Excellent is the only word I can find to describe Dr. Vassili G. Apostolopoulos. With studies at the London School of Economics and Cambridge, he is the excellent successor of the work of George Apostolopoulos, and today he manages with absolute success the Athens Medical Group with 3000 employees and 2500 collaborating doctors. With an ethical scale of values that is rare, he is noble and dynamic; he is original and firm. He does not try to impress. He is not a “TYPICAL” businessman; he is trying to change the world of business and sits at the helm of the Hellenic Association of Entrepreneurs (E.EN.E), working to strengthen and scale-up Hellenic entrepreneurship. He deeply believes in the power of women entrepreneurship, and he would be very proud if one of his two daughters ever rose to the leadership of the Group.
Your father envisioned, created and you multiplied. What is it like working with George Apostolopoulos and doing business?
George Apostolopoulos has always been my role model. If I were allowed to express myself, I would say that I always perceived my relationship with him as “in image and likeness”. Our relationship has always been special and unique – on every level. Professionally, especially in recent years, my father, my brother and I work together as “the power of unity”. A marriage, on an equal footing, between the old, established and life experience at the forefront of business on the one hand; and, a modern technocratic conception and approach, which create a unique blend, that gives our Group an unrivaled competitive advantage.
You created a special health card with privileged benefits for the Hellenic Diaspora to ensure safe and unhindered access to top-quality healthcare to all Greeks living abroad. How can one get it?
It is my firm conviction that Greeks and Hellenism of the Diaspora are a huge national asset of paramount importance for our country. We owe a lot to the Greek Diaspora both for its contemporary and its intertemporal contribution to the national interest. The diaspora Greeks have a deep love for their homeland, traditions and customs – which they often honor and upkeep more than us who live in Greece – something truly moving. In our family, we have a deep, direct connection with the Greek Diaspora, as my grandfather, Vassilis Apostolopoulos, emigrated to America at the beginning of the previous century, worked hard, made a living, and returned to his hometown, Corinth. He started his family and laid the foundations for the future generations, forging his children with the right principles and values.
As a minimum recognition of the contribution of the Greek Diaspora to our country, at the Athens Medical Group, we created the card “Health Card for the Hellenic Diaspora” («Υγεία στην Πατρίδα»). A card that came to fill an important gap that we had identified – the lack of a safety bridge for medical services in Greece, when expatriates and Greeks living permanently abroad, visit our country. As they told us, “they did not know where to go and what number to call in case of an emergency.” So, we introduced this card, which is packed with benefits, and among other things, it provides a special number which is available 24/7 for their service and for booking medical appointments, which are, in fact, free of charge.
Symbolically, last year we gave the first cards in the USA, to the Consulate General of Greece in New York in the context of the celebrations of the “Greek Independence Day”, with the first two holders being the Archbishop of America and the Consul General, who offered to support our efforts to communicate the card to the Hellenic-American diaspora. The card can be requested and obtained by every Greek man and woman who lives permanently abroad.
What are the qualities that characterize the businessman of the 21st century?
The entrepreneur of the 21st century must combine a vision for the future, with deep respect for the present; he is called upon to build – while taking into account sustainability; to respect humanity and the environment; to create without destroying; to produce wealth and profit, understanding risk and investing decisively, but at the same time, be generous to his associates, his employees and to society.
Business practice and ethics in entrepreneurship can only be synonymous. The keywords are adaptability; constant evolution and pursuit; insight and complex perception; in order to decode in a timely and optimal way the tectonic changes that are taking place with the constant leaps of technology and multilevel digitization, in order, as we say at the Athens Medical Group – to be ‘always one step ahead’.
As President of the Hellenic Entrepreneurs Association (E.EN.E), how do you think we will achieve the coveted growth and attract of foreign investment?
As President of E.EN.E, first of all, I believe in the need to mobilize domestic venture capital; so that it invests in its own country, either independently or by co-investing with larger investment groups. This will be the best signal to international investors.
Speaking of foreign investment, I would like to make a clear distinction. An investment does not mean the short-term placement of funds with the aim of rapidly disinvesting and snatching hyper-profits and upsides within five years. This approach does not bring any substantial multiplier benefits to the Greek economy.
On the contrary, what the country needs is strategic and long-term investments, which create jobs, generate wealth and contribute to the creation of modern infrastructure for the country. I am convinced, that as the Greek state modernizes and fosters a positive climate for investment and business, foreign investment in the country will significantly increase in the coming years.
The Economist published a series of hypothetical scenarios for various aspects of business activity. Among them was: “What if 50% of CEOs worldwide were women?” What would change?
I strongly believe in the role and potential of women in the so-called corporate world. Women, especially those who have the goal and ambition to advance, not only succeed, but possibly surpass their male colleagues, since they have access to a special “arsenal”, with which nature has endowed them. I am referring mainly to instinct, intuition and the ability to think in a complex and combinatorial way, as well as the ability to persuade and use their feminine charm.
Undoubtedly, they can be more determined and sometimes tougher and more effective than men. I would love and would be very proud of it, if one or both of my daughters chose this path, and I would obviously treat them equally with their two brothers.
What would you say to any woman who has a good idea but hesitates to enter the business world in Greece?
First, I would like to note with joy that the “gender balance” has begun to gradually level in Greece, although we were significantly lagging behind the European average, as shown by a recent survey.
I would encourage every woman that has good ideas and a thirst to create, to get into business – because I deeply believe that the business world would be much better if it had more women.
Over the past eight years, that I have been following entrepreneurship institutionally as President of the Hellenic Entrepreneurs Association, I have observed that the support of women entrepreneurship has now become part of many initiatives and programmes, and a primary goal of organizations that support entrepreneurship in the country. This is positive, because it shows a new thinking which recognizes the important contribution that women can make to Greek entrepreneurship.
Apart from the above-mentioned policy initiatives, some highly visible success stories have also played an important role; both in the field of mature entrepreneurship, with women entrepreneurs who have been at the helm of highly influential companies; but also in the sphere of innovative firms and startups, where women with great ideas led disruptive businesses to success. More and more Greek women leaders are shining and emerging in almost every sector of the economy and society – a most encouraging and highly welcome trend. These examples of success are probably the best answer to your question and in the end, I would add, no obstacle can stop a good idea and a woman who is determined to succeed.
How does the Covid19 pandemic change the provision of health services?
It is ironic, that had you asked me one year ago ‘what is the future of healthcare’, I would answer that it has to do with longevity and well-being that modern science promises.
Even though this has not changed, the Covid-19 pandemic came to remind us of the other side of the coin, that apart from being potentially superhumans in the future, at the very same time, we still remain just as vulnerable as we were in 1918, during the age of the Spanish Flu.
Regardless of how advanced, pioneering, and promising medical science can be, mankind ultimately remains just as vulnerable to a new pandemic; which in turn means that even when we get rid of Covid-19 pandemic, we will still not know when and how the next pandemic, will strike.
Therefore, what will surely change, is the planning in the provision of health services by the national health systems, but also the private sector, making safety, adequacy and availability the top priorities.
The Athens Medical Group received the Silver distinction, in the evaluation process of the companies that participated in the CR Index 2019-2020. Is corporate social responsibility for the Athens Medical Group, but also for you, a form of “ethics”, “responsibility” and “gratitude”?
All the above are constant, diachronic values, on which we have charted the course of the Group for the past 36 years. Therefore, we have never had to enter the phase of transforming our corporate values – as many companies are doing today. In fact, it has always been clear to us that a socially responsible firm is a one-way street; and a field in which every company should invest in. Our “directive” was and will always be unequivocal: “to always give back generously to society, as a symbolic thank you for the trust they put into us”, as the founder, President and my father, George Apostolopoulos usually tells us.
With this as our compass, we chart our path to business excellence, through corporate social responsibility. A dynamic that inspires security and trust, to all those who are called to serve it – the team of the Athens Medical Group. The “Silver” distinction, in the ‘CR Index 2019’, is for us, recognition for our successful path in this crucial field.
Is your “happiness” synonymous with “success”?
Although success does not always bring happiness, happiness is connected to success. For a person to be both successful and happy, he must find the right balance between his professional, family and personal life.
On the professional side, I am especially fulfilled because, thanks to the success of our Group, I can give back extensively to society, both through our organized corporate social responsibility programs, and with ad hoc actions, whenever I feel a need.
On a personal level, happiness is primarily associated with my four children, who we are raising with a lot of love and personal time with my wife, Kalliroy. They fill me with happiness, and give me even more strength and momentum in my business journey, to be even more decisive in overcoming the adversities, more patient with the difficulties, and always with my eyes on the target and the next day, or as I like to say, “on the other side of the hill”.