NEW YORK – A veritable Who’s Who of the Greek-American business community filled the Anie Gund Garden Lobby of the Museum of Modern Art for the second annual banquet of the Hellenic Initiative (THI). The gala, whose theme was “Investing in the Future of Greece” was also the occasion to honor the life and achievements of George Behrakis, Pete Peterson, and John Papajohn.
$2.3 million was raised on October 2 to support THI, which was established by diaspora Hellenes as “ a global, nonprofit, secular institution whose vision is to mobilize the Greek diaspora and philhellene community to invest in the future of Greece through programs focused on crisis relief, entrepreneurship and economic development,” according to its website.
The spirited throng who came from across the country and around the world – there was a cluster from DOW CEO and THI Chairman Andrew Liveris’ native Australia – required the combined efforts of Liveris, and Board members George Stamos and Dennis Mehiel to get them into their seats.
Stamos greeted the almost 600 guests and thanked all who made the special event and THI’s work possible, including staff and partners, and announced that noted investors John Calamos and Dean Metropoulos had been elected members of the Board.
Stamas, “We are very excited tonight to be honoring three very friends. Their contribution to entrepreneurism, capitalism and philanthropy are unparalleled, George Behrakis, Pete Peterson, and John Papajohn. Their leadership inspires us all to continue our support and our quest to improve the future of Greece and the Greek people.”
Liveris read a letter from President Bill Clinton, who helped launch THI with an early trip to Greece and as the featured guest at its first gala, and Mehiel introduced the night’s Toastmaster, THI Board member Ariana Huffington, who is preparing for the establishment of HuffPost Greece next month.
Huffington reminisced about the lessons she and her sister Aphrodite learned in their modest one bedroom apartment in Athens, saying that her mother “made me always feel that I am bigger than my circumstances,” a lesson she said applies to Greece.
“The ingenuity, creativity and compassion of the Greek people just has to be unleashed,” Huffington said, and THI is helping to make that happen.
Archbishop Demetrios offered the invocation and Greek-American singing star Kalomira sang the Greek and American national anthems.
One of the evening’s highlight was the announcement that Papajohn donated $500,000, which was matched with another $500,000 by THI members to support a new program which will form a constellation with two other THI endeavors in support of entrepreneurs in Greece, the Hellenic Entrepreneurship Award that is run by the Libra Group, whose winners share up to $700,000 to fund their startup companies, and the Venture Garden, which helps people take the first steps toward building a business.
Mark Arey, who was just elected THI’s Executive Director after serving ad interim, told TNH that job creation sums up all THI’s efforts in this area. He said the new program will leverage all of Pappajohn’s successes and will be based on the experience of the network of entrepreneurial centers the legendary venture capitalist had established through the University of Iowa.
Peterson was represented by his grand daughter, Alexandra Peterson Cart, and Behrakis moved the gathering with the story his father’s pursuit of the American dream, his own rise to prominence and his live with his beloved wife Mary, and his passionate faith in Greece and its people.
Behrakis told a similar story. Earlier, during the reception in MOMA’s sculpture garden, a delightful space of pools and fountains protected by neighboring skyscrapers where old friends gathered and new friendship were established, one guest turned to Behrakis and said “thank you for not giving up on Greece.” The pharmaceutical mogul, who had attempted through the years to make major investments in Greece only to be disappointed when proper conditions never materialized, responded: “Greece? You can’t give up on Greece.”
The guest enjoyed a wonderful breeze during the reception and breezy music was provided by the Spiros Exaras Jazz Trio with Exaras on electic guitar, James Shipp on vibraphones and Essiet Essiet on bass.