ATHENS – “Greece is very, very rich,” John Catsimatidis told the crowd at Capital Link’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) forum on May 27. The event, whose theme was “For a Better Tomorrow,” honored Catsimatidis, a Greek-American self-made billionaire, with its 2014 Leadership Award. (Full story: “Capital Link Hosts 4th Annual Corporate Social Responsibility Forum,” TNH, May 31).
Emphasizing the need to capitalize on its natural resources opportunity, Catsimatidis told the audience, who applauded in appreciation and laughed at the good-humored bluntness, that Greece should treat its investors with aggalies (hugs), not klotsies (kicks).
Praising both the country and its people, Catsimatidis proclaimed that “Greek people are smart and hardworking. We have succeeded all over the world and we can make Greece become one of the biggest economic powers of Europe.”
Greek-Americans are the top-educated group in the United States among ethnic minorities, he said, and “our people have the ability to be strongest in government and strongest in education and we have to stop the outflow of the braintrust out of Greece and give a reason for these people to come back, and they will come back.”
To more applause, he said “the economic powers of Europe have to treat Greece in a fair and responsible way with its citizens to live like other citizens of Europe.”
And “we need the Diaspora to come and make investments create jobs for your kids” here in Greece, Castimatidis said. “Not to say ‘I am leaving, I have a Job in London, I am leaving, I have a job in Paris, I am leaving I have a job in Chicago.’ We want your kids to stay here and create a better Greece.”
Catsimatidis’ native island, Nisyros, a tiny dot in the Aegean Sea from which he was brought by his parents to Harlem when he was just a few months old, made it to Times Square on May 28, featured on the majestic NASDAQ building screen (front page, TNH, May 31), with congratulations to its new mayor, Christofis Koronaios. Of course, Castimatidis could not have referred to that – as it hadn’t happened yet.
But he made sure to pay homage to his beloved little island, and even joked “you never know, we might find some gas there or something.”
Both of Catsimatidis’ parents were Nisyrian – his father’s family tracing the family tree back to the 1700s. “Before he passed away, [my father] drew up a diagram of the family going back to 1762, and I treasure that diagram and I am going to be sharing it with my children because they know where they are from.”
His mother’s family, though has roots in Constantinople, and “I always call it ‘Constantinoupolis,’” he added, to more appreciative applause.
U.S. ENERGY, TOO
Catsimatidis spoke about his strong Republican run in the 2013 NYC mayoral bid, and how after he lost that primary he received a call from President Bill Clinton, who told him: “John, don’t worry, I lost my first election, too.”
“I was pushing for Independence Day 2020,” said Catsimatidis, explaining that meant an energy independent North America by that year. As Russia and China are making energy deals, he said, and the Middle East is dealing with Europe, we will need to have another energy power center: North America.
PEACE THROUGH RELIGION
Describing his trip to the Vatican, where Pope Francis had invited Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Catsimatidis said there is “hope for success,” and that if the political leaders cannot bring about peace, the religious leaders might be able to.
Ending his speech with “God bless Greece and God bless America,” Catsimatidis shared his emotions upon his arrival to his native homeland earlier that day: “When I got off the plane this afternoon and I was driving towards the terminal, I had tears in my eyes because I felt I was home.”