Greece is no stranger to crisis, and its resilience puts it in good stead for managing the fallout from Covid-19. Privatisations and major projects have continued throughout the pandemic, and its fast-growing tech sector continues to attract major investors. In early October, Microsoft committed €1bn towards establishing a data centre and cloud services in the country.
Georgios Filiopoulos, who became CEO of Enterprise Greece little over a year ago, tells fDi why the country’s underlying investment story remains intact.
Q: To what extent has Enterprise Greece digitised its operations and activities to minimise disruption caused by Covid-19?
A: We started working from home the day before Greece’s official lockdown started in March, and quickly realised we had to rethink all aspects of our organisation and operations. The tools we normally use for carrying out our missions — like trade fairs and roadshows — have largely disappeared, so we have to find new ways to do our job.
We’ve launched a range of new digital initiatives, such as a real-time information portal for exporters and investors, about Covid-19 developments worldwide, and a series of webinars, including Tech Tuesdays, which help SMEs and exporters upgrade their IT skills. And just a few weeks ago we forged a partnership with eBay which allows us to support Greek exporters — especially SMEs — selling on the platform.
Q: Have you adjusted the balance between investment promotion and aftercare?
A: No, I would say we’ve maintained the same balance. We continue to guide and support existing investors in Greek projects, but we are equally active in promoting new opportunities to international investors.
We are, of course, now performing these functions in different ways. In April we implemented an online programme for attracting investors and, in recent weeks, have engaged with investors from Russia, the UK, US, Australia and Lithuania via webinar. As for aftercare, we regularly organise digital meetings with existing investors to help them with challenges they may face and explore new opportunities.
Q: Tourism is one of Greece’s biggest industries and it’s been hit hard this year. How important will tourism be going forward?
A: It has been hit hard globally, but especially so in Greece. After several years of record visitor numbers, this year arrivals are down 70–75% on last year. But, having said that, we see continued interest in the tourism sector as Greece remains one of the world’s top tourism destinations. Once the pandemic stops dominating the way we live, tourism will bounce back. So I believe it will continue to be a key driver of Greece’s economy. For example, we’ve recently approved eight strategic tourism investments for fast-track status.
Q: Which other sectors will drive the recovery?
A: Greece is fast becoming a new centre for technology, innovation and life sciences. Just this week, Microsoft announced a €1bn plan to build data centres in the country, while earlier this year it acquired the Greek robotics firm Softomotive.
Investment is also growing in the energy sector. Not just renewables, but also pipelines, natural gas facilities and power grid projects. More broadly, Greece is emerging as an energy hub for south-east Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. We are also pressing ahead with infrastructure and transportation programmes.
The agro-food industry is also poised for further growth and we hope to attract more investors into this sector.
Q: You became CEO of Enterprise Greece just over 12 months ago. What are your major lessons from the past year?
A: The main lesson is that cooperation — including at a regional and international level — is a critical tool in overcoming a crisis like this year’s pandemic. As a manager, it’s also important to have a professional and dedicated team that rises to the challenge and solves problems. Prior to the pandemic, Enterprise Greece had begun aligning practices with private sector standards, and that allowed the agency to respond rapidly to the changed circumstances.
The crisis has also highlighted the importance of flexibility, not just in dealing with the pandemic but in continuing to deliver on our mission despite a changed environment. I think our flexibility and communication via technology has taken on a new level of importance which will shape our operational model going forward. We will come out this period with some important lessons, some major changes to the way we do our job and, of course, a vastly expanded toolbox.
Georgios Filiopoulos is the CEO of Enterprise Greece.
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