Author Archives: Peter Economides

About Peter Economides

Peter Economides is a brand strategist. His work is focussed on change - on the strategic responses to shifting culture, consumer habits and behavior, and the challenges of regional and global expansion. His view is that brand strategy needs to be spherical and all encompassing, touching every aspect of the business organization and process. As he says, “everything communicates” and “strategy is nothing without a universally compelling, and individually enchanting big idea that engages and aligns people inside and outside the corporation.” Economides began his career in his native home of South Africa. Over the years, Economides has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Athens, Mexico City, and New York. His long career includes top brands such as Apple, Audi, Campari, Coca-Cola, Citibank, Gillette, Heineken, Levi’s, Nestlé and Unilever among many others. After a successful career with McCann Erickson Worldwide and TBWAWorldwide, Economides founded his own strategic brand consultancy, Felix BNI, in 2003. Economides, who has a degree in Business, Economics and the Social Sciences from the University of Cape Town, is Chairman of the Board of Directors of leading global charity, Make-A-Wish International.

Here’s what happens when you lose your memory on Swiss Rail


You get it back.

And it’s so effortless.
They send you an email and tell you they found it.
Then they ask you how you’d like to get it back.
“When you next visit Switzerland? Or should we send it to you by Fedex?”
Choose option A if you live in Greece.
Because here’s what happens next ….

It gets stopped at customs.
And no matter how much you protest and explain that you bought it in Greece and it’s used and it’s scratched and you can prove that it’s yours because it’s full of your personal data – you’ll hear the shrug of shoulders on the telephone.

“Ti na sas po…”

And here’s what happens next ….

You go to the customs hall (hell) at the airport.
And the nightmare begins.

First office.
Five people behind the counter, one in front of the counter.
After 20 minutes I asked … “Can anyone tell me how long I will be here? I have a life to live …” 

And five people reluctantly leave their frappe to look up at you.
And one answers on behalf of them all.

“Ti na sas po…”

And I reminded them that they worked for the public service and that I was “the public” and that I was one of those who pay the taxes which pay their salaries. Heresy!
But they slowly got into gear and stamped my piece of paper and sent me on my way … to Office Number Two located in the building next door.

And here’s what happens next …

The same.

Five offices, five buildings, eleven people and two hours later and I’ve been assessed.
€150 for a used portable hard drive that I left behind on a Swiss train and was stupid enough to choose option B. But how was I to know? This is 2015 is it not?

And here’s what happens next …

I lined up to pay.
And the cashier growled at me.
And I asked her “what’s your problem?”
And she said “I’ve been here since 8am this morning.”
It was midday.
And I lost it ….

“I’ve been here since 9am and I’m not getting paid to be here like you are.”

This is the problem with Greece.
All this talk of protecting pensions and the minimum wage and rehiring public servants (the irony) is all about perpetuating this system.

The real solution for Greece is to encourage what I have called “the restless ones.”
The creative people. The courageous people. The unemployed people. The people who understand that if they don’t do something, nothing will happen.

Here is what Steve Jobs had to say…

“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Think different.
It’s the way forward.

The Australian Cash Store


australian cafe291


That’s my mom in the white dress.
In the middle. The little girl. Aged two, I think. Maybe three.
Now she is in her eighties.
A very young eighties ….

This photograph was taken a few years after my grandparents, Peter and Panorea Christelis, arrived in Germiston, South Africa, as refugees from the island of Imbros. That’s Gokceada in Turkey today.

And she is with her parents in front of my grandfather’s first business in South Africa.
A cafe. Bakaliko.
The Australian Cash Store. Cash because he did not give credit.
Now I ask myself – why on earth did he call it the Australian Cash Store?
Did he actually mean to go to Melbourne?
Know something … I’ll never find out.

Yes, of course I have asked my mother.
She has no idea.
My grandmother might have had the answer but she’s no longer around to give it, though she still sheds light in so many ways ….

My brother has this photograph on his kitchen wall.
And I know that in a few years from now this photograph will inevitably be lost.
It will disappear. And I may be the last person to ask this question.
So it’s not that no one will know the answer. Because it seems they don’t.
But no one will ask the question…

The Greeks.
Ten or eleven million in Greece.
Another ten million or so around the world.
All with similar questions.

History is culture.
And culture is like a rope.
Moving from the past, through the present, into the future.

Understanding the past to illuminate the future.

Creating shared context.
Shared meaning.

Thousands – millions – of little stories like this one.
So many of them without answers.

It’s the questions that lead to the answers that are the threads.
And these threads together make a rope.
The narrative of the Greeks.

PS Does anyone have the answer?

These are the stories that need to be told


His Greek was really good. But judging by his accent, he did not learn it in Greece or Cyprus. “What nationality are you?” I asked. “Greek,” he replied, “from Romania.”

And then the story emerged.

His grandfather was sent to Bucharest by the Metaxa government, apparently on some secret mission. And that’s where he stayed. Years later this Romanian Greek grandson returned to his homeland. Struggling to find a job in a country in crisis, he moved on to Cyprus, and that’s how he found his position in a Japanese restaurant in Limassol.

Or how about this.
The taxi rank at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. And this taxi driver speaks to me in Spanish.

“How come you speak Spanish and not English?”, I asked. “Because I am Greek.” And I asked myself “what kind of crazy Jewish Greek answer is this? I speak Spanish because I am Greek …”

And then another story emerged. Zakynthos in 1943. When the Germans tried to round up the island’s Jewish population and failed. Well, this little kid (he must have been three at the time) took refuge in Israel with his family. They spoke Ladino in Greece. So he speaks Spanish in Israel.

Greeks are full of stories. Like my grandmother who left Turkey in 1922 and headed straight to South Africa. Not Athens. Not even New York. South Africa! With no internet to check the weather. And no one to call to find out whether lions really ate people on the streets of Johannesburg.

Last weekend I met Victoria Hislop. She tells stories as though she has heard them from her Greek grandmother. In fact, as though she has heard them from every Greek’s grandmother. Except that she has no Greek grandmother. She is English. And to prove it she speaks the most soft spoken Greek I have ever heard – with an English accent.

Victoria is the author of The Island, an international bestselling novel which went on to become Greece’s most popular TV series. Ever.

Now, whilst we are full of stories, we are lacking history, that common narrative that provides the glue that holds nations together. Think about the strongest elements in the Greek narrative. There is classical Greece. Strong. Comprehensive. Epic. A history with a huge global element. Now let’s fast forward ….

The sixties. Onassis. Maria Callas. Jackie O. Mykonos. Theodorakis, Hadjidakis. Melina Mercouri, Jules Dassin. All culminating in Anthony Quinn (a Mexican) in his portrayal of Zorba the Greek. “Teach me to dance!”

Then the junta, Andreas Papandreou and Pasok. That’s when i came to Greece and thought that the country’s national colour was green and not blue. And then the Olympic Games with the best narrative I have ever seen. Dimitri Papaioannou’s brilliant opening ceremony. The story of a modern country steeped in history and poised for the future. Past. Present. Future. The future came soon after – in the shape of one of the worst crises that any modern nation has ever experienced.

This is not a financial crisis. It’s a crisis of values. A crisis of belief. A crisis of confidence. A “how I feel about myself” crisis.

We need a narrative. And this is where Victoria Hislop comes in. She fills in the pieces by weaving every grandmother’s story into a comprehensive whole. She describes a Greece that many of us are not aware of and that others of us have turned our backs on.

It’s a Greece that we need to discover in order to find the narrative that will lead us back to the future. Thank you Victoria.

I’ll be happy


So there we were in a high tech Tel Aviv neighbourhood. Where every building houses at least one NASDAQ listed company. And we started talking about why Israel is such a hotbed for innovation. And Mr Z starts telling me about this incredible new start-up which will turn Israel into the first country on earth where everyone – and he means everyone – will be able to drive electric because it will be that convenient and that affordable. And he felt really proud of it. And so he should have done because that would have been quite a feat. To wean an entire nation off the gasoline habit. Wow.

And he told me about this amazing young Israeli called Shai Agassi who had left a huge position at SAP on the West Coast in order to start up this company. And he told me how Shimon Peres had taken a personal interest in this project and how he had helped Shai to get this project on the road.

And I was amazed.

Years later I went to the Better Place Customer Centre just outside Tel Aviv and drove an electric car for the first time. Try it. But be warned that what you are driving now – whatever that car is – will forever feel so yesterday. Because electric feels so tomorrow.

You start the car. And the only thing that happens is that a few small lights go on. And the computer starts up and asks you to tell it who you are. So you buckle up. Put the car in gear. There is only one gear. And you put your foot on the gas. Whoops. I mean on the accelerator. You take off. And the only sound you hear is a whirrrr and a slight whistle… You get pushed back in your seat because the acceleration is so good and the power curve is so continuous. And it is silent. It feels so civilized. So evolved. So tomorrow.

Now the problem with driving electric is this. 120 kilometers. Which is fine if you drive from your home to the office and then back home. In fact it is perfect. Because you’ll plug your car in every night and you’ll never stop to fill up again. Unless of course your trip takes you further than 120 kilometers which is the current range of an electric car.

So here was Shai Agassi’s genius. If you run out of battery, change it at a battery switch station. And that’s what Better Place was all about. Battery switching. Brilliant. A process that takes less time than it takes to fill a car with gas.

Better Place has been described as the biggest start-up in the history of start-ups. Unfortunately Better Place is no more. The company went bankrupt in May 2013. It was a sad day. For everyone. Not just the brave investors who’d put millions behind this vision.

For a short period of time, I was Global Chief Marketing Officer of Better Place. It was a dream. A chance to save the world from its gasoline habit. A chance, truly, to make the world a better place. I wish it had made it. I really, really do.

I bet it’s a question of time. This whole idea of switching batteries will be back. Because it is so smart. And when it is I will be there. Just as a user this time. But still, I’ll be happy.

That’s magic


I’m a Greek. But don‘t ask me why our Easter sometimes coincides with everyone else’s and why sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe the Church gets it but I don’t.

Despite my theological ignorance, I am touched by the beauty of Easter in Greece. And this year’s was more beautiful than ever.

On Good Friday this year (the day the Greeks refer to as “Big Friday”) I set sail from Bodrum on White Wings, a thoroughly modern and luxurious 140 ft take on a traditional Turkish gulet. An incredibly seaworthy wooden beauty designed to cope superbly well with the Aegean. On board were Çem, Ali, Peter and crew. Friends. Kindred spirits.

We headed to Patmos. If you’ve been there then you’ll understand its spiritual magnetism. It’s the place where St John is believed to have received the visions which he recorded in the Book of Revelations. Many islands have their Chora. But the Chora of Patmos is something breathtaking to the spirit.

We docked early and headed up the hill to Chora. A couple of Turks and a Greek. Good Friday in Patmos was a revelation. To this Greek. And to his Turkish friends. Greek or Turkish, Christian or Muslim … anyone would be touched by the simple beauty and spiritual complexity of what we witnessed in the little square in the shadow of the monastery. And the image of the little boy tugging at the gilded sleeve of his bearded, singing priest father resplendent in the trappings of the Greek Orthodox Church will remain etched in my mind forever.

We celebrated the Resurrection in Amorgos the next night. With fireworks, gunfire and, I swear, a few sticks of dynamite, followed by a traditional meal of stuffed goat and a traditional soup which I have considered inedible since my childhood. From Amorgos we went on to Koufounisia (what beaches!), Schinousa, Ios, Santorini, Folegandros, Milos, Sifnos, Serifos, Kithnos and Tzia, docking in Athens where I am now writing this piece.

Sailing is a joy. But sailing in the Greek islands is a revelation. And I think of this introduction I recently wrote for a recipe book called “Cooking on the Boat” written by Lale and Çem Ape:

At anchor off a Greek island. Or somewhere off the Turkish coast.
A warm late afternoon. The sea gently lapping against the sides of the boat.
The outline of an ancient temple on the hillside. A fisherman’s caique cutting across the horizon. Great friends. Lively conversation. A glass of ouzo. Or raki.

That’s magic.

This planet is full of magic, but much as I have travelled I have not found any like the Aegean. It’s a gentle place, an embracing place. A place of warmth. A place where life is lived with love. And where it is lived to the full. Not necessarily with opulence, but with a richness you will not find elsewhere.

I am Greek, but my ancestral home is Turkey – it’s where my grandparents grew up. Maybe that’s why I love both sides of this ancient sea as much as I do.
Or maybe it’s just because of the magic.

Apple after Steve Jobs. Who will be the new dictator?

Image I love my eleven inch Macbook Air. But when I see a grey suited, white shirted, maroon tied elderly conservative gentleman with an Apple Macbook Air on his lap it kind of does something to me. It makes me want to distance myself from my own Macbook Air. And that’s not good for Apple.

There’s a growing sense that Apple is losing its shine. And ubiquity has a lot to do with it. It’s when successful brands become the victim of their own success.

Apple has a few other problems too. And they all point in the same direction.

Last month I spent some time in the office of the Global CMO of one of the world’s best brands. A brand he can fairly say he had a major hand in creating. The walls of his Amsterdam office were lined with ads, posters, packaging and other bits of branded material in a good sample of the world’s major languages. Consistent look. Consistent feel. Like any global brand. But not this watered down, middle of the road, lowest common denominator kind of consistency. This was consistently with attitude. Consistently with edge. Consistently with point of view. Consistently with style. Like a handful of great global brands.

This is an expressive, compelling, interesting CMO. Some call him opinionated. I call him a man with an opinion – with the independent mind to form it and with the individual courage to express and defend it. A rare breed in a global corporate world rushing towards boring sameness.

“That work is all mine. I am the only person who will put his aesthetic stamp on it. And I don’t care whether mine is the best stamp or not. But I know it needs the stamp of one man.”

Spot on.

You’ve probably read the Steve Jobs biography.

Yes it’s true. He was a dictator.

A dictator for the consumer.

A man who trusted his insight sufficiently to make major decisions without the crutch of research. A man who, when asked what were his criteria for approving a new product launch, replied, “if I am proud to show it to my family, then I launch.”

A man who operated as much with his analytical left brain as he did with his holistic right brain. A rare marketer. An even more rare leader.

The world is suffering from a lack of leadership. Those rare left brain/right brain hybrids who see the big picture as well as the parts. Those with enough humanity to intuitively understand human nature. Those with the analytical skills to deconstruct and reconstruct the world to make it, in a big or small way, a better place. Those with the ability to win support. Not because they present a watered down middle of the road point of view that can’t be rejected but can be ignored. But because they present a point of view that can’t be ignored.

Apple after Steve Jobs.

Who will be the new dictator?

Cyprus is not the miracle. The Cypriots are.

There is no such thing as a financial crisis.
It’s the result of a social crisis, a values crisis, a confidence crisis, a how we feel about ourselves crisis. And I am starting to feel that the current European crisis is a crisis of democracy. That the real deficit is a democratic deficit.

Last week Cyprus gave the world some of the best cliffhanging television that it has seen for a long, long time. Part drama, part comedy. Soap opera and epic serial. But tragic. Always tragic. Because it was the story of the collapse of the Cyprus miracle. And the treatment that was handed out from the north smelt of Protestant punishment.

But I have learned something about the Cypriots. You will be back. With another miracle. Because Cyprus is not the miracle. The Cypriots are.


Maybe this is the centre…


I worked with someone. An Italian. He had a name for me. The Greek American Zulu. This was a reference to the most important places and cultures that have influenced me.

Greek. My origins, my DNA, the essence of who I am.

And Greece. This crazy unpredictable country that I have now chosen as home. Beautiful Greece.

American. Because of my years working in the world’s largest American advertising agencies with some of the world’s largest American brands. And my time in that wonderful city called New York.

Zulu. South Africa. Where I was born and where I grew up. The place I called home for so many years and the place I still go home to every year. Religiously. Without fail. And not just because my mother, my brother and my sister live there.

To visit places with names such as Okavango, Mashatu, Phinda, Hluhluwe, Mtunzini. Magical mystical places. Like Makgadikgadi.

Have you ever seen so many stars that the night no longer appears dark? Have you ever heard silence so silent that it is loud and your ears hurt? You will in the Makgadikgadi Pan. Hundreds of square kilometers of dry lake bed. Flatness. A landscape devoid of any landmarks. Nothing to distinguish left from right or north from south. A strange eerie wilderness.

It’s a long long story. But I once spent a night on a luxurious bed planted in the middle of this strange landscape. A night with so many stars that the Milky Way looked like a river. A night so silent that I swear my ears hurt. One of the most memorable nights of my life.

I love Greece. A country so sweet, so warm, so welcoming. A country that truly feels like the cradle of civilization. Even before you see traces of culture.

I love America. So young. So brash. So daring. So loud. So adventurous. So ambitious.

So … American.

And I love Africa.

So primeval. So raw. Such a reminder of who we really are. How big and how small we are. And if you’ve ever been on safari you’ll know what I am talking about. Ever worked through the bush? Ever looked into the eyes of a lion, understanding that he’s looking straight back at you? It’s enough to clear you of anything. Nothing is more essential. No problem is serious enough to warrant your attention. Nothing is more sobering. It’s why my advice to troubled friends is often that they look into the eyes of a lion. They get it.

I chose to leave Africa. For the simple reason that I felt somehow isolated at the bottom end of the world. That I was too far from the centre. But now I realize that maybe this was the centre. Because it is where you see the stars and hear the silence and look into the eyes of the lion.

Food is culture.


We are what we eat.

We are how we eat.

We are why we eat.

My cultural immersion happened on Sundays in South Africa in the world’s largest kitchen with brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles and aunts. Around a huge table. Food. Wine. Conversation. Laughter. Celebration. Noise. Arguments. Surprises. Friends. Debates. Love. Life …

Well I thought it was the world’s largest kitchen because I myself was so little. Hours of Greek cultural immersion. Always on Sundays. Enough to keep a South African kid close to his roots. Enough to fill the heart with Greekness if not the tongue with Greek.

Then this South African Greek moved to Hong Kong. And after a few years to Greece.

I struggled with the Greek language. But Greek tastes were easy. I’d learnt them in γιαγιά’s kitchen and just like your γιαγιά, my γιαγιά was the best cook in the world.

Greece was a culinary cul de sac in those days. Great food… but no cuisine if you know what I mean. Tavernas, Italian and French. That was about it. I left for Mexico in 1992 and learnt about the wonders of Mexican cuisine which has nothing, and I mean NOTHING to do with the TexMex we call Mexican. And some horrors too … like termite eggs, maguey worms and fried grasshoppers. But that’s another story …

From Mexico I moved to New York, a culinary treat if ever there was one. Nobu. Gotham Bar and Grill. Il Cantinori. Milos. Raoul and a host of others whose names I cannot recall right now. And of course the best hamburgers in the world. But that too is another story …

I discovered a new, edgy, experimental, creative, innovative, courageous, humorous, self confident Athens when I came back in 1999. Well, I thought it was all these things because Aristera Dexia was all these things.

Athens was these things. For a while. But it all ended after the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics.

I recently attended the Χρυσοί Σκούφοι awards hosted by Athinorama.

These awards are twenty years old. Their contribution to the development of Greek cuisine is huge. Chefs are creators. They build on inspiration. They thrive on recognition.

I left with the realization that innovation is alive and well in Greece. At least in the kitchens of the country’s leading restaurants. And it’s the best kind of innovation. Firmly rooted in Greek tradition. But courageously reaching out to the future. Close to the heart of Greeks, but reaching out to an international audience. A cuisine that gives Greece a role in the modern culinary world.

This country can draw inspiration from its chefs. Because the way they move forward is exactly the way we should all move forward. Boldly. Creatively. Rooted in our past. Reaching for our future. Creating a role for Greece in the modern world.

Creative enterprise based on our unique knowhow. The knowhow of life.


All time classic? That sounds like γιαγιά’s moussaka. Nikos Karathanos pays tribute to every γιαγιά. But he moves her into the future and on to the world stage.

SETE is putting emphasis behind gastronomic tourism.

Please don’t call it ‘all time classic.’

Because it’s time to imagine the future.