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Leadership 100 Chairman Argyris Vassiliou: Recruiting the Best and the Brightest
Leadership 100, the preeminent Greek American membership organization, will celebrate its 35th Anniversary with the 28th Annual Conference, February 21-24, 2019, in Boca Raton, Florida.
This conference marks an important milestone for the group which has already surpassed the long-held goal of 1000 members (the founding fathers were hoping for 100 in their wildest dreams!). And through new initiatives it is also targeting the younger leaders, those finishing high school or already in college. The conference will be the first for the chairmanship of Argyris Vassiliou, leader in his own right in business and the community at large. Vassiliou, and his predecessor, George Tsandikos, represent a leadership shift to the generation after the founding fathers of the group and has already infused the organization with new blood and energy and has opened the way to even more exciting possibilities.
Argyris (RJ) Vassiliou is currently the President of two family-owned businesses, Acme Pallet Company, Inc., an industrial engineering concern, based in New York City, and Di-Cor Industries, Inc., a specialty structural steel fabrication company, located in Bristol, CT. He has been active in designing and implementing materials handling systems for clients such as American Airlines, Goya Foods and Procter & Gamble.
He was educated at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, receiving a B.C.E. degree in 1989, and at Princeton University, receiving a M.S. degree in 1991. He is a member of Tau Beta Pi, the National Engineering Honor Society, and Chi Epsilon, the National Civil Engineering Honor Society.
Vassiliou served as Treasurer of The Saint Michael’s Home in Yonkers, NY, is on the Board of Anatolia College in Thessaloniki, and is an alumni member of the National Leadership Council for the Campaign for Stuyvesant High School.
Fluent in Greek, he is also an active member of AHEPA. Married to the former Ann Pappajohn, they have two children, Alexandra and Nicholas, and attend the Church of the Archangels in Stamford, CT.
In this interview with NEO, Vassiliou talks about his vision as chairman of the organization and the responsibility that comes with it. “There is one more essential ingredient: to ensure that we recruit the best and the brightest not only as members, but as members of our Board, which will determine the character and integrity of our organization. My own goal is to insure the highest quality of Board membership along with growth. Quality is just as important, and perhaps more so than quantity.”
The upcoming Leadership 100 conference will be your first conference as chairman. Can you tell us some of the highlights?
Not only will this be my first conference as Chairman of Leadership 100, but as it also marks the celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the founding of Leadership 100, it is a double honor for me. We will meet February 21-24, 2019, at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton, Florida.
Featured speakers will include George Veras, the Sports Emmy-Award winning Chief Operating Officer of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Founder and President of Veras Communications, Inc., Stellene Volandes, Editor in Chief of Town and Country Magazine, and our own Chairman Emeritus George D. Behrakis. We will also feature, at our Opening Forum, one of the most prominent ministries of our Archdiocese, The Center for Family Care, whose remarkable work will be presented by its Director, Rev. Fr. Alexander Goussetis and Coordinator for Seminarian and Clergy Couple Care, Presvytera Kerry Pappas. The traditional Bible Study and Lecture will be conducted by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America. Each of these address important facets of our lives.
George Behrakis’ contribution is of special importance. He will moderate a panel of medical specialists on the subject of “Health and Wellness: Improving our Quality of Life”. The panel will include George Dangas, MD PhD, Professor of Medicine, Cardiology and Professor of Surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York; Harry T. Anastopoulos, MD, Gastroenterologist, Clinical Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, who is affiliated with its teaching hospital at Beth Israel, Deaconess Medical Center; and George J. Korkos, M.D. D.D.S. F.A.C.S., a member of Leadership 100, and a leading Plastic Surgeon and Associate Clinical Professor in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
You are about to complete one year as chairman. How’s the experience so far? What are the greatest challenges you encountered?
After one year I can attest to the thorough professionalism that characterizes the work of Leadership 100. The Executive Committee and Board of Trustees take their fiduciary responsibility with great seriousness. Our Founders and Chairmen Emeriti play an indispensable role in providing an “institutional memory” that guides us in being true to purpose. The committees function according to the highest standards. Whether the Audit or Investment Committees or the Grant or Membership Committees, our Executive Director, Paulette Poulos, and her staff keep everything running smoothly and efficiently. The supreme challenge is maintaining the integrity and growth of our endowment to ensure that it can adequately support the National Ministries of our Archdiocese, along with other causes that advance Orthodoxy and Hellenism. This requires knowledgeable oversight of all the functions of Leadership 100 and the implementation of its decisions. Leadership 100 has grown to almost 1,100 members with total assets of $100 million and has distributed more that $51 million in grants over the 35 years of its history. This is a remarkable testimony to the leadership of an organization of which I am the proud shepherd.
Two years ago, Leadership 100 reached a most important milestone, when it surpassed 1000 members. What are the goals from now on regarding membership and expansion? What are your goals as chairman and what would you like people to remember your chairmanship for?
Our goals have remained the same over our history: to target all our resources and talents on growing our membership which in turn leads to the growth of our endowment and increases the grants distributed in support of our Church. But there is one more essential ingredient, to ensure that we recruit the best and the brightest not only as members but as members of our Board, which will determine the character and integrity of our organization. My own goal is to insure the highest quality of Board membership along with growth. Quality is just as important, and perhaps more so than quantity. There is probably an optimal size. There always is. But our business is to be sensitive to it as it emerges. As a wise man once said, “Eagles don’t come in flocks.”
Some years ago, the organization decided to more actively go after young professionals, opening to the new generations. Are you going to continue in that direction? Why, in your opinion, should you and other successful Americans of Hellenic descent join Leadership 100 while they have a variety of many other very worthy causes and organizations to join if they want to?
I guess you can call me RJ Vassiliou, Dealer in Eagles! As to young professionals, we encourage their joining and have integrated them into full membership, advancing the most dedicated to positions on the Board, the Executive Committee and other key committees. Joining Leadership 100 is a privilege. It was for me and it is for many new members today that are drawn to Leadership 100 by the examples of outstanding members of our Community. This model of leadership began with the original Founders, legends in business and philanthropy, who joined Archbishop Iakovos to create Leadership 100 in 1984 and continues to this day. These leaders have demonstrated that collective action, while maintaining the highest standards of accountability, transparency and responsibility, has created a unique and unparalleled organization that is both philanthropic and characterized by great Christian fellowship. We must keep proving to our younger prospects that Leadership 100 is where they really and truly belong.
Why did you to become a member?
My wife, the former Ann Pappajohn, originally joined as an Associate Member. When we married, we became full members and fulfilled our commitment, although technically of associate age. Ann’s parents, John and Mary Pappajohn, were always prominent members and truly provided a great example to follow.
Leadership 100 was founded as an endowment fund in support of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. However, times have changed, and new challenges have appeared regarding Hellenism at large. Is there a discussion among the members to expand its scope to other areas, although legally you are restricted in doing so?
Hellenism is integral to our Greek Orthodox Faith. Many of the programs we support are indeed ministries such as Greek Education, Byzantine Music, and Greek Liturgical texts. Ministries advance Orthodoxy and Hellenism through programs for children, youth, young adults and families. Our scholarship support of seminarians preparing for the priesthood at Holy Cross advance our Faith and Heritage in both Orthodoxy and Hellenism. They are missionaries of both in our American society by virtue of their training.
Founding Member Peter Dion told me that he feels especially proud because more than 1000 Greeks belong to this group. During all those years there wasn’t any mismanagement, lawsuits, divisions or other plagues that have hit other Greek American organizations. Your thoughts on that.
Peter Dion has every right to be proud of that in that it was he and the other remarkable Founders such as Arthur Anton and those of Blessed Memory, Andrew Athens, Thomas Athens, George Chimples, Michael Jaharis and George Kokalis, who guarded the integrity of the organization during troubled times. We continue their legacy in maintaining the standards they put in place.
Leadership 100 is the first Greek American Endowment Fund of its kind, a real leader as the name implies. It has proved successful in more than one way. Other organizations have sprung from it following the same model to different goals. This is the way to go for our community organizations because they can secure funding and the people who offer their support can be assured that the funds will be used for the purpose intended. Have you thought of providing guidance or perhaps technical assistance to other groups?
An endowment fund, wherein one can grow a portfolio not only through contributions but also through wise investments, is a preferable arrangement to preserve resources so that our Church as well as our donors can be assured of generous support over the decades. This is overlooked by those seeking support for projects that have immediate appeal. Such action diminishes the ability to provide resources in the future. Several organizations have not only looked to us as an example but asked us to provide them with guidance. Given our desire to be of assistance to our fellow man (and woman), we have and will always gladly help.
The organization has religiously stayed out of politics. However, there are other issues of interest to the community that go beyond local politics, such as the Cyprus issue, Turkey’s threat against Greece in the Aegean, etc. Are you willing to organize some forums at your conferences where those issues will be discussed, and members be informed as to what is going on? Or regarding the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the challenges it’s facing within a country that doesn’t even accept the ecumenical character of the institution.
We have had programs on the Great Massacre of Smyrna, on Greek Archaeology and Civilization, on the Holy and Great Synod and others like these and will continue to do so, periodically addressing historical and contemporary issues. However, there are advocacy organizations much better equipped to mount programs on these international issues, which require considerable costs. Our purpose is to provide financial support for the National Ministries of our Archdiocese. We look to other organizations that are better suited for that purpose to keep abreast of these issues, which are of great importance and of great concern to us as Hellenes. While Leadership 100 will continue to support our Archdiocese, we will always ultimately support our Mother Church. We have provided funding for the Holy and Great Council, the Imbros High School and the Ecumenical Patriarchate Pastoral Healthcare Program.
A message to the Leadership 100 members and the community at large.
Leadership 100 lives and thrives as a testimony to our forebears who took the revolutionary step for our community of devising a way to secure and protect significant resources for our Church and to advance Orthodoxy and Hellenism in America. Our Founders anticipated that our Church would face challenging times and that its needs would grow. They also anticipated that Orthodox Christian donors who advanced in their careers and businesses would need a vehicle for that support, which would meet the requirements of sound business, financial integrity and professional standards. By remembering just why we are here and who we are, we can continue to play a transformational role in our Church, our Community and American Society.