“We have a business to run!” – Experience No 1

Eugenia Loras

I would like to share the anguish and success, the success and the anguish of Language School Owners.

“We have a business to run!” How I love saying that in my most cheerful, dynamic and ambitious tone of voice. I love being an English Language teacher for so many reasons. On both a personal and professional basis, you are offering education while watching (and sometimes helping) children grow; you are assisting an adult add an extra qualification to his professional profile (and thus contributing to his professional development and progress); whether a parent, or a parent-to-be, a relative to a child, or godparent, you are contributing to the child’s upbringing in such an invaluable way.

And all the above are offered by every single educator working in the private or public sector.

When owning your own Language School, however, you truly do have a “business to run”. And believe me…

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Why Greece is the next Big Thing!

By 2025, Greece could be one of the richest countries in the world; maybe the richest as indicated per capita GDP index.

Is this possible? Let’s use the example of Apple as a ‘turn-around’ story avoiding any other comparison because of the non-homogeneous elements of the two cases.

Today Apple is the world’s largest market cap company (Apple Market Cap.: $700B, 2015). Are you familiar with the fact that almost a decade ago it was merely generating profits? In 2003 the Share was trading at $1, having a Market Cap of $6B.

What we should be considering is what was the dynamic element of Apple’s success? Its Assets!

… And Greece has Assets!

Those who wish to downgrade the dynamic elements of the Assets of Greece while showcasing the debt status or past bankruptcies the country has experienced, I would suggest that this too is another one of its dynamic elements of success.

There are numerous examples of individuals who today are successful entrepreneurs – billionaires – and have in the past experienced bankruptcy or have been on the verge to do so.

The question is quite simple: If you were an investor or banker, would you invest in or lend money to someone who had previous experience of bankruptcy as well as knowledge of the mistakes that led them in that direction or in someone that has had only success without any experience in failure in their professional endeavors?

It is most likely that the majority of readers will discard the contents of this post. This is something natural when reading about forecasts that are opposed to the current psychological state, namely the probabilities based on the present situation.

In our previous post, we presented our forecast in 1999 concerning high probabilities of a financial crisis in Greece during 2007 and 2010. Our conviction concerning this probability was so intense that we moved our family from the country in time.

Another example was our forecast concerning the course of the Greek Stock Market. I was asked in 2000 by Greek investors (I was then working at a Private Bank) when the Athens Stock Exchange Index would recover to 6300 points (today around 800 points), my answer was in 120 years! No further discussions took place.

THE GREEK ASSETS

A brief reference to Greece’ s assets will be given here for readers to brainstorm. We will elaborate on each asset in the next blog posts. The order of the references are random as they are all considered of equal importance.

Feel free to assess them in your own order of importance.

* The Sun, the Sea & the Mountains

Words cannot describe this asset and of course, no price can be given. The facts speak for themselves: Coastline: 13’676 km (11th in the world – the coastline of Africa is 50’000km), 2’000 islands .

Imagine if a government dares to bring an innovative tax law, allowing wealthy foreigners to move to Greece and enjoy all the tax benefits that the Greek shipowners are entitled to. This, in combination with the excellent climate, the lifestyle and the international mentality (everybody speaks English!) while bearing in mind the increase in wealth in Asia, Arabic countries and Russia, would have great potential, in my opinion.

The benefits compared to the tax relief would be multiple: a positive switch in investor and market psychology (images on Instagram alone would have a huge impact), rapid increase in real estate, increase in tourism and immediate development of foreign investments with initial investors those who would have moved to Greece.

The Mountains: Impressive data: 80% of Greek land consists of mountains (one of the highest ranks in Europe): 413 > 1’000m, 53 > 2’000m. I will just mention one example here: In my hometown, Ioannina, during the winter season at a 30-minute distance from the city, you can enjoy skiing and during the summer months, again at a 30-minute distance, you can swim in the gorgeous blue Ionian Sea. This is quite impressive!

* The Glorious Ancient History

What is the value of the Parthenon, Delphi and all the other ancient monuments? Now, I am not referring to their historical or cultural value. I am referring to their value in money.

When the value of paintings is worth millions, can you imagine the value of these monuments? If you have pieces of art at home, they are considered assets in your tax declaration. Why can’t a country do the same?

I mentioned the trademark of the Olympic Games in my previous post (Interview – October 2009). If the Olympic Games took place every two years (every other time in Athens) and the commercial potential of the Games could bring in huge profits to the country.

Greece could even be entitled to the rights of every commercial exploitation of its history, for example, movies.

* Natural Reserves

This is an issue I will not analyse as you can find all the scientific information on the Internet for yourselves.

* The Visionaries

Greece has more visionaries than pragmatists. Many factors play an important role, which we will analyze in a next post. An appetizer: It is one thing to ‘contemplate’ while being close to the seas and another to live surrounded by mountains.

I would like to refer to my personal history visualization: in the 60s, my parents concerned about what we could produce in the rugged and mountainous Ioannina in relation to the rich plains of Thessaly, together with seven poultry producers envisioned the creation of a poultry cooperative. With the financial participation of a foreign institutional body and their know-how, a company that surpassed all expectations was founded . Today, an entire industry has developed in the region with a turnover exceeding 300M EUR p.a. and which directly and indirectly employs thousands of people.

* The Shipping Power

Greece’s merchant fleet ranks first in the world (2012) both in number of ships with 20% of the world’s fleet and app. 15% of the total capacity.

* The Geopolitical Position

Perhaps Greece is the only country that connects three continents: Europe-Asia-Africa! I believe that the Piraeus Port investment did not occur by chance and there are investment plans for further expansion in Greece.

* The Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Greece has the best quality in olive oil. Quantitative 85% of production is extra virgin, surpassing in quantity the productions of Spain and Italy. Unfortunately,  today it is estimated that only 40% of production operates a trade as a Greek product!

 Of course all these assets will never be able to produce positive results without the active participation of the people involved. The human factor is the most important element of the equation, the most valuable Asset!

As in the case of Apple, behind the excellent assets and the highly-innovative products are the people of Apple.

With the great contribution of the people – the team-, the Leader or the Leadership Team will set the first foundations, but will also take care to maintain the result.

For the achievement of success, society has to create strong bonds that will unite the people and realize that the future and the best interest of the country outperforms any ideological differences. This is where pragmatism is required instead of vision. The Greek crisis has actually allowed the enhancement of family ties and the strengthening of Orthodoxy along with the return to traditions. These are strong examples of such bonds. The more the crisis intensifies, the more people unite.

The role of the State is just as important. The business acumen of people increases as government consumption expenditures are reduced along with the number of civil servants, and continues to increase as public and private large investments are encouraged.

A typical example is the sheep and goat producers in New Zealand, when the state grants ceased to exist and after the negative reactions-frustration, entrepreneurship strengthened with the results we know.

Are you lucky?

Based on my personal experience, I find that the factor of luck combined with the right timing, plays a decisive role, even if someone tries to relieve the model of random events.

A typical example are the talent shows that we have been watching these past few years. There we find that there are thousands, if not millions of talents and yet, in the world music scene, for example, just a few dozen are successful. In their interviews, most of them refer to a sequence of random events that made them successful, beyond their undeniable talent and hard work. Only few have sought to strategically make advances in that direction since their childhood.

So who will take advantage of the wealth created in the country? Who will eventually invest in Greece?

The answer is simple. The very powerful investors, known as “Smart Money”, who realize exactly when the opportunity is given to enter and will allocate just a small portion of their vast portfolios. Time is not an issue; the risk is always limited and measured.
As far as time is concerned, it should be stressed that we determine 2025, based on a cyclical model of the financial crisis and the intensification of the crisis in recent times, not only in Greece but also in the wider region of the Eastern Mediterranean, Ukraine etc. The sooner the crisis will develop, the sooner “smart money” will find the entry point.

But above all, patience is required. Desert nomads in Arab countries were ‘sitting’ on the oil for thousands of years until they reached the right-time to take advantage of the business!

I do believe Greece will be the next big thing!

Thank you.
Thomas Mitsoulis
Economist – Financial Analyst

Thomas Mitsoulis’ interview at View Magazine (Ioannina, Greece) – October 2009

INTERVIEWED BY MARIA AVDIKOU – TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH BY VICKY LORAS OF THE LORAS NETWORK

Q: To begin with, could you introduce yourself? What have you specialized in and what are you involved in?

My name is Thomas Mitsoulis, husband and father of two children, economist and my specialty is financial analyst. I have studied Business Administration at the University of Economics and Business in Athens (UEA) and I have attended the postgraduate programme in Financial and Banking Management at the same university.

I am working at a private company abroad, which focuses on two main business activities: the sales management and the licensing of a project in the Balkans and simultaneously we offer consultant services to companies mainly on international financing or support in the event of an expansion abroad. Also, via our co-operation with the company Protypi Ekonomiki SA (www.protypi.gr) we provide consultant services to Greek companies mainly on issues of funding, buy-outs and mergers & acquisitions.

Q: What is your philosophy as a professional?

Thank you for your question, for the reason that it is a ‘sensitive’ point in our relation with the clients.
I believe that every professional’ s philosophy must be the maximization of the value received from the services provided to the clients. The basic rule should be that the services we provide added value to social benefit and therefore to our clients as well. Suffice it to say that the money we earn is offered to us by the society and we must not forget that our clients have knowledge, experience and instinct.

Our basic principles should be: honesty-confidence-persistence to a goal and the basic element is working together with partners to create synergies.

Q: When does a business need to ask for the services of Protypi Ekonomiki?

The ideal situation would be for the businessman to ask consultant’s services on permanent basis from the conception of the business idea to the completion of the exit strategy. Such a strategy would lead to the increase in the investment’s intrinsic value, whereas at the same time it would decrease the cost of the consultant in the long term.

Certainly, a business may enlist the services of Protypi Ekonomiki at any business stage and especially with the present conditions of the market where finding a solution is necessary. Personally I believe that in the following years, due to the financial crisis the cases of mergers & acquisitions will increase. Protypi Ekonomiki has special experience in mergers & acquisitions and can support businesses in laying out strategic plans and in choosing the best policy in order to achieve goals.

Q: How should a business choose its consultant?

I believe that a Greek business must first of all learn how to be extroverted, to listen to the messages of the environment in order to accept the position of the partner-consultant as an inextricable part of the business. Certainly, for the present situation, are responsible the consultants themselves, who with their behavior keep the client ‘at a distance’. The State could play an institutional role in categorizing consultants depending on their formal qualifications and their professional experience.

While in the process of choosing, businesses should investigate the formal qualifications of the consultant-partner, but also the basic characteristics of their personality, it is substantially the same procedure like hiring an employee. I believe that special attention

needs to be paid to references and to the consultant’s past achievements – tracking record- whenever they are at disposal and not confidential.

I must additionally mention that Greek companies do not easily accept the position of the consultant in a business, resulting in the failure of creating synergies for both sides. For instance I will mention that in 2006 I received a proposal from a listed company about a financing issue that had come about. I suggested therefore to the businessman a solution that would bring him approximately €90mil which he rejected at that time and unfortunately we did not co-operate from then on. A few months ago the businessman had to apply the same proposal he had been offered, which brought to the company only €24mil.

However I believe that the financial crisis we are going through will lead several businessmen to planning strategies and finding solutions by the support of the consultants.

Q: How can companies create an exceptional working environment? What is the key to success?

By following the examples of Microsoft and Google: innovation- creativity-freedom to employees with clear and defined goals at the same time. Employees are the greatest capital for a business and must feel secure and be compensated depending on the work they offer and their contribution to the company’s income, especially in the event of offering innovation either in products or in the organization structure. Even the businessman should see himself as employee, since he offers his time.

Take into consideration that Microsoft is able to financially support employees for a year under any financial or other conditions, whereas the employees at Google ‘enjoy’ a working day of the week to do anything they wish to apart from their working duties.

Q: It seems as though one of the most favorite issues of the year that is drawing to a close is the financial recession. How much has it really affected your clients and who had more serious problems?

In fact, the issue of the financial recession is one of the economists’ favorite topics we are concerned about, mainly at the development of the economy, since our role is to predict economic phenomena and create the appropriate conditions in companies for their best possible adjustment.

The recession is an inextricable part of economic cycles and I believe that the present global crisis was predictable since 2004, when the interest rates started to increase and at the same time we observed the increase in all financial values (shares, bonds, commodities), facts which do not comply with investment logic and in fact were preparing us for a crisis with great dimensions.

Additionally, we should add that the economic cycles follow social cycles, since the economy is a result of human behavior. Therefore, we can predict the economy by observing social phenomena. Please take into account how much our consumer habits have changed and our social perceptions during the last decade. The Greek society transformed to an over-consuming from the traditionally saving.

At this point it is important to mention the causes of the crisis. In my opinion during the last years the market itself, due to its greediness and bad management, created a “virtual” market: The Derivatives Market.

Derivatives were created in order for professionals to manage financial risks and not for speculation, as it turned out to be. I will mention a few statistics so that we can realize the size of the derivatives market: in 1990 the size of the derivatives market was at approximately $5.7 trillion, in 2001 approximately $90 trillion, whereas in 2008 it reached $680 trillion. Only one type of products the CDS (Credit Default Swaps) from $900 billion in 2001 it reached $62 trillion in 2008 (source: http://www.bis.com). Think that the global GDP came up to $60.6 trillion in 2008 (source: http://www.worldbank.org), the currencies in circulation came up to about $50 trillion (source: http://www.dollardaze.org), whereas the global capitalization of the stock markets came up to $50 trillion on average in 2008. Therefore, you understand that the crisis we are going through is a systematic crisis and a lot of time will be needed so that the balance can come back to the market.

As far as our clients are concerned, they have been affected by the financial crisis mainly in the Greek market in which liquidity has been almost reduced to zero. I believe that during the last year a great opportunity was missed to support the market with the State’s market support measure of 25billion Euro. State guarantees could have been given, for instance, to small and middle sized companies as collateral for short-term bank finance (up to 1 year) at a percentage of 50% of their previous year’s revenues. I believe that this measure would comprise motivation for the increase in business competition, increase in GDP and therefore in state income with a simultaneous decrease in the deficit.

Q: According to your experience so far do you believe that the latest financial crisis has influenced the local economy?

It is obvious that a global financial crisis of a systemic type influences the total of markets, to a smaller or greater extent. However, I would like to clarify that the financial crisis our country is experiencing has different characteristic features than the global crisis. I consider that the Greek economy would go through a crisis regardless of the conditions of the global economy, for the reason that the crisis in our country is due to extensive borrowing, first of all on behalf of the State and then on behalf of the companies and the households.

Basing the drachma exchange against the euro on the level of 340,75 grd/€ at the end of the ’90s, led the State to extensive borrowing, personally I remember the issuing of up to two government bonds issue per week. Because borrowing was based mainly on 5-year and 7-year bonds, in order for the State to pay the interest and paying off the capital it is coerced into constant borrowing and as a result we have entered a vicious circle of borrowing. Certainly there are solutions and the State must show extroversion, asking for help from all potential sources and of course all the political parties must co-operate and step into the right direction, for the reason that whoever is in power, is substantially holding a “time bomb” about to explode.

On the other hand, companies entered a vicious circle of borrowing as well, which was based on trading credit in the form of ‘belated’ cheques, which I personally consider as “a piece of paper” which in my opinion, cannot be considered as securities, since their pay off is based on future events with unknown weighted factors; banks in turn supported the system by pre-paying the ‘belated’ cheques and in fact creating a “virtual” economy. For instance, if a trading company issues a cheques to Supplier A for invoices of a value of 5.000 € and Supplier A transfers the cheque to Supplier B and he does the same to the manufacturer, in fact with a “document” of 5.000 € we created revenues of 15.000 €. You can certainly understand that if someone is unable to pay, automatically a problem is created not only for the companies, but also for the State which does not receive the VAT. Today the number of issued cheques circulating in the market is undefined; the only data we have is the number of bouncing cheques which until November came up to the record amount of 2.83bil €, almost double than that of 2008 and over triple than that of 2007. In addition, comparing to the profits made by the largest Banks in our country which came up to 1.14billion Euro, we realize that the amount of bouncing cheques may cause great problems and upheaval.

The system created an economy, however, which from the 47th place in 2000 came up to the 23rd in 2008, based on the GDP index per capita (source: Worldbank), which should comprise a record, surpassing economies such as that of Italy, Israel, South Korea, New Zealand and approaching economies of Japan and Taiwan.

As far as your question about the local economy is concerned, I believe that the crisis has influenced it to a lesser extent than that of the country as a whole and I additionally consider that it has greater chances for rapid development and greater contribution to the GDP.

Q: What do you believe is necessary for investments to take place in fields which will provide new working places and a push for the development of Ioannina?

The geographical position of Ioannina, the rich natural environment, the history of the city , the university hospital and the university with the research work they produce, the high educational and living conditions and the high liquidity index, comprise important components for the development of the local economy.

In particular, Ioannina is placed in a commercial centre very near the international port of Igoumenitsa and close to neighboring Albania, which in turn is the entrance to the neighboring same-nation countries, Kosovo, Montenegro, FYROM and increases the target group of businesses, at about 10 million inhabitants. This influence has been felt during the last years, but could become even more substantial with the contribution of the State creating a free commercial zone and a special taxation and insurance status quo in combination with the developmental law. For instance, the taxation denominator for the direct Greek and foreign investments should be at the maximum 10%, so that we could automatically increase the investment returns by decreasing the risk, since our country is a member of the European Union.

I must also mention that several Chinese enterprises seek strategic positions in the Balkans in order to build some of their factories decreasing thus the transportation cost, since now the competitive advantage for most sectors is usually the low cost of automation- robotics- that they have and not the low working labor cost. Chinese enterprises are expected in the following years to be the greatest investors in the world with immediate disposable capital for investments which will reach $2 trillion. In 2008 alone $50 billion were invested abroad, doubled the amount for investments in 2007 (source: Fortune).

I believe that it will be a great opportunity for the development of our area and the creation of new working places.

Q: When are markets expected to progress and return to normal rhythms?

We mentioned before the factors which caused the financial crisis and I think that an important factor for the progress of the markets is the change of the regulation in the derivatives market, so that it returns to its institutional role which is the management of financial risks and not to be a factor for speculation. I should mention that in the crisis of 1929 the trade of derivatives had stopped for 10 years and even though it needed 25 years for the S&P index to reach its nominal historical highs.

As things are today for our country we have entered a crisis phase; I believe it will need 7-10 years based on 2006 for getting into a recovery stage, without excluding the possibility for more years to be needed in case we cannot re-engineer our debts (State-Enterprises- Individuals) and we are led to declare bankrupt. However, for the local economy I believe that recovery will come much earlier than for the rest of the country.

I also consider that for businessmen the duration of the crisis is not so important, but the possibility for taking advantage of the opportunities which come up during this period.

As far as the international stock markets are concerned, for a short term they show signs of an upside move, which are maintained due to the low interest rates in the money markets. I would mention as an advice to the readers of your magazine that they can predict the short- term trend of the market, by observing the 3-months LIBOR index.

For the mid-term period I believe that with the present data the markets will continue to move downwards-sideways whereas for the Greek market the tendency is downwards and we may see the General Index at a three-digit number (from app. 2,200 now) in the scenario of inadequate planning for the re-engineering of the public debt.

Q: How do businesses benefit and what do they expect at the prospect of the development granting laws?

Certainly companies benefit from the European Union granting programs and can significantly improve their competitiveness and the domestic and international market. The innovation of the new development law ESPA, is the number of businesses which can participate, as well as the number of the granted activities.
It is a great opportunity for businesses and should be taken advantage of. My permanent advice to businessmen for the total of the granted programs is that in no case should the grants be the ultimate goal, but a mean to develop businesses and for the reason that most of the times there are various difficulties in the provision of the grants the ideal thing would be for the company to have the capital needed for the investment, so that any problems can be avoided.

Q: What kind of projects can you organize for businesses without granting from programs of the development law?

As it is known, the grants refer to the funding of fixed assets. The businesses though show financial needs which refer to the funding of the working capital, which most of the time exceeds fixed assets in total and the estimation of the working capital is difficult factor at the preparation of business plans.

In this field, which is excluded from the granted programs, we can support the business on issues of strategic financial engineering and on more practical issues, such as the submission of complete propositions to banking and funding organizations for financing purposes, the development of clientele and the completion of commercial deals as well as the approach of strategic investors ( for buyouts-mergers). We can mainly support the businessperson in dealing with dangers, due to the fact that we regard the business holistically and we have accumulated experience from various businesses. I believe that is the advantage of the consultant over the businessman.

Q: Which are the greatest risks for a business?

In my opinion the greatest dangers for a business is its “introversion”, the lack of defined goals mainly of an exit strategy and as strange as it sounds its success itself. Statistically 80% of businesses fail due to over-trading, meaning more sales than the company itself can take on with the capital it has or “bad management” as it is known in the market.

Q: Which are in your opinion the “companies of the future”?

Undoubtedly we live in an era of “technological revolution” and I believe that the companies which will adjust to the new consumer

habits, based on the internet and technological innovations are going to be the most successful. We should just notice how many people in our country visit the local post office to pick up parcels from the internet, e.g. from Amazon.

In addition the field of preventative medicine which is related to diagnostic devices will have one of the top ranks in the future. Medicine is changing from therapeutic to preventative and this will absorb a series of fields which are immediately or not related to the protection and maintenance of our health such as a bio-diet, recycling and the handling of waste, ecological energy systems etc.

Q: What would you consult every new entrepreneur?

My advice to every new entrepreneur would be to define an exit strategy from the very beginning of the investment, for the reason that substantially every businessman invests time and money and must expect the proportionate money return. The exit strategy must refer to the success scenario and also to the scenario where the investment shows signs of failure. I would like to mention that failure should not intimidate us, in some instances it can become a great advantage. For instance in the US banks support financially investments more easily of businessmen who have failed in the past, for the reason that they think there is experience in dealing with risks as opposed to a businessman who has never failed, for the reason that statistically has more chances to fail. For instance I will mention Donald Trump, who had gone bankrupt in the past, banks financed him and today he is considered to be one of the most successful entrepreneurs and wealthiest people in the world.

In the process of planning this strategy the consultant can take on a substantial role, who will positively contribute to business planning.

I additionally think that every businessman should dare to innovate in order to acquire competitive advantages continuously and to adjust to the changes in the environment.

At this point, please allow me to expand your question and mention that the State should do the same, so as to find solutions to difficult problems. For instance today the usual solution for the increase in state income would be to increase taxation, which is an ineffective measure as experience shows, especially today that our country is an EU member and though companies and capital can move freely finding tax advantages, such as in Cyprus where the tax denominator reaches 10% and many companies in our country lately ‘emigrate’ to Cyprus.

In contrast, the State could implement innovative ideas: For instance we all know that in hospitals, patients and their relatives feel the need to express their thanks to the doctor and the nursing staff, which is in fact a social custom which is difficult to avoid. The State, instead of going on a “ghost chase”, could allow the doctor and the nursing staff to receive money as compensation by issuing invoices and being taxed as bonuses when they do fill their income taxes report. In this way, competition will increase and the level of services offered, their extortion towards the patients will be minimized, doctors will legalize their income which they will be allowed to make use of or invest it and will not look for ways to take money abroad.

If that sounds extreme and cannot be materialized, I could mention another example: The Olympic Games are undoubtedly a Greek piece of heritage from which the country does not earn money; in contrast we have lost a great amount of money from organizing them in Athens. We could declare ‘the Olympic Games’ trademark and receive money from the licensing. Imagine only the income from the shirts of the Olympic Games, as Disney does with comics’ heroes, or television and commercial rights and take into consideration that the owner of the licensing rights of Formula 1 is one of the wealthiest person in the UK and the world.