are practicing what they presented.» The scourge of Greek business is nepotism. Fontoukakos noted that «wanting to place their children in top positions without them having the necessary qualities is one of the huge disadvantages of Greek firms, 90 percent of which come to an end with their founder.» There is also a serious misunderstanding of the role of the State, which has for decades been established in exporters’ minds as a father figure that coughs up and looks the other way when needed. «Business people believe the State has to protect the company and the company expands with the help of the State,» remarks Th. Voutselas, managing consultant to the Nestor managing consultant network of firms. «But the State doesn’t have that role. The State legislates and monitors. Entrepreneurs need to change their attitudes,» he concluded. These attitudes come over clearly in comments by entrepreneurs, by no means unsuccessful ones either. «We labor under a number of counter-incentives, from environmental studies and work doctors to work inspections and safety technicians. Recently, they asked us to do a survey evaluating work-related risks. That’s what British Airways does, not us…» said Ioannis Halikias, assistant professor at Athens University of Economics and Business, scientific adviser to the PSE (and a businessman himself). Businessman and Chamber board member Spilios Manias is on record as saying: «The development bill doesn’t help us, because it mandates us hiring personnel to get subsidies. We need the subsidies, however, to develop technologically and reduce the workforce.»