January 20 — Pondering the Meaning of Life!
Are we here to pursue happiness and make our dreams come true? What does happiness even mean? Is it like biting into wonderful home-made Swiss Chocolate? Or is it more like making wonderful home-made Swiss Chocolate for others to enjoy?
My YPO Forum-friend, Sandra, and I had this very debate next to a fireplace on a cold, wet winter evening. It was one of the most open and vulnerable conversations I’ve had in years. I told Sandra:
“I want to leave my mark. I want my kids to remember me for something concrete. Some kind of timeless achievement. A legacy. That’s why I wrote a book. I wanted them to be able to pick up something I published, see my name on the cover and feel proud of me. Even after I’m gone, they’ll have a reminder.”
I felt very emotional, just thinking about it. But Sandra stopped me.
“What do they want?”
“Have you asked your kids if they want to remember you by seeing your name on the cover of a book? Or by thinking about your legacy? I bet they’re already proud of you. They don’t care about the future. They’re only interested in the here and now.”
Sandra’s plain sailing questions left me dumbfounded. I had no coherent answer. I knew she was right.
But I published my book either way.
The Gift of Crisis!
January 31 — BREXIT Begins and COVID Shows Up in Italy
The UK formally withdraws from the European Union. All I can think is, “How did this happen?” It’s too crazy to explain.
Meanwhile, Italy confirmed its first two cases of COVID. How did COVID get from Wuhan Province to Italy? Is Europe safe?
February 5 — President Trump Acquitted
Does anyone even remember that the President of the United States was impeached at the beginning of 2020?
February 26 — COVID Comes To Greece
Greece reports its first COVID case in Thessaloniki. Poor lady, returning from Milan, apparently connected with fashion somehow.
Oh, so now it’s an Italian virus?
A warm gust of reassurance brushed Greek civilians as the authorities began tracing it back case by case.
“Maybe we are still safe,” they thought naively.
“Yeah, maybe it is the virus affecting only the reckless rich, those who can afford to spend time in Milan shows”.
March 8 — Italy Goes into Lockdown
The COVID crisis devolves from real to surreal faster than anyone could have imagined. Greece follows two weeks later.
I was happy in 2020. Big things were happening for me. Suddenly, the world stopped moving. It was yet another lesson in how crisis changes everything.
March 15 — The Quarantine Adventure Begins (and Ends)
Like most people, we went into quarantine. I gathered family members. We decided to move some of us to Corfu, while the rest remained in Athens. Having been in deep crisis before, I thought the Swiss way of dealing with it was far too liberal, and chances of a disaster were high.
The adventure was crazy.
Renting cars, figuring out where to stay, running into curfews.
Text-to-go, an almost unironically, Orwellian way to commute.
Then the adventure halted. Suddenly, we were stuck in one place — for months. No complaints, though.
April 23— Digital Technology Goes Viral
We all learned to Zoom.
Zoom birthdays. Zoom yoga. Zoom dates. Zoom conferences. Zoom therapy appointments.
In healthcare, doctor visits went virtual as telemedicine finally took off. What took them so long? We always knew it wasn’t safe or necessary to go to a doctor’s office, hospital, or ER for every little thing. Now, we were taking care of it online.
Big digital tech companies, especially Amazon, exploded in revenue and value, as more people than ever shopped online.
For me, it was non-stop Zoom calls 12 hours a day. Exhausting but satisfying.
May 5 — The Gift of Travel Bans
In 2020, I pursued a lifelong dream and built a small villa on the beach with a pool. I designed and engineered it for high-quality living. It took a year of sweat, struggle, physical effort, and lots of investment, but finally, I made it — an excellent addition to my modest boutique hotel on the island of Corfu.
I expected that 2020 would mean non-stop guests for me and that I’d rarely get to enjoy my own piece of paradise. Instead, because of COVID, my projections fell short. However, I was in good shape because of solid management planning, an extraordinary reputation among online travel agents, and soaring guest satisfaction ratings, so we accommodated the slow-down without major setbacks.
As a bonus, I had more time to sit on the deck and listen to the waves while enjoying my Margarita.
May 25 — Racial and Economic Injustice
Who could have predicted that a horrible event in Minneapolis would affect the world?
When George Floyd’s murder by a police officer was videotaped and shared publicly, the reaction was massive. This was understandable in the USA, but BLM protests also erupted across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America….
To me, this was a sign that the crisis in racial and economic injustice had become an international concern. I predicted this the previous year as one of the top 3 global crises to worry about in the future.
COVID also helped people wake up to this disparity. It was hard to ignore that poor people and people of color died in more significant numbers than whites and the wealthy. Something needs to change.
Stressed with the military escalations, Turkey provokes Greece in the waters of the East Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. I have a lot of Turkish friends, good guys. Good God, how did Erdogan end up like this?
September 16 — I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends
YPO to the core.
YPO is like family. It gives us direction, access to much insightful advice on business, personal, family issues, and growth and development. The COVID crisis made this sense of belonging even more profound and necessary. I assisted our group in Geneva in the first two weeks of the pandemic and engaged with UN-backed initiatives for the environment.
Thank you, YPO.
September 23— Spreading the News
All year, I continued to write. Sometimes I wrote about the future and massive social and business changes or shared my sustainability and corporate leadership ideas. Sometimes I wrote encouraging messages or personal reflections related to the theme of the Gift of Crisis.
October — The Air is Cleaner
By the Fall, the eminent effects of nation-wide lockdowns had become measurable. The air was cleaner because transportation use and supply distribution traffic had plummeted.
I visit one of my customers in Piraeus quite often. The harbor, one of the largest and busiest in the Mediterranean, was so different — peaceful and clean for the first time a very long while.
For a planet racing toward irreversible climate change, and a crisis that might make COVID look trivial, it was powerful to see how much we can change consumption habits when we decide it’s necessary.
Maybe the Earth can be saved after all. The climate crisis can easily be the next COVID if we fall back to indifference.
November — Trump Loses but Won’t Go
The US had a Presidential Election. More people voted than ever, despite a pandemic. The world watched. And many millions of Americans didn’t believe the results. Just like they didn’t believe in masks. What about vaccines?
December — The First Quarantine Babies are Born
In a fitting end to a year like no other, babies conceived during the quarantine were now born in quarantine. Maybe, the divorce papers for all those couples doomed to be quarantined together are finally processed.
Around the same time, COVID vaccines began their rollout in record time, a Christmas miracle.
Life goes on.
There’s no way to describe the confusion, boredom, exhilaration, suffering, anxiety, loneliness, change, and salvation of 2020.
It was a crucible. Many people think that this year will be gone and forgotten. I am in a different camp. In my view, the psychological footprint and the innate memories this year has created for the vast majority of humanity will make it undeniably unforgettable.
For me, COVID brought so many of my experiences and skills into use —honing the latter-day by day. Over many years as a business leader, I had become well-experienced and equipped to not only run organizations but to rebuild them, turn them around, and reinvent them through innovation and execution, returning them to a growth track.
Because of my Ukraine and Greece experiences during geopolitical turmoil and my deep engagement with writing my book, I also learned a tremendous amount about purpose, sustainability (ESG, SDGs, etc.), transformative technology, and the origins and goals of innovation.
As a result, I was able to advise clients on how to weather the COVID storm, set new KPIs, and adjust their operating models to serve societal needs beyond mere shareholder value better.
Freshly equipped with that experience, I took another step into corporate leadership and began advising Boards on governance and leadership. Following that path, I joined the VAB community and studied at INSEAD in a powerful IDP program. Along the way, I met amazing new people from businesses and academia.
In 2021, I want to expand my participation in mentoring programs and young executive development. I love engaging with talented people and helping them develop new skills and perspectives while watching them strive and thrive.
On a personal level, I appreciated, even more, the value of staying in one place, the importance of family, and the power of resilience. I have always been a “glass half full” person. But COVID 2020 taught me that even in crisis, opportunities and moments of happiness would come.
The most resilient people face their challenges, practice self-awareness, lean on their networks, embrace change, move fast, and impact the world.
That’s the opportunity we have now, and I believe it’s a legacy worth achieving.