The Chief Executive Officer

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Alexis Papachelas is a guest editorial writer to The Business Thinker. He is currently the Executive Editor of the long standing and highly respected daily Greek newspaper “Kathimerini”.

You will have noticed that these days (many) big companies have a chairman and a chief executive officer. The chairman is not involved with the day-to-day running of the business; he is responsible for its strategy and image, and he keeps an eye on its administration from a distance. The CEO is involved with the “dirty work;” he knows all the facts and figures, is in constant contact with all the company’s executives and sets measurable targets for all of them. I feel that if Greece were a company, we could say that it has a good chairman but is lacking a capable CEO.

It is evident that our chairman, Prime Minister George Papandreou, does not get excited by issues pertaining to management, with following through on a project etc. On the contrary, his strength is his relationship with people abroad, negotiating major issues and setting targets. He is the most exportable prime minister this country has had for many years and no one can deny the fact that he has a modern agenda for reform.

The problem is that Greece is not Denmark. What’s worse is that if the unbelievably complicated and politically explosive package of spending cuts and reforms is not executed by the end of the year, Greece will not become the Denmark of the south but the Argentina of Europe. Getting this program to work will require not only the foreign inspectors but a CEO who has Papandreou’s full backing – so that when he picks up the telephone to speak to a minister that minister would know that it was no time for jokes, excuses or lies.

Unfortunately, Papandreou has never had faith in such a management system. Those who know him say that he has been frightened so much by his father’s experience (when Andreas Papandreou was prime minister from 1981 to 1989) with his own team of close aides that he would find it very difficult to trust one or two people to act in his name. The same sources say that the current prime minister often recalls a historic but also desperate phrase spoken to friends by his father, who said: “I don’t know what I have done but I cannot tell you who is governing this country.”

So, on the one hand, we have the prime minister’s aversion to a rigid command and control system and, on the other, there is the desperate need for the country to be governed effectively over the next few months.

Many wonder whether Papandreou sees what even those who are not close to his office witness: ministers who act like feudal lords, a prime minister’s office that looks more like a think tank than a wartime command center and a state that is running in neutral if not in reverse. If he does not see these things, then we have a great problem as a country since this is either because those around him don’t view reality or because he himself has chosen the same course of denial that led some of his predecessors to despair and depression.

In any case, history picked Papandreou to be prime minister at one of the most crucial moments in our postwar period. Maybe he finds it ridiculous to be criticized for organizational inadequacy, thinking that if the model of creative chaos was good enough to get him here, it should be allowed to continue.

But we have a right to worry, because we know that the ship is being buffeted by a fierce storm, we know a tsunami is coming and we see that the captain does not have the most experienced and target-oriented crew members near him. And every now and then, he leaves the helm for another trip or a discussion on the climate and religion.

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Alexis Papachelas is the Executive Editor of the long standing and highly respected daily Greek newspaper “Kathimerini”. He is the creator and principal presenter of the weekly news program “The New Files” aired in Greece for 10 consecutive seasons. He has been awarded a number of distinctions both on his broadcast as well as his print contributions.  He studied History, International Relations and Journalism at Bard College and Columbia University in the United States.

Papachelas is the author of the books “The Rape of Greek Democracy” (1997) and “File November 17” (2002).

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