Dr Antreas Athanassopoulos, Vice President and CEO of KOTSOVOLOS, DixonsCarphone Greece, replies to the questions posed by i-MBA students, providing useful career advice, sharing insights on the current trends in the retail sector, and shedding light on the successful operation of Kotsovolos, the leading electrical retailer in Greece.
How did you manage your own successful career transition from the banking sector to retail and to the distinction “Manager of the Year 2016”?
I am not sure how successful it can be seen; this is a matter of future business history. I consider myself as a decision scientist that has been very fortunate in life to apply many concepts and tools in practice. Therefore, retail banking and consumer retail share many communalities, as well as many differences. But life is always a challenge and it matters how much set-up cost one is prepared to bear. As a matter of fact, the changes I faced where harder when I moved from bank to bank, compared to when I moved from banking to retail!
Can you identify a key point in your life that was decisive for your career success?
Well yes, when I started my PhD and one of my supervisors asked me to spend one year in industry in order to better understand the nature of the problems I was about to solve (major learning experience to work at a real life operational research department at Allied Breweries Ltd).). The second, if I may, was when I was challenged, after a top executive seminar, on how difficult is to apply in practice what is said in theory. I took the challenge immediately; I left academia and joined a top managerial role (this trip is now 17 years on).
What are the skills and the profile that the manager of the future should have and that you would look for in potential new hires with a MBA degree?
Well, many people argue extensively about the attitude, the passion and the behavioral characteristics of people in getting jobs and placements. It is true that when you have to make a choice, among equivalent profiles, the stronger personality will prevail. However, what matters to me is the following: common sense (despite the fact there are no readily available tools to measure it), passion to learn and self-development (the pace of change is so intense that employees need to chase their level of knowledge nonstop), and willingness to take jobs that others refuse or are afraid to take.
What do you think will change in retail in 2017?
Retail is under constant change and it is not excessive to argue that over the next five years we expect to see changes that surpass what we have seen over the previous 20. Consumer behavior, technology, mobile, service platforms, disruptive business models, demographics and ageing population are forces that reshape retail in un-presidented ways. Old business models need to reinvent themselves if they are to survive.
What are the main challenges that retail has faced due to the financial crisis in Greece during the last years?
Greece is a peculiar case as its retail sector is among the most advanced in Europe. Experts visiting shopping malls and more generally shopping streets experience stores with very advanced marketing profiles. We are no way near the surge of e-commerce that we see in some countries like the UK and the USA but retailers in Greece know their business. The financial crisis has been very harsh with those that were found overleveraged and overinvested in the period 2004-2009. This has been very brutal to some. The problem in Greek retail is that we have yet to reach a balance between supply and demand and this is critical for the viability of the sector (some subsectors correct this in-balance faster than others). That is to say, the crisis reduced actual demand from 25%-60% but at the same time supply has not been adjusted accordingly. This has had effects on the profitability of the sector. Notwithstanding, the fight for survival has rendered prices (in a number of subsectors) lower, actually among the lowest in Europe without, at the same time, costs being adjusted with equivalent levels. Consumers require and need levels of service and levels of experience that require investments. Those players investing will most likely be more relevant and thus survive in the long term. The fate of retail affects employment, service industries, financial services and real estate. More structural changes are about to happen in Greek retail over the next five years.
Given the fact that Dixons Retail is a UK based company, how do you think that Brexit will affect Dixons – Kotsovolos in Greece?
Kotsovolos is 100% subsidiary of DixonsCarphone but is self-funded and most importantly its procurement is done locally and at local currency. Therefore we have no immediate effects from the developments in the UK. If I could add a comment, I would say that any weakening of the UK market will only increase the attention and the demands of the Group from the local operation in Greece. That is to say, more local investments and higher return expectations from us here.
What was the hardest / most difficult decision you have made so far as the Managing Director & Vice Chairman of Dixons – Kotsovolos?
To restrain myself from the pace and depth of changes that I want to pursue (unfortunately I am very impatient when I have made up my mind about something), as my mission here is to perform and transform and not the other way around. This being said, we have turned the company into full, clear and sustainable profitability without focusing on costs but on quality sales. In order to achieve that, you need to retain a fine balance between disruptive changes and stability and performance. Retailers depend very much on the contribution of individual people from all levels and you have to retain momentum. Thus, you have to always find the right balance, the right timing of changes and the fairness of these changes.
Which are the most-important strategic priorities for Dixons – Kotsovolos over the next years? Do you intend to expand in new markets?
To be present and relevant in the new retail landscape locally and internationally. We are at the forefront of technology; we are implementing a large scale digital transformation program at the company. This will alter the way we think, organize and work with immediate aim to radically change our customer relationship. This is much harder than it looks and unfortunately is not only money dependent. It requires immense internal cooperation and functional coordination from the catalysts of these changes. Other than that we stick to our long-term mission to become a full-fledged services company where the product plays a diminishing role to our everyday business whilst we shall be strong and famous for the service aspect of our business.
What are the most important challenges that you face on a daily basis as a leader in your organization?
The fight with detail. Retail is detail and to go after detail you need stamina, numeracy, prioritization and constant balance among your colleagues, who often feel you are getting too close to their functional territory. Unfortunately, whatever goes wrong in retail goes wrong fast and one needs to always be there to take the hard decisions without hesitation. Perhaps the most exciting job one can get, but it is also very energy-demanding!
What advice would you give to leaders about how to keep employees involved, motivated and inspired to deliver great performance and innovative thinking as part of the company culture?
Stay outside the office, stop hiding into reports (read them at your zero time), participate into meetings, provoke discussion no one wants to open with you, as you are the boss. The most important challenge is to stop people telling you what they think you want to know and not what it is important to know for the business and the customers to prosper. Give a constant sense that you care and that you understand. Common sense is, as we all know, the most precious value in business. At the end of the day you need to inspire the organization that you have a dream that is guiding the business as it dynamically evolves, and that you are also fair in judging people and making decisions. You cannot ask people to make the extra mile while they think they work in an organization where not all are treated the same way.
A few words about Dr Antreas Athanassopoulos
Antreas Athanassopoulos joined Dixons Carphone Group as Vice President and CEO of the Greek operation on July 2013. He has led a major business transformation since then with significant achievements in terms of profitability, market share, net promoter score and employee engagement scores.
Antreas was General Manager of Retail Banking at the National Bank of Greece from 2008 to 2013. He also carries over 15 years of GM (General Manager) experience in retail banking at Eurobank and Piraeus Bank in Greece. He has also worked as Senior Lecturer at Warwick Business School in the UK (1992-1997) and he also is a visiting professor at Nottingham Business School.
Under his academic activities he has published research in the areas of performance management and marketing science in scholarly refereed journals including Management Science, Journal of Money and Credit Banking, Production and Operations Management, Journal of Operational Research Society, European Journal of Operational Research, Interfaces, Journal of Regional Science, International Journal of Production Economics, Journal of Productivity Analysis, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Management Studies, and European Journal of Marketing.
He has a diploma in Mathematics from Patras University, an MSc in Statistics and Operational Research from Essex University and PhD in Operational Research from Warwick Business School.