Category Archives: Uncategorized

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?




I am one of those who sees food as much more than fuel, more as an art form, entertainment, expression. The dinner table as the best place to spend quality time. Great food, great wine, great conversation.


I love exploring new tastes. But I am also fiercely loyal. Once I find a restaurant which delivers, I become a top customer. If any of my favorite restaurants awarded “frequent flyer” points I’d be a million miler.

I am a restaurateur’s dream.


I am a restaurateur’s nightmare.

I have blacklisted more restaurants than I care to mention.

For the slightest transgression.

You see, I work hard for my money.

And I expect others to work hard for my money too.


Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, the company that took the shoe store online, says that “every phone call is a chance to build the Zappos brand.” How right. Brand is built at the point of customer contact. There are multiple contact points in service-based businesses. Contact points which go way beyond exposure to advertising and packaging. Think of banking, for example. Your bank probably spends millions on advertising, and more millions on retail design. But the most powerful and lasting impression you have of your bank was made by the last teller who served you.


Back to restaurants. And to one in particular. A famous New York steakhouse, one of the best in the city, located midtown on Third Avenue. You may know it. You may have been there. Two blocks away from my office at McCann-Erickson Worldwide, I was a lunchtime regular. With or without clients, I was there twice a week.


Until that night ….


I arrived late. Around 11PM. The lunchtime shift had long gone home. None of my familiar waiters to greet me by name. I was seated at a table. Not a good one. I asked to move. The restaurant was empty. The waiter refused. I asked to speak to the maitre. He came over. “Your waiter,” I said, “is a jerk.” He told me that he could not allow anyone to speak about his waiters in that way and asked me to leave. I did. And I never set foot in there again. 





To Greece. Several years later. I was enjoying an outside lunch at my favorite Italian restaurant in Vouliagmeni, Athens. I felt like a cigarette but had no matches. “Excuse me,” I said to a waiter, “do you have a light?” The answer came in a backward upward flip of the head accompanied by a clicking sound. Greek for no. I said, “Can you find me some matches?” “Where should I find matches?” came the reply.


I saw red. Jumped out of my chair and walked straight over to the maitre. 

“Your waiter,” I said, “is a jerk.” “I know he is,” he laughed, “you’re not telling me anything I don’t know.” I burst out laughing, returned to my seat and asked the next table for a light. I continue to eat there at least once a week.


There are some things I really love about Greece. 


Break his neck and he might break yours



Good for watching funny homemade videos about other people’s dogs and cats and babies and private obsessions. Video trash. Oh, and music videos. Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Dave Carroll.


Dave who?


Dave Carroll was a lesser known Canadian country and western singer – until he posted a video clip on Youtube that went insanely viral with more than 15 million views. Dave became a celebrity singer with a #1 hit on Apple’s iTunes store and a book which is available on Amazon.


The title of this video? 

“United breaks guitars.”


Let me explain.

Dave Carroll’s checked in his $3,500 Taylor guitar – nice guitar, I have one myself – on a United Airlines flight from Halifax to Omaha, Nebraska. The guitar did not survive the journey well. It arrived in Omaha with a broken neck. Dave put in a claim. After a year of haggling United came down with a definitive “no, we are not responsible.” Dave did what he knows best. He wrote a song about his experience, recorded a video and posted it to Youtube. This was picked up by the media and Dave made appearances on CNN and all the major networks. Dave became a celebrity and a hero and United became a villain.


A few weeks after the Youtube posting, United Airlines’ stock price had stalled in mid flight, taking a nose dive of 10% which represented a loss of $180 million to United Airlines‘ shareholders. According to my calculations, that would have been enough to have bought Dave more than 51,000 replacement guitars.


That’s the power of Youtube, the world’s largest on demand TV channel. On demand. That means that people watch what they WANT to watch which is very different to sitting through a commercial break on TV. Youtube is rubbish? Think again.


Businesses can no longer ignore social media.

Nor can they treat Facebook, Twitter and Youtube as an optional extra on the company’s media schedule. Nor can they afford not to be active participants on these platforms because it’s kids stuff. It’s not.


Think about it.

Twitter has more than 500 million registered users posting an average of 140 million tweets per day. If you don’t know what a tweet is, then join Twitter. It’s time you did.


With these kind of numbers, it’s likely that someone somewhere is tweeting about you. And you are faced with a simple choice. You listen with a chance to react. Or you don’t. And run the risk of some Dave Carroll writing a song about you and posting it on Youtube.


A CEO from a company I deal with recently relinquished the vast majority of his operating responsibilities by appointing a COO. Why? To dedicate his time to social media. Smart guy. Gary Vaynerchuk, owner of the Wine Library in New Jersey grew his business from $3 million annual sales to $45 million by using social media. Yes, nothing but social media.


The world has moved on. We’re in the conversation economy. Today’s consumer is highly empowered. Break his neck and he might break yours. Ask United Airlines.