Please share with us a snapshot of Generation Y
Mr. Anastasios Spanidis: I am a self-made entrepreneur. I have 150 employees here and another 45 people abroad. Everyone is on the payroll – we do not use any tricks where you can bypass the laws here in Greece. I dropped out of university because I did not care for it and it was very boring for me since I had my own interests in business. I was already making money and I believed I had a better understanding of how things worked outside, in the business world. Generation Y is the market leader in Digital Transformation, which is consists of two main pillars: how you can sell more products and services through technology and how you can lower the operational costs of the company. This is not only interesting in Greece but also worldwide. You need to have a helicopter view in order to understand what is needed to organize a business. I know a lot of my clients’ secrets and how they operate and what they want to achieve. After 18 years being in this business, even if you are not very bright, you will have a much better understanding of how the economy works and how business works.
Anastasios, why don’t we kick-off the interview by hearing a little bit about your journey as an entrepreneur… when was the entrepreneurial seed planted in you? How and when did you identify the opportunity to launch Generation Y?
Mr. Anastasios Spanidis: I strongly believe that entrepreneurship is something that you are born with and not something you can just build from. You need to have the bug in your system. I remember when I was 7 years old, my grandmother would not give me 20 Drachmas to buy a sweet so I had to be enterprising. I decided to gather things people would through out in the street near the school yard and then I would sell it to my friends in order to make the money to afford the sweet. It was a state of mind that existed in me since I can remember. The opportunity was not something structured. When I was 18 all I could see was the goal that I had at that time, to buy a car. I learned on this journey that motives are something different to goals that we set. The motive was that when my father said he was not going to buy it for me, I then set the goal to do this in 3 months. I got motivated and I said that it could be done. This is the first time I realized that goals are different to motives. When you have the right motivation, you will achieve your goal. Many people believe they do not have enough money. Their goal becomes this, to make money. But they do not find the right motivation in order to start producing value for somebody else in order to get paid and eventually reach their goal. My journey was not something that was planned; it was something that developed as I matured.
What were some of the major challenges that you faced when you first got started? What makes you the most proud when looking back at the history of your company?
Mr. Anastasios Spanidis: There are three major milestones in the 18 years my company has existed. The first one was hiring my first employee. This was a huge responsibility. We did not even have money for ourselves, so how would we be able to pay someone? The second one had to do with our first export. It was a small company in the UK and we helped him grow further. Right now we are an international company, but it is something that we created step by step. The third one is that we had to standardize all the positions and how the company should operate. Because we are in services – you have to have a very efficient way of operating but at the same time act like a small-medium enterprise regarding communication with your client, to customize the service. It is one of the hardest things to develop because you have to create a culture in the company to respect the positions, to respect the job descriptions but to also focus on results.
Yesterday has marked an historic moment for Greece, winning the approval of the Eurogroup for the completion of the 3rd review. It has been a long, hard road to get here… 8 years of recession, austerity measures, economy contracting by 25%, financial system at brink of collapse and record levels of unemployment. Thousands of companies fell by the wayside during this period… but not Generation Y. Sir – How did you do it? Do you see calmer seas ahead?
Mr. Anastasios Spanidis: I have a philosophy I would like to share with you. Each individual’s world and their reality can be broken down as such: 25% is oneself (the I); 25% is our immediate surroundings, the people that we love (family, close friends); 25% is the broader community (the company where you work, your city); the remaining 25% has to do with humanity.
Each of these four points are equally distributed as far as someone should have a responsibility over their existence. To answer your question, when you have this balance you can succeed in anything. To give you a simple example: if there is a war and humanity is destroyed and you cannot focus on your business (members of your close family are killed etc), then you will not
succeed. It is a holistic approach. You have to remember that you are not just playing for yourself, but you are also playing for the people that you love, your community and for humanity as well.
Why did we open our antennas at Generation Y? We export as much as possible because we have developed something that is very valuable. I am referring to knowledge. This knowledge can become tangible because through numbers, our clients can clearly see the benefits almost instantly. There is also the benefit of the internet where things are happening instantly. The interesting thing is that we did not expect or plan to develop exports because of the crisis. This was something that was happening to the company even before the onset of the crisis. We think in a global way because of the statement that I made earlier – it is a state of mind. We were prepared and had our defenses ready. This period was also an opportunity as we started supporting a lot of companies that had problems so the relationships became stronger. I do not believe in the crisis as such. There are always opportunities. You must seek the environment, write down the numbers and make decisions based on these. Money exists somewhere around the globe, you just have to know where to look. So to summarise my answer to your question: it was relationships, exports and a global way of thinking that helped us succeed.
This holistic breakdown of one’s motivation – is this something that you came up with earlier or is it something you put together with different sources?
Mr. Anastasios Spanidis: My knowledge comes from a lot of mentoring from different people. You keep the pieces that you like and they become your reality. The point is to have empathy. How good are you at understanding other people’s reality? What I found is that this approach helps to develop your empathy, your instincts and the understanding of the world in general. It was not something that somebody taught me but rather an outcome of the understanding of experience and it delivers this way of thinking.
Anastasios, among your long list of clients are some pretty powerful brands, many of them huge multinational companies. Throughout your 17 years journey, you have built a solid portfolio and gained the trust of these companies, and reached a point where it made sense to go international yourself and set up offices in 5 other countries outside of Greece. Sir – Which was the first office you set up internationally and what made you take this initial plunge? Locking targets on new markets?
Mr. Anastasios Spanidis: The first office was in the UK because it was the easiest place to set up. It was much harder in Germany or elsewhere. The UK is a very business-friendly and stable environment which motivated me to give it a try. Word of mouth is what now pushes us even further. One of the good things that Greeks have is when you do something right, they will support you and do very good lobbying for you. Thanks to our good results, we started having clientele in the UK. In the beginning there was no strategy, it was all about ‘Thinking Big’. But the strategy right now continues to be the following: if you have a critical mass of clients in a specific country, it is necessary to set up an office. Like this you can provide the client with the service they need, right time zone and right language for instance.
What has been your experience in London, competing against some of the world’s best?
Mr. Anastasios Spanidis: Frankly, I feel much better in London than in Athens because things move much faster and efficiently compared to Greece. We are also talking about different cultures of course. In Greece you need to spend time in order to build the relationship and develop a personal connection. We were very excited and very young when we started in the UK, so we did not feel that the obstacles that we faced were real obstacles. Each time we overcame a challenge, we became stronger for the next one. Again, it is a state of mind. You have to succeed; you have to focus and find your way to the money. These were not real obstacles; these were small challenges. Now, after growing and becoming bigger, you stomp right over them.
Can you tell us some more about your clients in the UK?
Mr. Anastasios Spanidis: We have a diversified portfolio of clients in the UK, from hospitality to heavy industry, from small-medium businesses to large multinationals. It was our aim to be diversified with our client base. We have 8 different business units starting from market research – understanding not just the demographics of the target group that we want to approach but also their behavioral statistics. We collect the data and deliver this to the performance department, who can then calculate the cost requisition per customer for our own client. We can also provide the right linguistic programme for branding and copywriting. This is far sophisticated than just promoting a product. Our conclusions and recommendations are derived from scientific processes.
Under your leadership, Generation Y has been responsible for the Digital Transformation of hundreds of its clients. In the broader context, you have been a staunch promoter and spoken largely about the necessary digital transformation of Greece and its economy. In your opinion, where does Greece find itself today in the transformation into a digital and knowledge-based society? Main obstacles that remain for Greece to further embrace digital economy?
Mr. Anastasios Spanidis: In general, Greece is progressing well with technology; there is a high rate of penetration particularly from the millennials demographic. Any time there is new technology, they want to use it. This is very important because you can see where things are headed. In the UK, there is a 25% use of e-commerce, meaning 1 in 4 purchases are made online. In Greece it is still something like 5%, but growing rapidly. Growth rates are much higher in Greece than the average for the European Union. Regarding the government and the public sector, there is still much room for advancement, but the current government moving in the right direction. I see a positive trend regarding the use of technology and how this is helping the whole of the public sector to become much more efficient. Greece is in a good position right now.
In 1999 British entrepreneur and visionary, Kevin Ashton, coined the term the “Internet of Things” More recently, the term has been expanded to include “The Internet of Everything”. Cisco estimates that this will consist of 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020. I am sure you’ve read about Amazon’s new till-less supermarket in Seattle… A milestone of IoE. But in the context of Greece, what specific, niche areas of “The Internet Of Everything” do you feel Greek entrepreneurs and start ups could most capitalize on?
Mr. Anastasios Spanidis: I am a mentor at E.G.G (Enter.Grow.Go), the biggest incubator here in Greece. The startup community is getting bigger and bigger in Greece. There have been many good ideas that have attracted the right investors and turned into very nice companies that have grown on a global scale. Many of our clients in Greece are searching to digitally transform their enterprises by being innovative and using new technologies. Doing something innovative puts you in the spotlight. So, this is something that everyone should have on his/her mind and that is how they should operate their business.
We have recently met and interviewed Mr Vassilis Apostolopoulos, CEO of Athens Medical Group and President of the Greek Association of Entrepreneurs. He admitted to being very proud of Greece’s young entrepreneurs (Millenials / Gen. Y) and how some have been successful in taking their companies abroad, people like yourself! Sir – What valuable lessons have you learned during your journey?
Mr. Anastasios Spanidis: I too am proud about the effort of the new generation and what they are putting on the table right now. They are beginning to understand the world and at the same time achieving their goals. The first thing that I would advise is adaptability. It is not the most intelligent or the strongest species that survive, as Darwin said, but the most adaptable.
Additionally, two key attributes to develop are patience and persistence.
These are two values that one needs to grow. Persistence in relationships; persistence in your goals; persistence regarding what you think about life; it is important to develop persistence. Do not get down from a failure - failures do not exist, they are lessons to be learned. It is important to always continue learning. Adaptability, persistence and patience together with what I said earlier: you need to ‘Think Big.’ I address this issue in every speech that I give here in Greece because of the mentality that has passed from generation to generation in Greek society. In the global era, you need to ‘Think Big’ and understand that there are no borders and there are no limits; the only limit is yourself and your mind. This might sound very simple but most of the people just stick to the borders set by the media, parents, school, for instance, and do not try to break through these. So, ‘Think Big’ would be my advice.
Mr Spanidis, through this interview, you have the attention of Britain's business and investor community, perhaps to conclude, and on behalf of Generation Y, this is your opportunity… to share a powerful message and insightful message with the influential readers of The Times?
Mr. Anastasios Spanidis: We as Generation Y are market leaders. We have succeeded in providing our clients with their digital transformation. We see through these results it is end the end people who grow, families that live better and personal goals that are being achieved. These are realities that are happening for people who have dreams. Don’t forget that behind every computer and every company there are people. You need to be people-centric and when you put it into your own heart, into your business and your efforts and into numbers, then everything you dream for can happen. We at Generation Y are achieving this. We have created relationships that are long-lasting and are based on these results. These relationships then go to a different level. You start pushing your client to go further and further. This is what we do. We bring growth to our clients and this growth is translated to the people who make up the client. So my message is that it is so important to be people-centric, human-to-human.