Nikos Yannoulatos (DEREE ’90) is a Managing Partner at Cornerstone Greece, with years of experience as a recruiter and specialist in training and development. He has very close ties to The American College of Greece, with three generations of his family choosing the institution for their studies: His mother, Maggy Yannoulatou is a PIERCE ’62 alumna, his brother, Alexis Yannoulatos, is a DEREE ’93 alum, while his son Panos Yannoulatos is now studying at PIERCE.

Nikos Yannoulatos spoke to Touch Base about his work, his years at DEREE, and what industries and skills candidates looking for a career change/advancement should focus on.

What did you study at DEREE, and where did you do your high school studies?

I studied Marketing at DEREE. It was the best place in Greece to study marketing in the 80’s, given that it had the specialization, quality of staff, curriculum, and the market recognition to launch people into a promising career in the field. I graduated from the public high school of Paleo Psychiko.

How did DEREE prepare you for your career development?

First of all, let me say that I am amazed at the progress that so many of my classmates have made in the past 30 years, in various disciplines and business areas. It seems that most of the people I shared the four years at the school with are well placed professionally, either in their own businesses or with multinational organizations in Greece and abroad.

Looking back, I would say DEREE prepared us in three ways:

1) Structure & Discipline: I think that a great deal of people in Greece underestimate the value of a structured and disciplined environment that will guide undergraduate students to gain the initial knowledge they need to launch a career. This is a tradition at DEREE and combined with the institution’s commitment to high standards of education (investment in people, facilities, and know how) it allowed for quality learning.

2) Multi-dimensional learning and preparation:  Classroom lectures were only one way of receiving knowledge at DEREE. We were challenged in various ways, including a breadth of individual research projects and teamwork within classes. The school itself is set in such a way that relationships develop that may last a lifetime.

3) International recognition: Having graduated from DEREE with a Business degree, I found that the doors were open at practically any University in the world. I was accepted for an MBA at Northwestern University – The Kellogg School of Business, a program which is continuously ranked among the top five in the US, and I was able to study with Philip Kotler, a professor who was considered an idol in our field. I was not the only one. Classmates studied at Columbia, NYU, Stanford, Berkley, and a number of other top schools around the world.

What are your fondest memories of DEREE? Did you have any favorite teachers or subjects?

What has stayed with me as a memory all these years are the classes in marketing with Professor Theoharakis, who always challenged us a bit too much, always making us try harder. I especially remember the team projects we worked on, where we would need to reach out to companies, gather information on the industry and develop strategy or marketing campaigns to launch new and competitive offerings to the market.

How did you come to found Cornerstone in Greece?

Executive Search always fascinated me in that there are so many abstract parameters that one needs to evaluate and also sense about a person and his potential employer in order to develop long-standing partnerships for both sides. Having worked in various business and HR-development operations until the end of the 90’s, in 2001 our company became part of Cornerstone which is one of the largest network operations in the world – specialized mainly in Executive Search. Cornerstone combines international know-how with local ownership and attention to detail.

What are the trends in the market? What sectors do you see have added demand for execs?

We have been through five difficult years for the industry, due to the shrinking of the Greek economy. It looks like this is gradually taking a positive route. Characteristics of this turn are the positive European and global communication with regard to the Greek economy, the positive numbers that are starting to show, and the gradual interest for investment in the country that is starting to show. Despite these, it is unclear how soon this can seriously impact the vast unemployment that has developed in the past few years.

The stabilization and gradual positivity developing among organizations already operating in Greece is causing them to rethink their investment in local operations and consequently in Senior Executives. In addition, I would say there are three pillars that have the potential to develop demand for Executives:

1) Privatizations: The privatization of public organizations in itself creates changes in their strategic direction and operational practices, in an effort to develop more efficient operations. This will usually mean greater development and more jobs. The Greek Organization of Football Prognostics (OPAP) is a recent example which is restructuring its operations, setting development goals and rethinking its personnel needs. Similar privatizations are taking their course developing new potential.

2) External Investor Interest: There is a rising interest of investment funds with or without Greek partners, as well as by foreign investors. We have considerable interest in Tourism, Energy, as well as in various e-commerce and internet/IT based businesses.

3) Greek Startups: There is also considerable initiative in the development of local startups, with a view to the Greek and global market in general. New technologies and IT/internet applications (e.g. taxibeat, Rabt, Cherrypick, e-noesis, brain) are at the center of interest in this point in time, as well as startups in the export of branded agricultural products. The former are also supported by a number of “incubator” organizations (e.g. egg, coralia) which have developed to support the development of new entrepreneurial initiatives.

What is the process you undertake in identifying the right fit?

Identifying the right fit has to do with understanding the client organization – both in terms of its general culture, as well as in terms of the specific person or people who will be working with the new hire. In a series of communications, we need to understand what types of people and personalities will be successful in the specific organization, what the key factors that will allow for success are, what is said and what is not said by the client, and the types of challenges that a senior person will face within the new environment. On the other side, we need to target and source the right people, understand their personalities and past performance through various assessment processes (personal interviews, personality assessment tools, etc), and to also co-evaluate the value the new position will bring to them and their corresponding motivation to perform.

Is it no longer taboo to hire the unemployed for the companies you deal with due to the high unemployment rate of skilled people?

Sadly, the performance of the economy in the past years has rendered a large number of very experienced and successful executives unemployed. Although in the past, companies would avoid hiring people who were unemployed, there are certain very qualified people out there who are out of a job, and who we have in mind when communicating with clients.

Are more people you contact less secure about changing jobs in the midst of the economic crisis in Greece?

People will listen to solid offerings regarding the specific role they are approached to fill, and the quality of the employer. They are reluctant to move to organizations which do not have the reputation of a good employer, or who do not offer a structured environment in terms of their evaluation as employees and their long-term development.

Are there many companies in your field – that is headhunters and recruiters- operating in Greece?

There are many companies and individuals that are involved in recruiting. However, I would single out a few that are well placed in the market, respected by top employers to carry out high-level searches in Greece and abroad, follow sophisticated evaluation processes and operate under high ethical standards.

Did companies operating in Greece start using headhunters more after Greece’s entry into the euro at the turn of the century? Is there more demand now for your services as companies get a lot more CVs than before for a given position and would rather go through you to save time and money?

Headhunting in Greece existed since the 80’s but grew a great deal during the 90’s and the 00’s. Demand for our services is to an extent dependent on the health of the economy, and therefore the industry has slowed down globally in the past years. Having said that, there is a continuous need for companies to identify top talent for key positions, or manage high potential people to adapt to changing conditions. The fact that we continuously monitor and coach talented people within our markets and industries of operation, allows us to offer very high value to our clients.

What would you advise ACG alumni who are looking for work?  Is there a sector that is looking as if there will be more demand in the future in Greece? Are there skills alumni should be honing to better adapt to the market place?

The situation of the economy and the job market is still very difficult. I would suggest to anyone looking for a job to first take care of the basics and then to work towards approaching the right opportunities. Specifically:

1) Develop a well-structured CV, which will easily project the career progression of the individual, as well as basic success points in each of the positions he or she has held. In the case of a student without work experience, show any distinctions or successes in whatever he or she has been involved with.

2) To be able to communicate well and to point out his/her accomplishments to date, or the points of his or her personality that will be of value to the specific employer or position that he or she is approaching. To project a positive mindset.

3) To monitor open positions in the market through adds, friends, his or her business network and the general environment.

Once these are in place, the following tips will be of value:

1) Develop a clear view of the type of position he or she wants to approach, and target more specifically areas where he or she has a competitive advantage. Rehearse communicating his or her qualities in such a manner.

2) 80 per cent of available positions in the market will not have reached the stage of a published advertisement or a headhunter. It is important to continuously cultivate one’s relationships and perceived value with people who may not have a position at the specific point in time, but there is a strong probability that they will in the near future. In such cases, one will go up against less competition, and will have greater opportunities for success.

3) One secret is that a piece of useful information regarding a job can come from anyone – a neighbor, friend, or relative, and not necessarily from a professional source.

4) To be persistent without annoying, and to project the professionalism that will be shown once his or she is chosen for the position.

To make known that he or she is available for employment, always in a positive context. To project the image of a person who will seize the opportunity once selected, in order to bring about the desired result.