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Digital Leadership is Not Just Digital – Greek business leaders discuss corporate leadership in the era of digital transformation

The Heads of OTE Group, Microsoft and Mondelēz International shared their points of view in an engaging ACG150 event

The role of leadership in the successful implementation of digital transformation was at the center of the panel discussion organized by the ACG Institute for Hellenic Growth and Prosperity and the Office of Public Affairs of the American College of Greece under the title “Digital Leadership is Not Just Digital”. Held in the framework of the ACG150 plan, the event brought together three business leaders with distinct and overarching perspectives on how technology cuts across almost every industry: Katerina Vlachou, Managing Director of Mondelēz International for Greece and Cyprus and Deree and Alba Graduate Business School alumna, Michael Tsamaz, Chairman & CEO of OTE Group and Theodosis Michalopoulos, CEO of Microsoft Greece, Cyprus & Malta and Alba Graduate Business School alumnus. Moderated by Joanna Konstantinou, Associate Lecturer II at the MIS Department of the School of Business and Economics of Deree-ACG and Digital Leadership Coach, the three leaders shared their points of view on how the digital age requires the leadership “handbook” to be re-written.

As Katerina Vlachou explained, leadership in the era of digital transformation is crucial, as leaders are there to develop the growth mindset within the company and make the corporate culture evolve throughout the transformation process. According to the Managing Director of Mondelēz International Greece & Cyprus, the digital transformation’s impact is huge throughout any organization: It is shaping the way the company redefines the talents, skills and capabilities needed on board, it determines the ways to attract, retain and allocate the talent and also to train current employees to adapt to developments. In addition, digital transformation taps on the organizational schemes, moving from typical hierarchies to more agile teams that operate trans-functionally. The new digital era leads to more engagement of employees, automation of activities and reallocation of resources in a more efficient way, and thus, to a change of culture. To make it happen, leaders need to have a clear strategic vision and share it with employees – and proximity with the entire team within the organization plays a vital role in this direction. Digitalization and remote working create a bigger pool of talent and allow for the export of talent to central teams across borders. Employees that become part of central teams while based in their country of origin are the best ambassadors for the country and the local team, with a possible positive impact at a macrolevel. Flexible workplace and collaboration are, according to Ms. Vlachou, two key terms in the new landscape formed by digital transformation.

Digitalization is a matter of survival and not a luxury, noted Michael Tsamaz, Chairman & CEO of OTE Group. Mr. Tsamaz underlined that, in order to embark on a transformation journey, you need to embrace change. Transformation through a 360o plan has been the single path of salvation for OTE back in 2010, when the group was facing major challenges due to the country’s financial struggles, and it is what rendered OTE a modern, efficient and one of the most successful telecom companies in Europe. In these years, despite the financial crisis and the fact that the international institutions were reluctant in financing the company, the latter did not stop investing in infrastructure and systems. These investments have played a crucial role in digitalization throughout the years. In general, Mr. Tsamaz described digital transformation as a long-term process, a difficult task that demands investments and high commitment by the employees of a company – A commitment that derives from the people’s belief in the leadership’s vision. Speaking on modern skills and characteristics in the digital era, Mr. Tsamaz referred to his favorite equation: Talent plus exercise multiplied by attitude is the key to one’s success. He described “attitude” as a mix of determination, one’s ability to manage failure, efficient response to challenges and the qualities one brings to their interaction with peers and superiors. “Treat others the way you want to be treated, regardless of your level” he underlined.

Theodosis Michalopoulos, CEO of Microsoft Greece, Cyprus & Malta, emphasized how digital transformation, particularly in light of the developments during the pandemic, is reshaping company culture. “During this year, leaders have changed,” he said, adding, “they have been called to show more empathy and understand how to mobilize people in a different context”. According to Mr. Michalopoulos, in this difficult period, business leaders had to face three main challenges concerning the digitization of operations: the fatigue of digital work compared to the work in a physical context, the existing problems of work/life balance, and the effort to communicate the growth mindset to the employees, so that everyone remains aligned and connected. By making communication with employees more frequent and more personal and cultivating the team spirit across departments and functionalities, a company can facilitate trans-functional collaboration, Mr. Michalopoulos stressed, and fight “tribalism,” described as the tendency of teams working remotely to bond only within their core and alienate themselves from the rest of the company’s teams. Closing in an optimistic tone, Mr. Michalopoulos stated that the good aspects of both remote and traditional work will be preserved and will shape, among other, the future of business leadership and vision.

You can watch the full panel discussion here.