Russ: This is PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Russ Capper, this week’s guest host, and I’m following up on the greater Houston partnership’s Coffee with the Consuls, this week focused on Greece. And I’m here with George Papanikolaou, the Consul General of Greece. George, welcome to the Entrepreneur’s Playbook.
George: Thank you very much, Russ.
Russ: You bet. George, let’s just start at the top. How important is Houston, doing business with Houston, commerce with Houston to Greece?
George: Well, Houston and Greece there are strong economic ties. We have major Greek subsidiaries, Greek companies running subsidiaries here in Houston. Among them is SEBW America, the Ohalco Company, which is one of the most important exporters of Greek products. And more than 290 Houston companies report trade with Greece; 120 firms are affiliated with subsidiaries in Greece, out of them 4 companies have actually established headquarters in Greece.
Russ: Okay. What sort of industry categories do they fall in, generally speaking?
George: Well, it’s mainly oil and gas business and maritime companies doing business from and to Greece.
Russ: Okay. And so, in fact, bringing up oil and gas, where does Greece get its energy from today?
George: We receive most of our gas through Russia, approximately 65-percent. But we also receive additional LRG quantities from Qatar and Algeria, and through Turkey, cargo from Azerbaijan.
George: Close to 750 million cubic meters ever year.
Russ: Okay. As you know, the U.S. has had major success with its shale exploration and we’re moving towards exporting LNG. Do you think at some point in time Greece might be a customer of the U.S.?
George: Why not? Of course there are big issues to resolve; the administration has to do a lot of work when it comes to legislation _______ to the business, so that should step in and see if there’s ground, profitable ground for them to export. But we also need to work on the legislative framework; we have not established yet a free trade agreement with the U.S. that includes also energy. And once we have this deal, which is actually a very hot topic right now between EU and U.S., I’m pretty sure that Greece will also be interested.
But we had some preliminary talks so far, but without the proper legislative framework these talks cannot proceed anymore.
Russ: Okay. Is there any oil and gas production taking place in Greece today?
George: Very, very few quantities. Actually Greece – the Greek government has now embarked on an effort to explore specific seasons west of Greece and south of Greece. The last semester we conducted seismic surveys and very soon we’re going to have the final results, processed results in order to a new licensing ground for all the major and medium companies, E&P companies who would be interested in investing and drilling in Greece.
Russ: Okay, so there’s some optimism that there is oil and gas there.
George: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean the size that we have from the Mediterranean basin, and I’m talking about Israel and Cyprus, are very encouraging.
George: So Greece, I’m sure that Greece will be also watching – walking this path very soon.
Russ: That can be a game-changer for sure.
George: Well, we hope so.
Russ: All right. All right. So Houston also has a very large population of people from Greece.
George: True. I’m very proud to say that we have approximately 12,000 to 13,000 people of Greek descent living here in Houston for which I’m responsible. But these are people of a very high income and education level and they’ve been helping me a lot in my mission, but they’ve been helping also my country with their expertise and with their networking, with their connections into whatever business they do.
Russ: That sounds good. So how long have you been in Houston?
George: Two-and-a-half years now.
Russ: Okay. You know, you look pretty young. I’ve interviewed lots of consul generals; I think you’re the youngest one.
George: I’ll take this as a compliment.
Russ: You should. How did you ascend to such an important position so early in your career?
George: Well, I went through the normal path, the hierarchy of the ministry. Houston is my third posting; I’ve served in Africa, I’ve seen in Azerbaijan before as number two at the embassy there, dealing with energy again. So Houston is a pretty familiar place.
Russ: Oh yeah.
George: Again, oil and gas here is the main business.
Russ: Yeah, okay.
George: I’m very excited to be here, though.
Russ: Okay. So what would the ideal scenario be, the relationship between our two countries say five years from now?
George: Well, we have excellent bilateral relations with the U.S.; we have been allies for so long. Now I think we need to work a little bit more on several issues and on sectors that we have been intensified in our corporation, and energies would be the one; we’re looking forward to having major U.S. companies doing E&P activities in Greece. We’re looking forward to having more American tourists in the Mediterranean, especially Greece. So far we have American tourists through cruise ships, but we don’t have them directly, so this is a sector that we – at least I’m planning to work on.
George: Then all types of trade. As I said, our maritime companies are the most active in the world, they have one of the major fleets, and we would like to work with American exporters in order to have their products in Greece.
Russ: Okay. Strictly from my perspective from watching the media, it seems like the fiscal difficulties that were taking place in Greece seem to be kind of fading in the background now too.
Russ: Does it feel stable today?
George: Well, the situation, I think it started to pick up slowly but steadily. After five years of long recession we’re now in a position to say that the trend has been reversed. And it has been a really painful period for our citizens, but for the first time after five years we managed to create more revenues than money we spent.
George: This is something really unique. This is something rarely seen today among the worsening economies.
Russ: Right. Absolutely.
George: We’re going to be enjoying – this is about to be confirmed – a very important surplus in our budget.
George: To be used either for social purposes or for investment purposes in the future. But the basic thing is that we establish the reputation of the country back again as a country which is – who takes care of its economics, its finances, and it’s an attractive pull for investors.
Russ: Great. You mentioned the European Union a while ago; how important is the European Union to you and to Greece, and how important is Greece to the European Union?
George: Well, it’s very important. It’s our home basically. Greece is one of the oldest members of the European Union. And coincidentally, this semester Greece is holding the EU presidency.
George: That means we’re working on several priorities with other partners in order to make our year better. We’re trying to promote growth, we’re trying to set up the mechanism for a better and tighter banking corporation. We’re also working on the illegal immigration issue, which is a very thorny issue for the entire European Union, especially for the south, but for Texas as well to a lesser extent.
George: And we’re also paying attention to our maritime borders and to the so-called blue growth, how we can use the sea in order to generate more income.
Russ: Great. George, I really appreciate you sharing the Greece perspective with us.
George: Thank you.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with George Papanikolaou, the Consul General of Greece. This has been another Thought Leader production, brought to you by PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. Tune in next week for another chapter.