Dr. John Psarouthakis
A very important, in my opinion, message I have for you at this point in time is based on my experiences and background:
Let me flesh it out by telling you some of the experiences and observations which lead me to this point of view.
First, about my accent.
What you would hear when i talk are lingering cadences of a town called Chania on the Greek island of Crete. I lived there until I was 19 and a half years old,
Chania lies in a beautiful setting on the Aegean Sea. It is a very special place to rue. This is true despite the fact that I grew up in a tiny home with no running water. The most profound basics of life’s gift have nothing to do with prosperity. I revisit Crete as often as possible. It recharges my batteries.
When I left Crete in 1951 I had seen only a half-dozen automobiles. I had never eaten a meal in a restaurant, except on my high school’s senior class trip. Reading was a passion for me, but family finances had allowed me to own just two books, I read “Les Miserables” in pamphlet installments passed on to me by a sidewalk cigarette vendor after he finished with them,
So we are talking about what was in many respects – a primitive environment. And yet – yes and yet – this was a culture that treasured education .
That is why, with a high-school diploma from Chania Gymnasium #2 and with an inadequate vocabulary of English I came to study engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, mostly known as MIT.
Now, let me tell you that the business world and the concept of entrepreneurialism were as foreign to me as was this new country where I came, really, just to get an education. I had no idea I would fall in love with this place. With the opportunities and the possibilities that are unique to the United States.
I had only one clear goal back then: to make certain that my unborn children would not have to confront the economic constraints of my own youth. The profound basics of life’s gift notwithstanding, it is preferable that merely putting food on the table does not become a daily struggle.
My aptitudes and high school record suggested that the best way to make this great leap in personal economics was to become a good engineer and get paid well for it.
It was that simple, that basic. But you notice two essential elements: a goal, and an education .
That was enough to get me out the door and on the way. Not that it was easy. Believe me, many miles later I still recall what a difficult time of life the student years can be. In so many ways. That’s a different article for a different time. But let me insist on this fact: the more sweat equity you put into your education – in terms of hitting the books, in terms of sacrificing and working to make it happen – the bigger the dividend will be at the end of the line.
I reached my first big goal – an engineering degree and a real job -three years late, by the way. I lost a year of high school during the Nazi invasion and occupation of Crete. I lost a year of college when I came to Boston and bussed tables while learning enough English to understand my professors. I lost another year when my appendix had the bad timing to rupture at mid-term.
That meant I was 25 years old when I went to work as an engineer for a large electric utility company. Imagine how happy I must have been. Not only were running water and automobiles commonplace – I had both!
I worked with friendly, helpful people, I was paid well, with a clear track toward future promotion. Security? Let me know when people stop buying electricity to keep their TV sets going.
So what was wrong with this picture? Why was this job a dangerous place for me?
Because it did not challenge me. It did not stimulate me. It did not ask enough of me. It did not encourage me to ask more of myself.
I got my work done in less than half the allotted hours. I often spent my down time reading technical books on the job. Meanwhile, it seemed that many of my co-workers let two or three hours’ work expand to fill an eight-hour day.
Then I ran into an acquaintance named George Hatsopoulos on a Boston sidewalk. Aside from having a name that is only slightly more pronounceable than Psarouthakis, George had a vision. Not some nebulous daydream, but a real vision – with specific goals and schedules and plans.
He had started a company, based on the work from his Ph.D thesis at MIT. It involved energy conversion, a new field that I knew virtually nothing about. Capturing electricity out of an electron flow from a superheated metal surface – providing a power source without turbines or generators or any moving parts.
But that’s for a science lecture. What we are talking here is business, and business was very much on George’s mind. He was bubbling with the excitement of a new entrepreneur. To my total amazement, he offered me a job as his second engineer. The company consisted of three people at the time, so if I accepted I would increase the workforce by 33 percent!
What amazes me in retrospect is that there are people who would say, “Take that job!” And people who would say, “Stay with the cozy job you have, dummy!” And that both groups of people would say it was a no-brainer.
Well, it was a no-brainer for me, all right. I took the job that offered a new technology challenge.
I will continue on the next article 4 on the BusinessThinker.Com