CHICAGO – Calamos Investments Founder, Chairman, and Global Chief Investment Officer John Calamos, who will be honored by the Washington OXI Day Foundation with the prestigious Michael Jaharis Service Award on October 24, was recently featured in Real Leaders magazine for his leadership skills and the legacy of values which helped build the $25 billion company he founded in 1977.
The son of Greek immigrants, Calamos decided three years ago to “turn over the reins” of the company to another Greek-American, John Koudounis, who has served as Calamos Investments’ Chief Executive Officer since that time, Real Leaders magazine reported. Calamos “wanted someone who embodied the qualities of a leader, and not just the qualities of an efficient manager,” and “found that person in the form of then 50-year-old John Koudounis, who’s leadership qualities were best suited for the ebb and flow of financial markets — someone with a broad worldview; who can comfortably accommodate diversity of thought and who is not afraid of change,” Real Leaders reported.
“Koudounis, who has now been at the helm of Calamos Investments for three years, is a shining example of a succession plan and the role that values can play across generations, while Calamos, who has no immediate plans to retire, is delighted to have found a partner with values that translate well into a company culture he has nurtured for decades,” Real Leaders reported, adding that the company’s headquarters in Naperville, IL, a suburb of Chicago, has “a welcoming atmosphere that exudes family.”
“The acceptance of my Greek heritage while growing up in the U.S., certainly influenced my later decision in life to become more accepting of others,” said Calamos, who has created an extended family of more than 300 employees, Real Leaders reported.
As questions arose concerning his retirement plans, Calamos “realized that the hallmark of a great leader is to have a good succession plan in place,” Real Leaders reported.
“It was less about finding someone with financial and investment skills, and more about someone with strategic planning skills,” Calamos told Real Leaders. “It helped move the company from a one-team system to a multi-team system. After being a company founder for 41 years, it was important to remember the value of fresh talent and ideas for a successor — the same energy that kickstarted my company decades ago.”
Calamos has done well with the values of hard work and appreciation for heritage, and reminds people that “you don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you came from,” Real Leaders reported.
Koudounis had previously worked for large corporations and told Real Leaders that “Partnering with John in a much smaller company was not a step down. It was instead a step toward partnering with shared values and ethics. I got to know John as a person first, over many years, and only then as a business partner.”
Koudounis said of Calamos, “John is highly successful, and could have generated a lot more wealth in the world of finance if he was unethical, but he isn’t, and that’s why I work with him. You’ve got to get up every morning, look in the mirror, and be able to live with yourself.”
Koudounis’ grandparents both immigrated to the United States from Sparta, Greece at the turn of the last century and Koudounis noted the ancient legacy of the Spartans, “It’s rumored that it took 15 men to bring down one Spartan in battle,” he told Real Leaders reported. Koudounis’ support for Calamos allowed the company’s founder to focus on investments and interacting more with his employees.
Calamos told Real Leaders, “Company culture is so important; I’d hate to think there is talk behind people’s backs here. Keeping lines of communication open, and an accepting attitude creates positive working environments.”
A talent program which began early in the company’s history trains interns from school as potential staff members and some have continued on with the company for 20 years.
“I like to build teams for the future,” Calamos told Real Leaders which noted his background as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in Vietnam.
Though technology has changed business dramatically, Calamos said, “It’s still people who drive the markets. Why would you want to lose sight of that?”
Calamos was also an early investor in technology and one of the first to use an Apple computer. He told Real Leaders, “I recall thinking, ‘boy, imagine the smarter decisions I could make with access to more information and data. Today, we’re so swamped with data; it’s difficult to know what to use! We’re almost back to a time before big data; another great reason to keep nurturing human interaction.”
His parents owned a grocery store in Chicago where Calamos learned his work ethic.
“I used to run downstairs as a child to give customers a quart of milk at 10 pm,” Calamos told Real Leaders. “It was the foundation for my work ethic and an early lesson in how to treat customers with respect.”
That shared Greek-American experience and values were something he recognized in Koudounis. “We came here to live the American Dream, not to be given a check, but to earn it and succeed,” Calamos told Real Leaders.
Among Calamos’ keys to success, “You can’t assume things will stay the same from year to year, change is inevitable, and this assumption must be built into your business plan,” he told Real Leaders.
“Just acknowledge that the only thing certain is change, and you’ll already be halfway in solving that problem. Training yourself for change will future-proof your product and leadership style. Pay attention to global events and realize that they can affect your business from anywhere in the world. With the volatility we see in today’s markets, short-term market timing doesn’t work anymore. You can get out at the right time, but you’ll never get back in — farsighted, longterm investments will ultimately deliver more value, as will your investment in the right people,” Calamos concluded, Real Leaders reported.