NEW YORK – Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce President Markos Drakotos spoke to The National Herald about the management philosophy and the goals of the organization, as well as the challenges it faces in the midst of a pandemic.
Drakotos focused on the efforts to develop cooperation with the Hellenic professional organizations in the United States but also the expansion of the scope of this project, which aspires to approach organized Hellenism in every part of the world.
At the same time, he expressed his optimism for the promotion of Greek trade relations through the Chamber, focusing on the good cooperation that has been developed with the Greek Consulate in New York and the Office of Economic and Commercial Affairs.
The National Herald: Mr. Drakotos, first of all, tell us about yourself and your ties with the Greek community.
Markos Drakotos: I was born in New York and grew up in the community of St. Spyridon, where I went to school, and it was also our church. My family maintains close ties with the Greek Community. My father, Nikitas Drakotos, was president of St. Michael’s Home for the elderly, and he served in HANAC and other organizations. As Greeks, we have always participated in activities and supported organizations such as the Greek Division of Ronald McDonald House, which, like St. Michael’s, holds a special place in our hearts. I graduated from college here in the U.S., became a lawyer, and worked in our family business, which focuses on real estate management. At the same time, I invest in various companies, while my company, Task Essential Swiss Skincare, with products made in Switzerland, has cosmetics available in almost every store, until I decided to focus exclusively on online commerce. It was a good decision, considering what followed. We have offices in New York and Paris.
TNH: What are your main priorities in your years leading the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce?
MD: I am already, as you know, in the third year of my presidency. Unfortunately, we are in a difficult period, due to the pandemic, which, however, as far as possible, we tried to take advantage of. I say that because we had the opportunity to do a rebranding of the Chamber, in order to find a larger audience. One of the efforts I made from the beginning of my presidency is to try to bring together many Greek organizations. I will mention the doctors, the lawyers, the bankers (HABA). If you remember, at the annual cutting of the vasilopita I had mentioned this thought of mine and I repeated it a year later. The current president of the Hellenic Medical Society of New York, Dr. Panagiotis Manolas, moved in the same spirit. Since then, we have developed an important relationship and try to bring together as many Greek organizations as we can. We have created a separate platform, which we hope will be able to unite Greeks worldwide. In addition, I tried to support the Greek-American media with more advertisements. It is important that we have started an effort, within this platform, to further support Greek companies and promote their activities. For example, the Capital Link conferences. This is the philosophy of our policy, to approach all our members and to promote and support their actions. If they succeed, we will all succeed and I hope that all these efforts made by all organizations will bring us closer. It is the main goal of my presidency to try to create situations where all organizations will communicate better and will make the effort to solve any problem that arises within the Greek community.
TNH: What efforts has the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce made in the difficult period of the pandemic?
MD: Imagine an online portal where each organization can be represented and through it you will be able to communicate with all participants. No matter where you live, you will be able to make an entry and make it known to everyone. Imagine something like Amber Alert, which in this case is a message that is sent en masse when a child is in danger. The functionality of this platform has a similar form. In this way, we will all be able to coordinate, contributing to charitable causes. For example, if we have an event like the catastrophic fires in Greece in 2018, we will be able to mobilize Greeks around the world to immediately offer a donation and support the people who have been harmed. This has not been done anywhere else and I believe that it is necessary for Hellenism everywhere. Greece may not be a big country in size, but it has many successful people who are interested in the country. If we are all together and aware of what is happening, it will be significant. Also, there should be mutual support between the organizations: i.e. Greek doctors are doing something in their field and they need support. Let's help them all together. The same is true in other fields.
TNH: The Chamber has a Youth Professionals department and many young Greek-Americans are interested in getting involved. Are you afraid that with this pause during the pandemic the interest may be reduced?
MD: As a Chamber we represent Greek businessmen and companies. We want to ensure that every young Greek-American entrepreneur receives the help they need or can get in touch with someone who has succeeded in the past, in order to show them the way that they can reach their goal, more easily or more effectively. At the same time, events like the ones we organized recently, such as the wine and beer tastings, are interesting for both young and old. What I tried with these events was to reach a younger audience, because many young people want to socialize in this way. All these Zoom meetings give us such opportunities. I believe that now with the new head of the Young Professionals department we will get in touch with younger members who are interested in doing business here and in Greece.
TNH: Greece has a bad reputation for bureaucracy which complicates trade processes and attracting investment. Has this changed in recent times?
MD: I will speak to you through the experience of our point of view, as an organization. First of all, we have very good cooperation with the Consulate General of Greece in New York, but also the Office of Economic and Commercial Affairs. They helped us a lot and participated in the recent Zoom events. The office helps us a lot and tries to bring people to our events. We not only worked with them at the wine and beer events – where they also dealt with distributors – but also at a restaurant event, with a very good panel. In this case, very good work is being done by the Greek Government to promote businesses abroad. Beyond that, the issue of investment bureaucracy is not just a Greek phenomenon. We see it in New York as well. It is not positive at all. Every economy needs to get rid of bureaucracy to move forward. For my part, I try to expand the Chamber in as many areas as possible. In the past, it was mainly engaged in shipping. We are not abandoning it, but we are trying to expand elsewhere, such as the food market, the real estate market, as well as industries such as the car market. We have events that are underway and the public will find them interesting. We also cooperate with the European chambers. There have been cases where we have been asked to close our own invitation platform, because overwhelming response could crash the system. We had the most people interested in our events and that means that the Greeks are interested and want to do things. We are taking steps we have never taken before.