John Georges, Lover of Greece and Louisiana, Acquires a Newspaper

NEW YORK – Call John Georges a good Greek, and he will beam and tell you about his heritage and his commitment to Orthodoxy and Hellenism. Acknowledge his love of Louisiana and he will say it is all the same: “Being Greek and being from Louisiana, we have one thing in common: We are a proud people.”{63761}

The businessman and philanthropist who has succeeded in different kinds of businesses just purchased The Advocate, the venerable 105 year-old newspaper headquartered in Baton Rouge, LA.
It is the latest challenge for a man who has run for governor of Louisiana and Mayor of New Orleans, and helped lead the recovery after Hurricane Katrina.
Buying the Advocate was motivated not by politics, he told TNH, but by his desire to do even more for his state, a notion that was seconded at the announcement of the purchase by the presence of the very men – now, the sitting mayor and governor – against whom once he ran.
In addition to doing his civic duty, imbued in him by his own family and reinforced by his wife Dathel, who comes from a prominent and civic minded New Orleans family, he believes he has the winning formula and vision which he developed as he built successful ventures upon the foundation of the family business – to succeed in a stressed industry.
His mother’s father, Gus Pelias, established the Imperial Trading Company in 1916. It is now the fifth largest convenience store supplier in America, supplying 5000 stores.
The newspaper business is tough, but Georges loves challenges. “In New Orleans we overcame Katrina, BP, we won a Super Bowl. We seem to always be the underdogs,” he said. Regarding the struggling newspaper industry he said “it has its challenges but the solutions are the same as in the grocery distribution business: expand geographically, control your costs, and work hard.”
The paper expanded into New Orleans before he bought it, being given and opening by its main competitor, The Times Picayune. They decided to focus on their digital presence and to print only three days a week. Georges said that’s a strategy that might work everywhere except New Orleans, not in a town that is as famous for tradition and family ties as it is for great parties.
He hopes his children will follow his footsteps. Both his daughters, college students Alexandra and Liza, are interested in pursuing media studies, which was one of the motivating factors for establishing the Georges Media Group. “They are very talented in video work, accomplished since high school in creating movies and documentaries.” He added that his wife “is an equal partner in the newspaper. We bought it together.”
Their son Nike is going in into his junior year in high school with an emphasis on basketball. That too is in the genes – Georges was a linebacker in high school.{63758}

The talent and energy has deep roots. Gus Pelias began by pushing a cart as a candy maker – coming to America more than 100 years ago. After opening a grocery he established the Imperial Trading Company.
Georges’ father, Dennis, was born in Kalamata. As a member of the Greek Air Force, he served in Korea and then was sent to Keesler AFB for electronics training. “He then settled in America, went to church, and met my mother. She couldn’t speak Greek and he couldn’t speak English,” and they were married for more than 50 years, and he became a leader in the community.
Dennis was the founder of the Holy Trinity Cathedral Greek festival, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary. Georges’ interest in politics was fired up by the local politicians he met when they visited the festival and the annual black tie Greek night.
Even as part of management, Dennis did blue collar work at Imperial Trading, driving the trucks and working in the warehouse, and at 11 years of age, John joined him there. By the time he went to college annual sales were $29 million – now they do over a billion in business.
The third generation owner enhanced his genetic gifts with a management degree at Tulane’s business school and he cannot imagine another career. “I’m a worker, but I also love to travel.”
He also followed his father in being very active in the Greek Orthodox Church and he was instrumental in restoring Holy Trinity Cathedral after Katrina when he was parish council president. That entailed $4 million worth of work and restoring the Church in three months.
It was a great challenge. “There was no one here. A handful of us had to make decisions on the spot. The roof was missing and they were less than four feet of water for two weeks. We had to pull everything out, restore it, and fix it…remove carpet pews, take marble off the wall, sheet rock, insulation, all electoral wiring. It was a miracle.”
“It’s the thing in my life that I am most proud of,” and he was honored to be able to greet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew when he visited New Orleans after the hurricane.
He became a member of Leadership 100 in his thirties and became an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate after the first of two Patriarchal visits.
After Katrina he ran for governor in 2007. He said his decision was a function of the government’s Katrina failures and felt obligated to try to do better for his state. He began as a Republican but qualified as an independent.
He polled the most votes in the City of New Orleans by winning a lot of Democrat votes, so he switched to Democrat and ran for Mayor in 2011.
The decision to buy the Advocate was a function of his desire to contribute to Louisiana institutions and was spurred by his purchase of the most iconic restaurant in the state, Galatoire’s, a 105 year old James Beard award-winning establishment.{63762}{63763}

Like the renowned, 21 Club in New York, when something like that becomes available a sharp businessman with Greek genes is going to take a look.
To those who say the paper will serve his political agenda he notes that when he bought Galatoire’s, known for its French Creole cooking, people said he was going to impose a Greek menu.
“I’m smarter than that. I hired professionals to run it… I don’t tell the chefs in the restaurant how to cook a meal…at the Advocate, I’m the publisher, so I have the right to step in, but I don’t see a need to,” he said.
He has brought in top people and they are setting up two local community boards, in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. “What I ask of the writers is to tell the truth and let the cards lie where they lay.” The paper has one of the newest printing facilities in America.
Warren Buffet and the Koch Brothers have also recently bought into newspapers – the latter more likely due to their politician agendas.
Georges noted that Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which owns the McLane Company, is his direct competitor in the convenience store business, and said “At the end of the day we both like meat and potato business that we know how to tweak and make more efficient.”
He said newspapers are suffering because they have been monopolies very long and can’t respond to a more competitive environment.
“They think about other priorities. I think about how to improve the product every day,” he said. He is also proud of other Greek-Americans in the media, like Arianna Huffington.
STRONG GREEK ROOTS
These days, Georges also thinks about Greece. His mother grew up among old leading families in town and her mother was born in Greece with roots in Cephalonia and she and her husband cultivated their children’s Greek roots, and his father was active in Greek issues and the struggle for justice for Cyprus.
There is a Peloponnese and an American political history connection – her last name was Anagnostopoulos and Spiro Agnew was a distant relative.
His oldest brother, Constantine, is a retired Assistant U.S. Attorney who served for 20 years. They lost their brother Anthony at the age of 18 – Georges named his son in his honor, and he has two sisters, Alexi, who is very civic-oriented, and Pam.
The family visited Greece often. Georges went at 11, 13, and 15 years old, when there was no electricity and no phones and paved roads in the village. By 17 he discovered the delights of the Greek islands.
He now visits every year, and he is very concerned about the crisis. “We in the Diaspora love Greece as our country and we are troubled by the policies and decisions of its politicians. At the end of the day, it starts with clearing up the corruption, and lessons could be learned from Louisiana and the Katrina situation. If you clear up the corruption, you win over the hearts and minds of the country, and people will be willing to make more sacrifices.”
He says Diaspora Greeks should not be shy about helping. “We can provide resources, influence things – we have influence in Greece and in America.”