Europe Sun & Beach 13.09.2016
In memory of Konstantinos Mitsis, the founder of one of the biggest hotel chains in Greece
Greek hotelier Konstantinos Mitsis, the founder of one of the biggest hotel chains in Greece, passed away on Sunday, August 28, 2016. The funeral service hold on Tuesday, August 30, 2016, at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. Konstantinos Mitsis buried in his hometown of Kryoneri, Ioannina.
Konstantinos Mitsis moved to Athens from Epirus at a young age and, at 17, opened a small textile enterprise with 30 employees which in less than ten years employed 170 people.Ultimately, he became involved in the hospitality industry and in 1978 opened his first hotel, Ramira, on the Greek island of Kos. Today Mitsis hotels are to be found in Rhodes, Crete, Corfu, Athens, Mykonos, Ioannina, and Kamena Vourla while the the business group is also active in publishing, textiles, construction and winemaking.
In memory of this great person, the legend of the Greek and international tourism, who actually brought "all inclusive" to Greece, Russian Travel Digest publishes the translation of the interview taken in 2013 by marketing team of Labirint (the Russian tour operator till 2014, with whom Mitsis Hotels first started cooperation in Russia in 2009).
When we were informed that during our trip to Greece, we have the opportunity to interview Konstantinos Mitsis - one of the richest and most influential people of Greece - we were confused a little. Of course, the question to the person of this scale occur by themselves, but we have very rarely the opportunity to be at the table with the person who, for example, can buy an airplane in few minutes dialing only a single number on his phone. But the excitement vanished at the same moment, when Mr. Mitsis, a man of advanced years with surprisingly good and a warm smile, came into his office at the “Mitsis Rinella Beach” hotel. That smile, his simple clothes and attentive eyes answered themselves many questions about his phenomenal success in hotel business.
Journalist (A. V.): Mr Mitsis! While preparing for the interview, I studied the materials published in the Internet, talked with people who are your business partners, read your previous interviews. Many people say that your childhood was poor. Now you're a billionaire. In Russia people are very fond of such stories - the biography of a transformation, something like fairy tales about Cinderella. Please tell us about your childhood.
Konstantinos Mitsis (K.M.): I was born in the village, which was located in the mountains near the Albanian border, just 5 kilometers away. Shortly after my birth, the World War II began. And my first memories in life are the bombs that exploded in my village. I remember these explosions - the first, second, third ... I remember how German soldiers broke into the village and adults in a hurry and panic seized the children and fled to the mountains to save them and themselves.
After the World War II, a civil war started in Greece that lasted three years. Albania belonged to the communist camp, and Greece was in the camp of the opponents of this ideology. For this reason most of the fightings took place near the Albanian border, where my village was. By the way, I also remember my village very well: it is beautiful, a fantastic place in the mountains, surrounded by dense forest. The last 8-10 years, I often visited these places, because there is one of the company's hotels (this place is Ioannina, the hotel MITSIS GRAND SERAI). The civil war ended when I was 9 years old, and after it my family decided to move to Athens. Yes, in general, of course, childhood years were very difficult - in those days, children were not eating good. In Athens, in order to earn a living, I had to perform different jobs. Most of all I was trying to sell something. In those days I felt very clearly the desire to be successful. I sold everything: books, some small items. And the most successful in my case was the sale of watermelons and muskmelons. I had a truck, which I filled by watermelons. Watermelon’s price was one cent. I had to sell 200 kg per day to at least earn something. It was hard - every day I had to carry a heavy truck full of merchandise. But one day I had to leave this great business. One of a truck’s wheel stuck in a tram rail, watermelons fell and broke. My money disappeared with the goods and I had to go out of business.
A.V.: Well, all you have told - a simple kind of business and it could not bring a good income. What was the impulse, where did you take start-up capital for a serious business?
K.M.: You know, I probably was helped by an accident. In Athens, in the days when I was a teenager, I worked in cafes and restaurants as a waiter and worked in shops. I had to work in the morning time, and I was the one who brought money to the family. But at the same time I had to go to school. I woke up at 5 in the morning, went to work in the cafe, then went to school and came back at 10 pm. But I was only 10 years old, It was extremely difficult for me, and my young body is overworked and I seriously ill. I had problems with my knees, I almost could not walk and had to go to hospital. When I recovered, the doctor forbided me to work in the same rhythm. The disease was very serious, I could easily lose my legs.
And I had to think - what to do in future, how earn money. I started to sell books - it was my first serious business. And besides that, I had the opportunity to read very many books. I read almost all the Russian classics. Greece in those days was a very poor country. People did not have basic necessities, including clothing. And I started selling clothes - trousers, shirts and all sorts of other things. I had 2 suitcases, I went from house to house, knocking on the door and offered my commodity. I did it up to 17 years.
Gradually I acquired outstanding experience in this business, I knew what to offer people, what they need. And up to that time I had a little sum of money. I would like to expand the business and make it bigger, more effective. And then I bought my first sewing machine, and my mother made a pullover. To sew, of course, always helped my mother, she was a producer and I was the brains, business coordinator. I thought, where to buy something, how organize everything and how to sell. I was 17 years old when I started this business, and the factory I organized still exists. Now clothes in Greece are sold in many stores under the “MITSIS” brand. And in my office in Athens there is my first machine with which it all started.
A.V.: And what happened then? It's not the end of the success stories?
K.M.: I was at that age, when I had to go in army. The moment was, of course, not very good, because I made good business and began to earn good money. But I had to stop it and to serve in army for 2 years. The army period was a time of reflection, thinking of what to do, where to go, thoughts about the future. After I returned from the army, I was plunged again into the business, and also I studied very hard. And the business, began to grow rapidly. So when I was 23, I had a factory where 150 people worked. It was a very big success. At that time I was 23, now I'm 74 years old, and I also work 16 hours a day.
A.V.: You own several business structures - except hotel chain you have a textile factory, wine production, publishing. What business is the most favorite for you? After all, each has its own story of creation, certainly very interesting.
K.M.: My favorite business is probably the hotel one. First of all, it brings more money (laughs) and secondly, we have to communicate with many people. Understand my point, such kind of business - a challenge, a kind of challenge. After all, our tourists come to us for 7, 10, 15 days, they come on vacation and we must do everything possible for them. The present day people work almost 11 months in a year, and then they have only 7 or 15 days of vacation. I believe that we have a great responsibility. And hotel service - this is what we can do very well. We see not just a client in our guest. We see the people, who wants to relax. And according this philosophy -our employees are followed it in all.
A.V.: How did the era of MITSIS hotels’ empire begin? We often talked about RAMIRA hotel, in the name of which the first two letters are the letters of your name. Tell us about this stage of your life. It is the first MITSIS hotel in the chain, as far as I know.
K.M.: Oh, this story is really very memorable and very important to me. It was in 1972. In Greece the "Black Colonels" time ended and started Democracy. We were 3 friends, and we decided together to start a hotel business. We took a loan for construction of the hotel at 3.5%, which in days of changing power has changed up to monstrous 15%. Naturally, our spending increased, the hotel was not finished. And my partners had no money to finish the construction. And I bought the share of the partners, because I had income from the factory. So, the hotel’s name consists of 3 first syllables of our names - 3 people that started construction. Syllable «MI» - these are the letters of my name. I left the original name of the hotel intentionally.
A.V.: Is this hotel your favorite one?
K.M.: No, I love all the hotels, I even wake up in the morning and think: "What a hotel I really love more?". After all, if you have 10 kids you do not love the first more than the others. So it concerns the hotels. But if you ask me, where would you like to spend your 3-4 days holidays, I answer that it is Roda Beach Hotel in Corfu.
A.V.: The Director of the hotel MITSIS RAMIRA is your son Stavros Mitsis, what does this mean? About the great responsibility to the very first hotel?
K.M.: No, there is another reason. This hotel has a very experienced staff. And my desire was to help these wonderful people to teach Stavros, and Stavros - may bring to life his ideas, the ideas of the younger generation. After all, he took the position of a director when he was 24 years old. Of course, I try to help him, but from a distance, trying not to interfere, to provide freedom of action. And, thank God, he is doing well.
A.V: You told us that it was very difficult to launch the hotel business. What has changed since that time? Is it really possible that a strong competitor of MITSIS network may appear on the market now days?
K.M.: Of course, someone may be better than I am. In business everything is possible – somewhere may appear the person, who will create something truly unique. Every businessman is trying to do something better than the competitor. Several years ago one businessman came from Corfu island. He created 12 hotels, but in 3 years he disappeared. Another case: the last 3-4 years one hotelier was also trying to create something ambitious. He rented some hotels, but then began to make steps backward, every year he was forced to close one of his hotels. And some very famous chain of Greek hotels well known in the world few years ago - are gradually falling now. I certainly hope that my hotel business will be successful for many years.
A.V.: Tell us about your weekly schedule of work. You have a lot of hotels. How do you control their function?
K.M.: During a week I visit all the islands where my MITSIS hotels are located. Every day or two I'm moving to another island. I bought an airplane which helps me to travel without loss of time between Kos, Rhodes, Crete, Corfu and the mainland. Start point of my rout is Athens. On Wednesday I finish my work at the office and then I headed to Kos for 1 day, then spend 2 days in Rhodes, then 1 day in Crete. Sometimes I may stay there for 3-4 days, then return to Athens. In office I do all the cases and then travel to Corfu and Ioannina. Another week the cycle repeats. Thus, ideally, I visit each hotel once a week. Only by this way I may be sure – the things are going perfectly in a particular hotel.
A.V.: In an interview you said that one of the principal treasure of the MITSIS company - is the staff. I was said that you know 80% of employees by name. Is it true? Tell us about some of your employees in detail.
K.M.: That's the sphere I may talk about for a long time - interesting people working with me. For example, there is one person, he works in RAMIRA hotel on the Kos island. He is a waiter, bar staff and sometimes help the hotel with technical equipment. He has been working for almost 40 years. I've known him when the hotel was just starting his life, just from construction. There are those person who work for 20 years. Some employees already retired. If a person is good - we will do everything that he did not leave the company. We increase his salary or give him the best working hours. If we believe that a person is not doing his job very well - we better let him go. That's why people work with us for many years. I very rarely take a decision to fire somebody.
A.V.: Let's talk about politics. You like to say that all political problems in Greece have happened due to the fact that there is no leader who is able to turn around the existing system, to take resolute decision. And this is the main cause of all the troubles in Greece. Tell me, could you become such leading person, because you have all the leadership qualities?
K.M.: A democratic country has a lot of limitations. You can not change anything if the country is 100% democratic. In my opinion, there are now only two decent leaders in the world - Putin and Erdogan. Yes, Russia and Turkey are not the countries of pure democracy. But these two persons have the opportunity to do something by hard, resolute way. They have the will to make a decision. Putin could change something in the economy without asking the opinion of another. After all, look - before him a lot of changes happened in Russia. At that time, the Americans had the opportunity to come into the economy of the country and to seize a lot. And it was Putin who prevented such events. That is he who is holding Russia now, does not allow the country to fall into the chaos.
A.V.: What is most important for you in life?
K.M.: My wife and my children - the most important thing in life. Everything else - is secondary. And finishing our dialogue, I would like to say that I really like the Russian people and I try to make their trips to Greece more frequent. And I believe that MITSIS hotels have became the starting point of mass tourism from Russia to Greece.
Especially I want to emphasize the impotence of cooperation between the two companies. Until that moment when I arrived in Russia for the first time, there was some kind of club, which hosted tourists from Russia. Several large, well-known hotels’ companies. When I began acting on the tourist market actively, the level of income of these companies fell by 30%. And they were forced to reduce prices. The large tour operators came in Greece. And I see that every year the number of tourists is increasing by 100 - 150%. And I believe that in 2-3 years Greece will receive 1.5 million tourists from Russia.