Thursday, July 21, 2011

Interview 10: Fanis Spanos-An Active Member

Fanis Spanos (FS) a young active member of his community is this week interview of Dubai Profile New (DPN) Blog. Combining business and politics is something not easy and through this week we will explore how this is achievable. Let’s check out how!

DPN: Fanis, you are at the moment a young politician as you were elected in the 4th place as municipal counselor of the 100,000 people Municipality of Khalkis in Greece. Do you see your future into politics?

FS: My experience in real politics is quite fresh and thus it is rather early to have a clear view on how I feel about politics and on how politics feel about me. I highly enjoy the ability and duty to do things and make decisions that influence the good of so many people. This is an indication about the former, whereas my election was a first sign about the latter. To conclude, allow me to delete the pronoun and rephrase: I see future in politics.

DPN: Tell us some things about the Municipality of Khalkis?

FS: The Municipality of Khalkis originated from the pooling of the city of Khalkis with four peripheral former suburban municipalities.  It is about sixty kilometres to the North of Athens. To avoid numbers and statistics, I only tell you that it is a beautiful place either to live or simply to come for vacation. Totally surrounded by sea, yet continental; very gifted from nature but in need of further care from all of us. The rest you are invited see in vivo!

DPN: Henry Kissinger the famous American diplomat said that “ninety percent of the politicians give the other then percent a bad reputation”. Comment us please that.

FS: Politicians give politics a bad reputation, I would outbid. Especially in our times there is no respect to the whole system. Reasons that led to depreciation can be found in both the public and the politicians, so there is not a single person or group to blame. Certain people elect certain politicians, so, to my opinion the most proper way to enjoy better politicians is to become more conscious ourselves. I agree to what communists used to say, “You can fight the system only from inside”. And in fact, this is one of the reasons that made me deal with politics.

DPN: Who do you believe is the politician who inspires you most from the world history?

FS: Referring to inspiring politicians, Pericles is the first that comes to mind. In modern times, Winston Churchill was great and the same I believe about Nelson Mandela. Domestically, Konstantinos Karamanlis, and to provoke you a little, Margaret Thatcher. To answer strictly to your question, I am most inspired by Charles de Gaul. The general whose vision, his will and his ability to apply it, changed the destiny of his beloved country.

DPN: Why many times politicians say lies?

FS: Biggest lies are said before the elections, during war and after fishing. It is easy to become politically attractive by promising and saying to people, what they expect from you to say. Obviously, it is highly unethical and one has no excuse to do it, but you cannot find many examples of people that were mature enough to elect a person that said annoying truths, rather than empty promises. In a recent example, the current Greek Prime Minister assured the Greek people that “there is enough money”, got voted by the great majority of people and only six months later his government introduced in Greece the International Monetary Fund. Finally, to suggest a contradictory parameter, the political environment is active and changing any moment. Thus, it is much wiser to adapt to the circumstances, rather than commit to an initial schedule that should not be applied. Unfortunately though, this important issue is fine print for many of the people and an easy excuse for many of the politicians.

DPN: Apart from being a politician you are a young businessman who runs the company SPANOS ARISTON that deals with concrete production, mining and construction. Tell us some things about it.

FS: Actually, I am mainly in business and secondarily in politics. Spanos Ariston is a family enterprise, which at the moment I am proud to run. Concrete industry is highly correlated to construction, which is in deep sh… oops, in recession in Greece. Our short term target is to cut costs, ensure liquidity and maintain the intangible capital of a strong local brand name.  Also we target to increase market share, although this does not imply higher turnovers by default. In order to achieve these, we focus on attracting new business and retail customers and on reducing inelastic expenses. Yet at any cost we wish to keep quality of the delivered product and service in the highest possible level. In such conditions it can be very disappointing to operate, but also very challenging. After all, it is an opportunity to challenge a company’s efficiency, utilize its strengths and allow oneself a leading position for better times in the future.

DPN: How easy is for a young businessman to stand among competition when other companies are being run from older more experienced professionals?

FS: All managers have strengths and weaknesses. The older ones are generally more experienced and become more easily accepted from the business external and internal environment. The latter was probably my biggest challenge. One the other hand we - the younger – are by average better educated and perceived as more conscious and moral professionals than the older ones. Hard work, low profile and passionate commission to the goals make the people I work with follow my choices and share my vision. And this is what makes me feel trusted by the customers and respected by the competition.

DPN: Who was the biggest influence in your life?

FS: In general I avoid creating models. I believe that every person has their own character and potentials. Nevertheless, I observe tactics, attitudes and behaviors and often try to utilize the experience, improve the practice and offer it to my potential observers. Members of my family and some teachers and friends have influenced me over time. I believe I have adopted the way my mother treats people and have been strongly influenced by my fathers’ detached wisdom. My grandfathers’ cold scientific blood and my uncles’ passion for development are also attributes that can be found in my personality. I believe though, that every single person we meet and consort with, leave their good or bad traces on us.

DPN: Living and doing business in Greece, being an active member of the country society, a country which is into deep recession, do you see any exit strategy of it from the current situation.

FS: Without getting deep into macroeconomics and finance I would say that the main problem today is lack of will. Individuals, investors and companies are reluctant to invest and consume, thus leading the economy to recession and lack of cash. In the same time, markets consciously overestimate the hazard of default and reflect this to the terms and interests they request in order to lend us money. Another chronic problem is bureaucracy and inefficiency in the public sector. This sums up both to reluctance of investments and to the terms of external financing. In order to exit the swamp government should focus on the real market. Capital markets are useful, but a healthy nation should be mainly base on real economy. This could be achieved by enabling flexible processes, by keeping a steady and fair tax system (high or low taxes is not that important as long as money returns to the tax payers through efficient public services and works) and by introducing healthier labour and insurance laws. In a shorter view government should focus on structuring a solid and respected profile. This would reduce fear and enable domestic investments and fair external financing. Obviously, most of the aforementioned thoughts are not innovative wisdom. Unfortunately though, common sense does not always seem that common...

DPN: In your opinion if a young person asked your opinion in which country to look for his future what would you recommend?

FS: In our traditional society there is high resistance to moving to a neighbouring city for work, fortiori to another country. Today, this is luxury that we cannot afford. Once we used to admire the so called “citizens of the world”. I believe that our generation should be ready to compose the “professionals of the world”. Regarding specific choices, this depends on the industry. For instance one could become an excellent professional farmer in Australia, a specialized shipbuilder in Japan, or a constructor in the Middle East. Furthermore, big opportunities arise in the so called Third World, in Africa, Afghanistan etc. This can be achieved either through companies or as entrepreneurship. Professional tourism shall be profit for the individuals as well as for the nation. Greece will be highly benefitted by attracting mental and material wealth created abroad by its own people.

DPN: What’s the most important lesson you have learnt in life?

FS: I feel it is early for me to answer such a question. Every single day offers me a smaller or bigger lesson. University offers lots of useful technical knowledge, but life lessons are usually more important. The most important thing life has taught me is the importance of people around you in everything you do. No matter how talented or passionate you are in something, you are not likely to achieve anything great if you are not surrounded by the right people. People are the most important capital. Friends, colleagues, partners, even competitors and enemies are the main factors that can help you create any kind of value. Only careful selection and thoughtful treatment of people around make you bigger and stronger. So to make a long story short... It’s all about people... And for me this is my main approach of things in any new attempt.

DPN: How would you describe Fanis with one phrase?

FS: Just a person who is dedicated to make his self and his environment little better than it is...

DPN: Business or politics is the next day for you?

FS: I make my living through my job and do not see politics as a profession. On the other hand, in order to deal with politics in a higher level than my current, one has to be highly dedicated to it. Up to now, I have been handling it without problems. In a future dilemma, I shall compare the potentials, take into account the conditions and the momentum and make decisions. So please, do not bring it down yet!

DPN: If you had the ability to turn the time back, tell us one thing that you would change in your life.

FS: If you asked me this question thirty years later, I would definitely have a list of things to answer. Today, what I would mainly change is that I would have been stricter with myself in younger ages, regarding personal and academic education. Probably I would have been more careful with people and conditions which I used to approach in a very unsuspicious attitude. Yet, in general terms I admit being satisfied with all that life has offered me up to now.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Interview 9: Danielle Berggren-A “Fire storm” around the World

Danielle Berggren (DB) our weekly interview in DUBAI PROFILE NEWS (DPN) blog plays with the fire and states that is never easy at all. From Dubai, to Iraq and Afghanistan, these days in USA, a global citizen is sharing with us some interesting and exciting life time experiences. A person who manages to combine the events industry and the risk management along with the scuba diving has loads to share with. Enjoy this unique interview.

DPN: Danielle you are a co-founder of “Fire Storm”, a group of LED Light and Fire dancers specializing in performances throughout Middle East. Tell us few words about your project.

DB: In 2008, a group of five of us started meeting regularly to practice spinning poi and generally having a laugh. After taking on a few private events and a reoccurring weekend event at Chi@Lodge, we realized that there was a huge market for fire performances and decided to start our own fire troupe. From there, we started experimenting with LED lights, fire jump ropes, costumes and stilts. It was a bumpy road starting off since we had to pull together quotations for agents, make sure we had the appropriate fuels on-hand, and guarantee payment, but we had loads of fun and I have a lot of great memories. Recently, one of my fellow co-founders and performer began working with Infusion Entertainment, who now manages all FireStorm bookings.

DPN: How dangerous is sometimes to “play with the fire”?

DB: It’s VERY dangerous! Early on in our performances, we began providing a fire safety for each event. The fire safety was responsible for helping to set up and take down of equipment and was always on-hand during the actual performance with a wet towel, fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. We believed that this was the most important part of a performance, particularly because of the fast pace of events and the risks to fire dancing or fire breathing.

DPN: Up to now you have performed in major events worldwide, describe us the most impressive one, which first comes in your mind.

DB: The best event that I performed at was a private event that took place in the Maldives. Our agent had requested four fire performers for two 15-minute sets of performance at the One&Only. In addition to the payment costs, we were flown out two days earlier and provided accommodation in water villas at a nearby location. So, three days in the Maldives, water villas, meals provided, and only 30 minutes of performance… probably the best “working” holiday that I’ve had! I also really enjoyed the Nasimi events with Infusion – the events were always packed and had different themes which made the performances a lot of fun.

DPN: As you have participated in various events in Dubai, do you find this city to be the hot spot of the Middle East?

DB: Absolutely. The events in Dubai are always unique and typically amazing!

DPN: Apart from playing with a fire you are at the same time an open water scuba instructor. What role “water” plays in your life?

DB: Whilst I enjoyed the fire performances, they tended to be intense, fast-paced and exhausting. With scuba diving and swimming, I was able to relax and focus only on my breathing, marine life, and students (if I was teaching). It was a completely different experience that perfectly complemented the fire dancing.

DPN: Will you share with us any unique “underwater” experience?

DB: I actually met my fiancé on a dive trip. We were paired up as dive buddies on a trip with the Pavilion Dive Center to Sipidan, Malaysia. Both of us decided to ditch our cameras and instead we created funny hand signs or motions for different types of fish and marine life. On another dive, we took down an umbrella and a rugby ball for some fun pictures. We became great friends, started dating and have a wedding planned for this October. Since we’re both dive instructors, diving has been a huge part of our lives and our relationship. We’re actually planning to start our wedding week with the infamous shark dive at Stuart’s Cove in the Bahamas.

DPN: If a young person asks you why to begin scuba diving, what would you advice?

DB: Scuba diving is a hobby that you can do anywhere in the world. There are many fabulous places to dive that it can be incorporated into almost any holiday. Also, there are so many types of diving (cave diving, shark diving, commercial/technical diving, freshwater diving, wreck diving) that every diver can find something that interests them.

DPN: You were born in Korea, grew up in the U.S.A and spend some years of your life in Dubai, before returning back in the U.S.A. What lessons did each of these places teach you?

DB: After living in Dubai (and now moving back to the US), I’ve realized how many lessons I’ve taken with me that pertain to my professional career as well as my financial outlook on spending vs. saving. I also learned a lot about different cultures and religions through some amazing friends and feel as though this has provided me with a better understanding and view on events that take place worldwide. But, living in Dubai has also made me realize how many wonderful opportunities that living in the US provides, especially when it comes to buying a house (with a huge garden and trees!), raising children, and taking holidays to the beach, mountains and cities (Los Angeles/Miami vs. Denver vs. New York City – all in one country!).

DPN: It’s been said that after they pass away, the most important people in our lives “live within us.” Is there anyone from your past that lives within you?

DB: My mother died unexpectedly when I was six years old and though very upsetting, it’s taught me to live life now, not tomorrow or next month, and always make sure that your loved ones know how much they mean to you.

DPN: Danielle, in your life you have worked in the industry of “Risk Management and Security” and as a result you had a number of trips in Iraq and in Afghanistan. May you share with us your experiences there?

DB: For my role, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there is only so much a person can understand by watching or reading the news or reviewing intelligence updates. I was able to visit Iraq once in 2006 and Afghanistan once per year that I was working in Dubai (five trips total). Although I didn’t inform my parents of my business travel until I was safely back home (they asked me not to so they wouldn’t worry), I was never apprehensive or nervous. Working for a risk management and security company, I had full confidence in the personnel we have in-country to take care of me! Each trip was eye-opening and brought new experiences… but I was always glad to board the plane back to Dubai.

DPN: You seem a person who loves living with the risk. Pierre Corneille, a famous French tragedian said that “to win without risk is to triumph without glory”. Do you agree with that and why?

DB: Yes, I’d definitely agree with that quotation. Recently, I was on a trek in Nepal through the Annapurna range. It was extremely hot during the day and as we progressed, it became very cold at night. The first couple of 8-hour days that we had climbing up (equivalent to climbing to the top of the Burj Khalifa 3.5 times) were difficult as it was my first real trek. During the climb, I injured my knee and ended up using my poles more as crutches. But after we finished the trek a few days later, I felt empowered by having completed it, despite an injury. I’m hoping to get back to Nepal and do some longer treks!

DPN: Is Risk Management an industry with a future and why?

DB: I wouldn’t say that risk management is the future – I’d say it is the present. There are so many companies and non-profits expanding their business models to challenging and high risk locations that it’s necessary to prepare for and manage business in accordance with the environment in that country. This could mean a completely different set of policies and procedures, additional insurance requirements, training on cultural sensitivity, etc. and many companies require this assistance to operate effectively.

DPN: May you let us know how come did you choose the jobs you had up to now?

DB: I completely stumbled into the job and company that I’m currently working for by accident. When I was at university in 2003, I had participated in a 10-day trip to Kuwait with a Washington D.C. area non-profit organization. On that trip, I met the faculty adviser who later contacted me in 2006 to see if I was interested in moving to Dubai and working with the company on a short or long-term basis. Since I had just been accepted for a Masters Degree program in the US, I agreed to move to Dubai for 6 months, at which point, I’d return to the States. I ended up staying in Dubai for 4.5 years.

DPN: How has your life been different that what you had imagined?

DB: Well, I never thought that I’d live in Dubai for almost 5 years, become a dive instructor and fire performer, travel to Afghanistan/Iraq, meet so many fabulous friends from around the world, or find my fiancé on a dive trip! So, I’d say it’s exceptionally different and much better than I’d imagined.
DPN: Asia, Middle East, Europe or the U.S is the place to be?

DB: I think it really depends on what you want out of life and where you’re at in life. Living in Dubai for almost 5 years was fantastic. But, my fiancé and I are also pleased with our recent move back to the US and the opportunities that we have in this area. On the other hand, we haven’t completely written off the idea of some day living overseas again...

DPN: Define us happiness.

DB: Happiness is no regrets and a realization of all the good things you have in life – not a focus on all of the things that you do not have.

DPN: At the end share with all of us a word of wisdom that your life taught you.

DB: Live life to its fullest. Have no regrets. Be able to forgive. Be happy with what you have!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Interview 8: Constantine Chryssanthopoulos-Lifestyle during recession

Constantine Chryssanthopoulos (CC) this time is the weekly interview of the Dubai Profile News Blog (DPN). The owner of WASP (, one of the most promising clothes brand in Greece believes that style makes the man, even if the man is naked. Enjoy an interesting interview with another young entrepreneur who has loads to share with.

DPN: Constantine, you run a successful firm in the clothing industry in Greece, WASP ( Will you tell us few things about your project?

CC: WASP started a few years ago with the concept of a men’s boutique that offers exclusive high quality clothes and accessories along with top service. WASP is influenced by the lifestyle and fashion of the 50’s and 60’s and reflects a positive look on life. It is located on a very prestigious street in Athens known for its high-end boutiques. Our clients are sophisticated, happy, stylish and “difficult” people that enjoy the fabrics of our clothes and see beyond the actual process of shopping. We try to create an interactive experience for our clients because only then we can better understand them and offer more efficient service.

DPN: What the name of your company means?

CC: The name of the company means White Anglo Saxon Protestant, which is an informal term originated in the 1950s for high status Americans with British decent with financial and social power. For us, being a WASP has nothing to do with money or religion. It is about lifestyle and images mostly. Polo shirts, colorful pants, tailored jackets, tennis, Gin & tonics, family and sailing are few of the images that come to my mind when I hear this word. The lifestyle of a WASP is a combination of work, sports and a general well being. That’s why we sell clothes for different occasions and moments in life.

DPN: Who is the most interesting celebrity you ever dressed in WASP?

CC: We have dressed many well known people from different backgrounds.  I can’t pick someone as most interesting because that will be unfair for the rest! Celebrity customers usually look for something different that will make them “stand out of the crowd”. They prefer the more eccentric garments of a collection and usually wear them at special occasions and events. We don’t measure success in terms of “celebrity” customers but it is always a plus when someone famous chooses your brand over others. Daniel Cremieux which is the main brand that we sell, is the official tailor of the French Football team and Nicolas Sarkozy and has dressed many French and American celebrities.

DPN: Mark Twain the famous American author said that “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in the society”. Do you agree with that?

CC: Clothes don’t make the man. It is style that makes the man. It is the way you dress and the way you choose your combinations. Clothes are just a means to take style from theory to practice. I have met many people with great wardrobes but lack the ability to make correct clothing combinations. The importance of style lies in the ability to see the big picture.

DPN: What “lifestyle” means for you?
CC: “Lifestyle” is the simple things we enjoy in life. For me it is: Food, drinks, music, clothes, sports and friends. Not necessarily in that order. We, Greeks have made some significant steps in order to improve our level of living and have incorporated many different aspects of different cultures in our lives. For instance, lately there have been organized teams of people that go cycling around Athens and try to promote a healthy living attitude towards life. Greece, like the Middle-East offers a great variety of food and I often find the opportunity to try out new restaurants and new flavours. In order to stay in shape I do some home workouts a few times per week and eat small and frequent portions of food. I do enjoy working but I put limits in my work life because I want to be healthier and stress free. Good company, friends and drinks are at the heart of the Greek culture that everybody follows and enjoys at all times.

DPN: Who is the most talented fashion designer in your opinion?

CC: The most talented fashion designer in my opinion is Daniel Cremieux. He took the classic college, preppy look and incorporated it into fashion. Ralph Lauren was the first to do something similar but he did it the American way. Cremieux added to that way, attention to detail and French taste. He was also one of the first designers that included the today’s very commercial polo rugby shirt in his collections. One of the reasons I admire him is that he took the classic American college preppy look and he extended it and he later “invaded” the US with great success. Cremieux is a modern classicist that enjoys playing with colour and styles but maintains the chic French style of the 60’s.  Lately there have been many new designers with great creations that received good comments but they are usually found in the hardcore fashion industry and not the commercial.

DPN: You operate in Greece, where the economy nowadays is in a really bad situation. How a young entrepreneur may develop among a difficult business environment like that?

CC: Greece is indeed in a bad situation which will probably get even worse. There are two pros when entering a market such as Greece’s: Less competition and lower costs. Then the next step is to choose the right product but even more important nowadays is to find the right target market for your product. It is more crucial than ever to focus on specific niches, especially when selling high end products in countries with economic problems. A great number of shops and businesses have closed down leading to less competition and greater control over customers and brands but on the downside, once thriving shopping areas are being torn apart especially with the presence of shopping malls and outlet stores which are situated close to the center of Athens. The government doesn’t take actions to protect small businesses and retail shops and due to daily strikes and temporary shutting down of central high traffic streets, people are discouraged to go shopping.

DPN: Many people say that politicians led Greece to such a difficult financial position. Whom politician from Greece you do believe is the worst dressed one and why?

CC: As a rule, politicians in Greece are badly dressed. They wear the classic 3 button suit 1 size larger than their normal size without making any alterations. Their ties are even worse than their suits because there is a huge variety to choose from and unfortunately there is no tie dictatorship. Also, most of their clothes lose fit as they keep the shape of their well fed bodies. Of course there are always exceptions but there are few and not worth mentioning. On the other hand, in countries where fashion has thrived over the years we can see better dressed politicians. Maybe this happens because it is part of their lifestyle or they actually care about their appearance.

DPN: In a young age you lost your father, how did this influenced you in your next steps?

CC: Well losing my father obviously was a difficult chapter in my life but on the other hand helped me become more mature in some aspects of my life. His death re-arranged the hierarchy in my family and we all had new roles and more responsibilities. When you are 20 years and you lose one f your parents, you have to adapt quickly to your new life. You face new challenges that you are not prepared for and then is the time when you have to be stronger than ever and prove yourself that you can succeed under pressure. My father was a successful executive in the wine industry and a tennis champion. He was very likable and a very compassionate and strong person. He would never give up and was always calm when making important business and life decisions. He is my personal hero and I feel proud when friends say that I remind them of him.

DPN: What’s the most important lesson you learnt in your life up to now?

CC: I don’t think I have learnt specifically something big and important because life at least for me teaches small things regularly. I do like the idea of treating everyday as a new one because you never know what might happen. Many friends have passed away and this always makes you reflect on your own life. What would I change? Am I really happy?  I wonder sometimes.  In the business world I have learnt not to trust people that easily and be tougher and stricter. We live in a dirty world where a large portion of people are only interested in money and personal success and will use unnecessary and unethical means of getting their goals accomplished even if that means your personal harm. When money is involved you have to be extra careful and have clear terms with your partners and suppliers.

DPN: You studied in England, in the Reading University. How was your lifetime there?

CC: Studying in England was the most interesting and fun period of my life so far. For me, the university life was mostly about socializing, making new friends and being open to new cultures. The academic life was also very important and helped me with many aspects of running my own business. As a young student in a foreign country the most important lesson I learnt was to stand on my own feet because I had to do everything on my own, from travelling to new places to managing my pocket money etc. It is always a shock when you first arrive in a foreign country and you have to deal with many different aspects that since then were taken care of from your parents. But on the other hand you are free to make your own rules and live your life your own way with no supervision. University life gives you a taste of your future life with all the dangers and opportunities that you might meet.

DPN: After going back in Greece you worked in other companies before you established your own. Will you describe us your career up to now?

CC: My first contact with the business world was when I started working part time during summers at various advertising companies such as JNL. That part of my life was more of a scan of what I would like to do when I would finish my studies in England. When I finished my army duties I started working at a clothing importer called Franman International in sales as well as running the back office. Working at a successful import company such as Franman helped me improve my communication skills and gave me a better understanding of the Greek market and made me see gaps in the economy. I also learnt many “street truths” from my business relationship with shop owners that I was collaborating with as their supplier which helped me a lot when I started running WASP.

DPN: Who is your best friend?

CC: My best friend is George, I have known him for 25 years and we still laugh together like when we were 3 years old. He has always been there for me and he is the person I will call if I have problems because he knows how to help me and cheer me up. We have completely different characters and that’s why he still puts up with my nonsense. This is the reason why he is my best friend.

DPN: What’s the next day for WASP?

CC: The next day for WASP is a strong online presence and more WASPs run by sophisticated fun loving entrepreneurs. WASP is more of a lifestyle than a single shop. It reflects our inner thoughts, wishes, secrets and dreams and makes us feel strong and confident about ourselves. When the economy stands again on its feet WASP will hopefully have presence in more countries and will become your personal stylist and friend.

DPN: What will you wear in the most important day of your life?

CC: The most important day of my life was the day of my birth and I was naked. Take that Mark Twain!