Monday, October 24, 2011

Greece versus The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

This report will probably hurt the Greek psyche at its core: The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has become one of the shooting stars world-wide as regards the ease of doing business in a country (according to the World Bank's IFC). FYROM jumped from position 34 to 24, and is now ahead of countries like Taiwan, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Austria, etc.

And where is Greece? Almost unchanged at position 100, behind countries like Guatemala, Vietnam, Yemen, etc.

Is this plausible? Of course it is! If you don't believe it, read this article about Greece. And as regards FYROM: a few years ago I had to attend a presentation by FYROM to an audience of South German bankers, businessmen, etc. in Munich. I really had no interest in going but my job required me to. And afterwards I was glad to have gone. On stage was a team which could have easily come out of firms like McKinsey, BCG, etc. Perfectly fluent in English; saying exactly the right things in credible fashion; presenting exactly the right PowerPoint slides; etc. etc. It was simply a brilliant show!

The host of the event was Theo Waigel, the former Minister of Finance of Germany and "Father of Maastricht". Compared to the slick representatives from FYROM, Waigel came across as a nice South German farmer who was still taking English lessons.

I called a friend in Greece to seek his reaction. He was not surprised. He told me to pay more attention to CNN commercials where Greece advertised that "The Gods could have chosen any place in the world but they chose Greece" while the FYROM advertised the very competitive business conditions for foreign investors in their country.

What I am now going to say to the citizens of my wife's home country hurts me as much as it hurt me when I had to take the credit card away from our older son at age 18 after he had gotten into a spin of overspending: Grow up! Take responsibility into your own hands! Stop lamenting that the whole world is against you! Stop putting yourselves into the victim's role! Stop crying over spilled milk! Don't dream of the past! Look at the world as it is today and deal with it! Get your ass in gear!

My first job after Business School was with an American bank which assigned me to the European HQ in London, sort of a probation period before sending me on the Head Office in Chicago. When the notice came that I would be sent to Head Office, I was very nervous about how this would work out. The Head of Europe invited me to a farewell lunch. I was hoping that he would hold my hands and assure me that I would have nothing to worry about. Instead, he said at the end of the lunch: "Look, I wish you good luck and I know that you will make it because if you don't make it you are a dead duck". I did make it and perhaps for no other reason than the fact that I did not want to be a dead duck.

Greeks, you have got to make it because otherwise you will be dead ducks!

"Know thyself" is what we first learned in Austrian gymnasium about Greek culture 5 decades ago. "Know and accept yourselves" is what I pass on to present day Greeks. Look the real situation straight into the eye and deal with it!

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