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Doing business in Greece and getting the business

By on April 30, 2016
Dimitri C. Michalakis

by Dimitri C. Michalakis

It’s startling to hear from an oil expert in this issue that Greece has sizable reserves of oil that might help to bail the country out of its economic morass. It’s not anything new to hear about Greece.

I remember interviewing somebody in the olive oil business who told me that Greece has the finest olive oil in the world (widely acknowledged, he said) but because of inefficiencies and corruption and because producers can’t get together to agree on a uniform way of producing and marketing Greek olive oil the olive oil market has mostly gone to other markets, particularly the Italians, who know how to package it what is largely an inferior product. (Same with Greek-produced feta.)

And before that, I remember interviewing the head of Starbucks in Greece during its first pioneer efforts to get into Greece. He told me about the speeded-up Keystone Cops film of him visiting every agency in Greece to get the proper rights only to be told to go to yet another agency and fill out more forms that led to more forms at other agencies which led to a rat maze of other agencies and spider’s web of regulations that almost made Starbucks pull out, and many others, I’m sure.

I remember speaking recently to the man who helped get Olympic Airways off the ground for Aristotle Onassis who admitted, on record, that even a truculent and connected businessman like Onassis finally had to give up on the pioneering airline because the combination of corruption in government and zealotry in the unions made even Onassis throw up his hands and walk away from the enterprise.

The list is endless.

I remember in Chios there was a long-established vouleftis who had people camping outside his office literally year-round because nothing could be done without his seal of approval and his seal of approval always came with a price that went up through the chain of every paper-shuffler who had to approve the case of his unfortunate constituents.

I remember, memorably, my father telling me the case of a heroic sergeant who served under him in combat and died in the field and who left a widow and a child who couldn’t get his pension because the clerk at the pension office kept flirting with the poor widow and making her come back again and again. She told my father about it and when he next got leave (the first in five years in the front) he went to the pension office and put his service pistol down on the desk of the clerk. “Either you sign the papers now,” he told him, “or I’ll blow your brains out right now.”

The Greek bureaucracy and way of doing business got a dose of reality with the recent economic collapse. Did it change anything? Will it ever change anything in the realm of corruption? People making money under the table will always find ways to make money just like the nest of cockroaches ferreted out by flashlight who only find new places to hide.

Meanwhile ordinary people with no other resources suffer and the country as a whole suffers. Let’s hope the resurrection of Easter brings resurrection to the immediate future of Greece.

Kalo Pascha!

Dimitri C. Michalakis - signature

About Dimitri C. Michalakis

Dimitri C. Michalakis is Editor in Chief on NEO Magazine.