NEW YORK – The optimism that the banking system and the economy in general in Greece will soon be on the path of growth, through the contribution of the Greeks who have succeeded abroad, was expressed by Piraeus Bank Chairman of the Board of Directors, Dr. George Handjinicolaou, the honoree at the Hellenic American Association of Professionals in Finance (HABA) 37th Annual Executive of the Year Award Dinner in Manhattan on April 4.
Dr. Handjinicolaou in his Executive of the Year Award acceptance speech said, “Let me start by thanking you -HABA and its officers, but also all of you for being here- for the honor you have bestowed on me. I am humbled.
“It is not my intention to give you a long speech and bore you to death, but I do want to grab the opportunity to make a few remarks and share with you some of my thoughts on matters that bring the two communities together, the American and the Greek.”
Businessman and philanthropist Michael Psaros presented the award to Handjinicolaou, praising him for his contributions and calling him “Axios.”
Handjinicolaou then shared his story which began in a small village outside of Nafpaktos, continued across the Atlantic for his studies at NYU and Baruch, and included his establishment as a professional in the United States and Great Britain. Handjinicolaou’s story came full circle with his return to Greece, a self-fulfilling prophecy, since he had always had at the back of his mind, the return home.
Handjinicolaou said, “The stars came closer to an alignment for the first time when, in 2007, I moved to London, thus closer to Greece. Then, in 2009, I received an invitation to join the Hellenic Capital Markets Commission – the equivalent of the U.S. SEC – as vice chairman. Driven by feelings I just described, and although I had an 80% pay cut, I accepted the challenge, returning to Greece, after 33 years.
“Alas, my timing was, let us say, not ideal. My return coincided with the time when Greece was embarking on an 8-year odyssey of dealing with its hangover after 30 years of relatively uninterrupted growth, propelled primarily by consumption and financed by an increase in its external debt.”
He returned to London and then to Greece again in 2011, noting that “this time is different,” adding that “I am making a difference; we are making a difference, by strengthening the institutional framework in Greece, which is a necessary condition for sound economic decision-making. Not the decision making that was in place before… Sound decision-making can only be supportive of healthy entrepreneurship. And healthy entrepreneurship is the only way forward for Greece, as it leads to growth, creates new jobs and addresses the brain drain.
“We have installed sound economic decision making, through proper oversight, transparency, challenge, independent controls and setting the tone from the top. Within the Bank, management is promoting equal opportunity, meritocracy, and reward for performance, while encouraging client service, creativity and adoption of new technologies. So yes, I feel that I am, we are, making a difference.”
Handjinicolaou, who is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Athens Stock Exchange, spoke warmly about the Piraeus Bank Board of Directors which includes the participation of former CEOs as well as Greeks of the Diaspora: Alexander Blades, a third generation Greek New Zealander, Solomon Berahas, and Venetia Kontogouris, who have lived for years in the United States.
He also referred to the new vitality in the Greek market from the younger entrepreneurs, to whom he gave a more “global” knowledge of the international market, while he noted the importance of developing tourism and exports.
New York State Senator Andrew Gounardes also presented Dr. George Handjinicolaou with a proclamation for all his efforts.
Among those present at the event were Piraeus Bank CEO Christos Megalou, Consul of Greece Lana Zochiou, the Greek Consulate’s Head of Economic & Commercial Affairs Georgios Michailidis and Commercial Attaché Vasilios Liveris, Trade Commissioner of Cyprus Aristos Constantine, Capital Link President Nicolas Bornozis, and Capital Link Managing Director Olga Bornozi.
Also present were Hellenic Lawyers Association President Chrisanthy N. Zapantis-Melis, Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce Vice President George Zapantis, and Cypriot Young Professionals President Jovanna Tannousis. HABA Director Demetri Papacostas served as Master of Ceremonies for the event.
HABA’s outgoing president Fanny Trataros gave a brief account of her tenure, pointing out that the key objectives she set out from the outset have been achieved.
“I set three goals: The first was unity. The second is professionalism and goodwill. The third, to get sponsorships and support for our work. At the same time, we put our programs in the foreground: seminars, lectures, and other activities. Today, we celebrate HABA’s 37 years in operation,” said Trataros.
Michael Psaros praised Trataros for her efforts and contributions to HABA. He said, “Every year, this is a special night. Major executives of the Greek business community – not just the banks – are here tonight. It shows our respect, love, and philotimo. Dr. George Handjinicolaou is awarded for his contribution, service, and ministry to the Greek-American community.”
HABA Vice President Robert Savage gave the closing remarks noting HABA’s continuing efforts, bringing together Greek and non-Greek professionals alike to collaborate and help people achieve their dreams which is the true meaning behind the financial sector’s work.