Constantine Galanis is the CEO of Apollo S.A., one of the largest chemical manufacturers of Mexico. We met him in Mexico City and he talked to us about his career, his life in Mexico, and how Greece can learn from the Mexican financial crisis of 1994.
Constantine Galanis migrated from Patras, Greece, to the USA at the age of 14 along with his family. Due to the lack of job opportunities in Greece and the junta regime, his family decided to cross the Atlantic and look for new life prospects.
After the Greek junta collapsed, Galanis’ parents returned to Greece immediately while he stayed in the US to study environmental engineering and business administration at the Rutgers University of New Jersey. After getting his degree, Galanis was hired by private company Apollo S.A., which is an Industrial Organic Chemicals Manufacturer currently based in Toluca, Mexico.
Till this day, Galanis still works for Apollo. He started from the lowest level position in the company to make his way to the top, becoming the CEO of a company that sells chemicals to the energy sector of Mexico and worldwide.
When the company moved from the USA to Mexico, Galanis tried to incorporate the American ethic into the working habits of the country. For the past 12 years, Galanis has been CEO of the company and his challenge is always to grow it even further. Although he had many job offers in the past, he decided to stick to the old work ethic of staying employed and retiring with the same company.
“It’s not only about the money but the personal satisfaction you get from your job. I have 1,200 employees that will give their lives for me and the company and this is what counts,” adds Galanis.
“We have the lowest rotation from any company in Mexico, so people come in and they stay with the company because they like the environment. ”
According to the Greek businessman, life in Mexico is by far better than in the US. His children grew up in Mexico, but are currently working and studying in the USA.
Striving to learn the language, Galanis was easily accepted by the Mexican business community.
“Mexicans like Greece and its people for their culture, history, language and hospitality. Being themselves descendants from Mediterranean tribes, they see the Greeks as good, hard-working people, and feel great solidarity towards them for the current crisis plaguing their country,” says Galanis.
Mexico, much like Greece, went through a similar economic crisis in 1994 but managed to get past it.
“We had our crisis in Mexico and we overcame it with hard work, clear deals and patience. Not doing business under the table,” says the successful CEO.
“I remember one year we had a 10% drop on the gross domestic product. The electricity company all of a sudden did not need my company’s products because they were closing plants right and left, but slowly with hard work and patience they came back. Now Mexico is impervious to an external financial crisis. They went through it and they [built] solid foundations to their economy. They learned their lesson. If Greece does the same thing, Greece is going to emerge as a great economy in Europe, through hard work and sound financial policies,” points out Galanis, adding, “the country’s financial policies must become clearer and sanitized, while the Greek politicians must be more accountable to the people for their actions.”
But how can a Greek citizen survive with the current basic salary of 500 Euros? Answering the question, Galanis points out that basic costs in Greece must be reduced in order for the people to be able to make ends meet.
“Mexicans used to earn three or four dollars per day during the crisis and they were able to survive it with patience, but also because the cost of leaving was cheap. The base of Mexican food, the beans and the tortillas, which are cheap, saved Mexico. No matter how much people were making they were able to afford to feed their families. Mexico had restricted prices and these restrictions apply till today.”
For Galanis, establishing monitoring mechanisms in Greece is very essential in aiding the country to exit the crisis. He stresses that the prices of basic goods must be adjusted to the new economic reality of Greece and not to the European one.
“Greece became too expensive to be competitive and Greeks cannot survive in it. Its economic structures were based on inflated numbers. Greece must take its time to retaliate. Greeks are hard workers and have positive attributes but they have become the spoiled kid of the EU,” commented Galanis.
Galanis noted that he is surprised by the stress levels and misery experienced by Greeks. In Mexico people enjoyed their life even during the crisis.
“Of course they did not have fun in excess but they were enjoying their simple lives. Mexicans are just like the Mediterranean people but they are not overreacting,” said Galanis.
The Greek who thrives in Mexico is also one more member of the Greek diaspora who’s had bad experiences in the past while trying to cooperate with Greek companies.
“The motive in Greece is that you are smart if you don’t get tired. This idea goes against all principles of growth and prosperity. I hope the Greek people will realize through the current hardships that hard work is the key to success,” said Galanis.
On his past effort to help Greece by doing business in the country, Galanis commented that the Greeks leave no room for entrepreneurship to bloom.
“Greeks would laugh at me because I would go to my fields in Greece to collect olives to produce my own extra virgin olive oil. No Greek would go with me except for my cousin. All the other people who help me collect my olives every year are foreign nationals that would earn 60 Euros per day,” added Galanis.
Despite his harsh comments Galanis cares for his motherland and this is why he maintains a home and travels twice a year with his whole family to Greece.
Far from his homeland, he has been an advocate of Greek ideals and Hellenic issues, such as the need to strengthen the Patriarchate, the re-opening of the Chalki seminary and the problem of divided Cyprus. Galanis is also an honorary Counsel of the Republic of Cyprus in Toluca, Mexico.
“The Mexicans have tremendous solidarity with the Greek people and they believe in our integrity. They just think that Greece’s current situation is a result of electing bad politicians and also going with the flow for a few years,” concluded Galanis.
We hope this will change!
(Stella Tsolakidou contributed to this story)