How to Succeed in a Land of Opportunities?

I summaize them into, I call them the four ‘ins’ that are necessary for China as it develops.

Editor’s Note:  China, as the second largest economic powerhouse, always attracts international investors from all over the world. How do international investors see China’s opportunity in economic growth? David Gosset, the founder of Europe-China Forum, discussed with Pavlos Kontomichalos, Founder and CEO of Hellas Group. As a successful businessman with experiences in the US, Canada, China and Greece, Kontomichalos also thrives on building pioneering businesses with a purpose and sustainable value. In 2019, he has received the prestigious Magnolia Award from the Shanghai Municipal government.

China Opportunities, hosted by David Gosset, is a global dialogue with senior officials, business elites and distinguished people. The serial interviews are coproduced by China Focus and DG2CI Limited in association with Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies.

David Gosset: You have had more than 25 years of very successful business experience in China. Would you say that, for you, China is a land of opportunities?

Pavlos Kontomichalos: Well, David, when I think of China, I think of opportunity, because since I’ve been here now more than 25 years, China has definitely presented a lot of opportunities. However, you need to know where those opportunities are and how to tackle them. For example, up to now, when I first came to China in 1994, China was at the early stages of being a market economy, coming out of the planned economy and opening up to the world. So, the opportunities were more functional and basic, so, a lot of necessities. To give you an example, I was President of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company focused on bringing in basic medicines to cure diseases, number one, creating the OTC market in China, over-the-counter, which did not exist, so, showing people that you can self-diagnose and you can get a medicine that is safe and effective. Then in 2001, twenty years ago, I decided to build a business around skin health. So, I believe skin was a big area, but it was about creating a total solution for healthy skin, which we still have, but that was a great opportunity at that time.

David Gosset: Exactly. So, this is also one of your characteristics. You have been successful as a top business executive in large international companies, but you are also very successful as an entrepreneur. What are the recipes to be successful as you are in the Chinese context?

Pavlos Kontomichalos: It’s true as a professional manager, a head of a big company, and then I decided to start my own business. I think there are a few things that are very important, and it has to do with a “how” I told you. The first, I believe firmly, is to have a long-term approach and view of how to create real value for your target. Many multinationals, because they change people all the time, they don’t do that always. So, that is the first, long-term vision to create value. The second, for me, is being able to pioneer to do, take some risks and do things first before others and reap the benefits. The third may be the most important in China, David, and you know this, is how do you protect what you create, because there are very smart people that are looking to replicate. So, how do you protect what you have? Either through building a brand, through technology, through a product that is indigenous and so on and so forth. The fourth, which is key, is a team that is passionate and understands where you are going and stays with you, because China is a hugely-people-dependent market, and you rely on the people.

David Gosset: These are very important four points, and I’m sure that people will pay attention to what you have said. Now, we were talking about the past, we are in 2021, and I would like to ask you, where do you see the opportunities for the coming years in relation with China?

Pavlos Kontomichalos: Thank you for this question, because I said before that China, early stage, it was about functional and necessary and basic. I believe now the big opportunity going forward is more in the emotional area, the experiential area that has to do more with the mind also. So, we look at the more sophisticated people that also have more disposable income, they are looking at these areas. I summarize them into, I call them the four “ins” that are necessary for China as it develops. The first one is innovation. We need to continue bringing innovation back and forth. That is key. Second is indigenous, meaning authentic products that maybe come from abroad, that have to do with the climate, the way of life and so on, that are very important to bring into China, authentic. The third “in” has to do with insight, that is up here in the mind. So, it’s the insights through education, through cultural exchange. The fourth is inspiration. We need to be inspired. One of the best ways I find for people to be inspired is to travel with the purpose, to experience and see things. So, those four “ins”, David, I cannot think of a better place to really lead in these four “ins” as China develops – the cradle of Western civilization, a source of great natural beauty and inspiration, Greece, Hellas, xi la, the Mediterranean and Europe.

David Gosset: Thank you very much. I think because of what you have said, I was listening carefully to you, and clearly, you are a beautiful illustration of this transition from quantity to quality, which is happening while we speak in China. You mentioned Greece, your country, maybe the viewers, they are going to ask themselves, but where are we, because of the background, and clearly, we see Greek elements while we speak, but we are in fact in Shanghai, at Hellas House. You have built this very important bridge between Europe and China, between Greece and China, two very ancient cultures. You are, at the same time, looking at the past, but preparing the future while being very innovative. Thank you very much to be a part of this era of Chinese opportunities. Thank you.

Pavlos Kontomichalos: Thank you very much. Thank you.