NEW YORK – Among the many successful Diaspora Greeks who want to help build the New Greece is Sam Stathis. “Building” is a key word in his biography. The inventor and serial entrepreneur, founder of Stathis Enterprises, is a building technology pioneer.
Born Soterios Stathopoulos, his was the seventh generation of talented, gritty Greeks who lived in the same house in Analtsi in Central Greece. Like many Greek-Americans, he was frustrated by the failures of the Greek establishment that led to the crisis, but he believes that maverick Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras can break down the barriers to change that will liberate its valuable human resources.
Stathis, believes, however, that it is the Greeks’ very self-confidence that has been targeted before and during the crisis, so he welcomes the new government’s aggressiveness abroad, which he believes is backed by many unappreciated positives at home.
He told TNH “Greece is not starting from scratch, but they don’t know it…The Greeks have a great legacy and well educated young people in mathematics and technology…but Greece has done a terrible job marketing itself in what our strengths are.”
Greeks are also more united than they were in 1940 and Tsipras’ party may be in a better position to do battle with opponents of change, Stathis told TNH. The lessons of the power of the unity and mental toughness is written throughout his family history. His father is partially lame from polio or stroke – they were never sure which – but he was a workhorse with determination driven by power from the left side of his body.
Numerous observers analogously believe that what is good about Greece and Greeks can overcome what is bad.
But first, Stathis is, “We need to lift the heads up of young Greeks…to show them examples of Greek success around the world…. I would like them to tell young Greeks their success stories, and the challenges Greeks abroad have overcome.”
Stathis also has developed programs that can be replicated in Greece, spearheading conferences which focused on the construction and technical revolution he participated in and its job and business creation dimension.
Stathis helped develop websites such as IntelligentJobSites.com and contributed to the creation of Startup New York, which helps people “start, expand or relocate your qualified business to a tax-free zone in New York State,” an agenda long pushed by economists for Greece.
He said the tools Greece needs already exist. “I am an inventor and an innovator, but I also like being practical….what I learned from these initiatives is that we do not need to create new systems in Greece or America…we have enough technology, we just need to get people to adopt it… we just need to take that best that currently exist and apply them.
Demographics pose a challenge to both countries’ economic future. The baby boomers, the mechanical generation, are retiring in the construction, agriculture and most industries.
Greek firms can become global leaders in responding to this challenge.
Stathis’ answer was to forge bridges “between the mechanical generation of baby boomers and the digital generation.”
In the old days there were apprentices but Stathis said in his projects they no longer give a mechanic an apprentice, “we give him a co-mentor. The mechanic does the mechanical stuff and the co-mentor does the digital work – we create a hybrid that I call green collar worker – it’s a symbiotic relationship and you transfer knowledge more quickly.”
Stathis Enterprises’ Theometrics University provides young people with training and certification for the new economy. Inspired by the devices he invented, he coined Theometrics for “the art and science of precision measurement and navigation in and on construction sites.”
He also highlighted some of the mayoral initiatives of Michael Bloomberg, like the $5 billion joint venture between Cornell University and Technion University of Israel. Stathis called it “an incubator for developing technology,” that can be replicated in Greece, whose new SYRIZA government is pursuing public-private sector partnerships.
Another Bloomberg priority that applies to Greece is STEM emphasis (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
“America has fallen to 17 in mathematics, 27 in science,” and Stathis’ contribution to the debate is his belief that students and teachers alike would benefit from continuing education classes to keep pace with a fast-changing world.
He hopes Tsipras will lead a technical and education revolution that will be a secure foundation for the future and a powerful response to Greece’s critics.
Stathis developed the entrepreneurship in his genes as soon his uncle Dino, who owned diners in New Jersey, brought his family to America in 1969 when the former was seven.
“We collected worms from my grandmother’s garden and overcame the language barrier to sell them.” He, his brothers and his friend Michael Giris made the astonishing sum of $300 that summer.
He has two older sisters, Sotiria and Spiridoula, and two younger brothers, Tommy and Dino.
Right from the start he loved and exceled in science and math.
After high school he worked at Hellenic Electric for Billy Kontorouchas – “the only person I ever worked for.” Their projects included the City’s top nightclubs, but when the guests were partying Stathis went to school at night school at the humble Mechanic’s Institute of Technology, a trade school. Stathis’ own lawsuit won the school its college level accreditation.
He ended up buying Hellenic but the excitement was tempered by the economic downturn of the early 1990s. It cost George H.W. Bush reelection and sent the company into Chapter 11 just after Stathis married the love of his life, Connie Antzoulis following a long courtship and they have two children, Christina and Yianni.
So Stathis knows all about being knocked down and getting up again. He started all over – as his family did after WWII wiped them out – with zero credit and living with his in-laws.
He rose to ever-greater heights, also thriving in land development and business management, and active in philanthropy, Stathis never forgot his roots or the importance of “giving back.”