Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Athens Portraits: The self-made tyrant

You’ll see them if you take a stroll around some of Athens' more affluent suburbs. There they are, hiding conspicuously behind the darkened windows of their shiny perfomance cars, expensively but not necessarily well dressed, preening themselves like peacocks amid a flock of sparrows as they bathe in the glow of their own self-satisfaction.

They’ve 'made it' and they want to make damn sure that it shows.

They are that select group of Greek businessmen who have built successful enterprises over the past two or three decades through a combination of hard work, vision, good luck and sheer guts. But if you look a little closer, you’ll see that - for some at least – there's a dark side to their success too.

They are that particular breed of tycoon that personifies the rise of the self-made tyrant.

They've built their empires – and amassed a considerable personal fortune – on the strength of their momentous egos and on the backs of the little men they have trampled all over to reach the top of their particular tree.

They're the ones whose companies are household names within Greece, but who haven't cracked the international market thanks to their refusal to accept that global standards of business conduct apply to them. Not for them those faddy new business 'philosophies'. Not for them the 'touchy-feely' management practices that seem to be all the rage. They have no need to adapt to the so-called 'new reality' where there's more to making money than bottom-line sales. To them, all this talk about standardised procedures, treating your workforce as team-mates, or connecting with the online community is nonsense that only fools will swallow.

But – really - who can blame them? Even in today's cash-strapped days when small businessmen and mere employees are feeling the pinch, they’re still sitting pretty, with wads of influential people in their pockets, trophy wives (and ex-wives) and pampered neglected kids, a stable of conspicuously luxurious homes - most of which stand empty for much of the year, a fleet of fancy cars and maybe a private yacht or two.

What need do they have to leave the small pond where they’re the ruling barracudas to become mere sardines in the oceans of international commerce?

So, they keep on ruling by fear rather than consensus, treating their staff like dirt, paying minimal wages, reneging on promises and cutting corners that would have any business consultant worth his or her salt running for the hills.

And in true tyrant style, they hold endless meetings – sometimes into the small hours – where they get to enjoy the sound of their own voices as they pass down their 'wisdom' (yet again) to their hapless employees, without ever reaching any concrete conclusion.

It matters not a jot to them that their staff have homes and families to go to. The way they see it, their minions should count themselves lucky to be working for such a prestigious name. And anyway, who needs family? Their own marriages that collapsed under the weight of their megalomania didn’t do them any harm, did they?

To them, mere mortals like you and me are about as important as ants. So, the emerging social conscience or democratic business approach of some of the new-style global tycoons are not for them. No, the way they see it, such nerds and aging hippies are fools who cannot even approach the dizzying heights of their own success.

But if one day they stumble from the lonely peak of the mountain they've built from loose morals and broken promises, it’s a long way to fall and there’s a chance that it will all come tumbling down on top of them.

Which is why, I guess, Greece's self-made tyrants seem hell-bent on enjoying their conspicuous wealth at the expense of the little man – while it lasts.

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