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Interview of Panos Papazoglou, Country Managing Partner, EY Greece
Greek Entrepreneurship and the Power of Creative Transformation
For many years, Greece has been a protected economy. The state has protected established interests from new entrants, local producers from imports, closed professions from competition. In a similar way, one could argue that those with secure jobs, especially in the public sector, have been protected at the expense of the unemployed.
This environment stifled innovation and prevented productivity growth. Companies cannot thrive when they do not challenge established practices and rethink things they believe they already know. Fierce competition and business-critical challenges of all kinds can be an opportunity to rethink, reassess, refine, and review. Threats to business, in short, can present a valuable new perspective. In many ways, the financial crisis that erupted in Greece in 2009 was a direct consequence of companies growing complacent and failing to constantly reinvent themselves.
Over this same period, globalization and the emergence of new technologies have drastically changed the world economy. Nowadays, many people refer to this as “disruption.” Personally, I prefer the term “creative transformation.” Navigating this transformative age requires of us all to ask better questions, questions that will ultimately help us understand our clients and their needs, preferences, and aspirations.
If we adapt ourselves and leverage these transformative forces, we can regain our competitiveness. If not, not only companies, but whole sectors of the Greek economy will soon become irrelevant.
The recent emblematic case of a Greek technology company that drastically transformed the private transportation sector is a striking example of this form of creative transformation. An outsider, using smart technology, widened the market, drastically improved its efficiency and customer satisfaction, and brought tangible benefits to both consumers and service providers. The people behind this transformation anticipated a trend, spotted an opportunity, and came up with an innovative concept.
This example demonstrates the role of technology in this revolution, but it also highlights the fact that the key to success is keeping the human element at the core of any business or digital transformation. Transformation is meaningful and will succeed if it addresses the wants and needs of people—if it helps society keep pace with change.
None of this would have been possible in Greece a few years earlier: Not only did such technology not exist, but, more importantly, the legal and regulatory framework was prohibitive, and no one had real incentive to look at things from an entirely new perspective.
There are many companies like this in Greece today, some perhaps less well known, but equally promising. In an adverse environment, they are working hard to reinvent themselves, explore new business models, open new markets and reshape the sectors in which they operate. Their leaders are true game changers, entrepreneurs who ask the right questions, look to the future without fear, spot opportunities and turn them into actionable aides. These are the people who will bring about the recovery of our economy, create wealth and job opportunities, and modernize our country. These are the people that we, at EY, reward and promote for their contribution to the Greek economy, through the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ program.