She has been in the vanguard of the German business world for several years now and is a paradigm for the Greek diaspora. Dr Virginia Green (nee Virginia Giovanoudi), founder and managing director of ENCOS, was named Manager of the Year for 2014 by TUV Nord, a group of multinationals with 10,000 workers in 70 countries which provides security and certification services.
Green emigrated to Germany from the northern Greek border town of Didymoteicho at the age of 18 and studied chemical technology at the University of Dortmund. She took her first professional steps at the Esso petroleum company before embarking on a PhD while a mother of two. After years of working as a top-flight executive at various firms, Green decided to go it alone.
She founded Green Engineering in 1990, a company that carried out technical studies for chemical, petrochemical and pharmaceutical firms, and in 2000 created ENCOS (Engineering Constructions Service), a consortium between Green Engineering and Kohling & Partner. ENCOS specializes in the design and construction of factories and facilities for the chemicals industry and is considered among the best in its field worldwide thanks to its committment to health and safety standards.
Based in Hamburg, ENCOS has branches in Frankfurt, Greifswald and Thessaloniki, as well as a smaller office in Athens. It has more than 150 employees of various nationalities, 25 of whom are Greek. Green has nothing but praise for her compatriots.
“They are excellent scientists, flexible, smart and hardworking – they are in no way beneath other Europeans, something that I insisted on stressing to the Germans even before the crisis,” the award-winning businesswoman told Deutsche Welle.
In her interview with the German paper, Green advised young Greeks not to leave the country because this seems the easiest solution, telling them instead to fight their sense of pessimism, to take risks, to create new businesses and to be innovative in the sciences. The entrepreneur stresses the benefits of organic farming, saying that it does not require a large industrial base or large capital to get started.
Green is not one to blow her own trumpet, but the German business community has not been indifferent to her achievements over the course of her career. She has served for several years on the general council of the powerful Hamburg Chamber of Commerce as well as on its committee for new technologies. She is also a member of the German Hellenic Business Association.
All about hard work
Hard work is the key to achieving success, stresses Green.
“Whether you are a man or a woman, in the professional sector what counts is the work we do, what we produce, and not our gender or appearance,” the head of ENCOS told Deutsche Welle. “As women we rarely seek high-profile positions because we tend to avoid the limelight. We also need to start doing the things that men do, like networking with other sectors. Women do a lot of this in their private lives but we need to develop it more in our professional lives.”
Numerous international studies have in fact shown that companies with boards that have an equal representation of men and women tend to do better, as do their stocks. Asked by Kathimerini about what special qualities women can bring to business, Green said: “Women do not lack any skills when it comes to business and this is proven by their constantly increasing presence in the business arena. I would also venture to add that we also have the advantage of a better understanding of problems and of the particularities of our associates by our very nature. Furthermore, as a rule, women manage operating costs in a more frugal manner and they generally avoid showing off.”
Irrespective of gender, what makes a successful business person and how does he or she respond to challenges, be they of a personal or professional nature?
“You must be willing to take risks and not to become complacent like an employee who is only concerned with the next paycheck,” said Green. “You have to keep a clear head and be calm and collected, avoiding passionate reactions to the ups and downs of business but also to the upsets of life more generally. You need to have a good knowledge of the market in which you’re interested to keep abreast of developments. You have to be strict and in control, but also objective and open to recognizing the qualities of your associates as much as those of your competitors.”