To mark its 10th anniversary, Endeavor Greece hosted a special Innovation night at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus on July 17th, celebrating ten years of supporting high-impact entrepreneurship in Greece.
The night began with a conversation between the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and Netflix’s co-CEO and Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos, moderated by Endeavor’s co-founder and CEO, Linda Rottenberg, about entrepreneurship and innovation, the future of storytelling and democracy. Following their insightful conversation and in cooperation with Faliro House Productions, we enjoyed a unique recital of “The Funeral Oration of Pericles,” where an abridged version of the original text was read by the Academy Award-winning actor, Adrien Brody.
Watch the fireside chat or read a lightly edited transcript, produced originally by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ website.
Linda Rottenberg: This is your first time speaking in this historic venue and I thought maybe you could say a few words as to what this space means. We have many visitors and I’d love you to speak where we’re sitting today before we start our conversation.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, I guess I wouldn’t be performing here ever but I never imagined that I would be sitting on this stage. And first of all, I would like to congratulate Endeavor Greece on its splendid achievements over the past decade. I think what you’ve done here in Greece has been remarkable. We’ll have an opportunity to talk more about it during the discussion. But I could not imagine a better place under the Acropolis to have this event to celebrate not just the achievements of Endeavor but also the achievements of all the high impact entrepreneurs you have supported and who are really contributing towards turning this country around.
So this is obviously a very special place in the shadow of the Acropolis, a theater that was built essentially 2000 years ago. It was actually covered at the time it was built. Not many people know that. Ιt had a wooden roof but it is one of the most special places where one can perform. And one should not forget, – as we have also Ted in our company – that the performing arts were essentially born right around the corner in the ancient theater under the Acropolis when ancient Greeks for the first time experimented with theater as a form of entertainment but also as a form of self reflection for a society that ended up being the first democratic society ever in history. So I could not imagine a better place to be. And I’m sure that our guests, especially those who visit us from abroad, will enjoy this evening.
Linda Rottenberg: Ted, we had the pleasure of meeting last night and I’ve been fascinated by your personal story which in many ways epitomizes the American dream. You grew up in Phoenix to a lower middle class Greek – American household. Your dad was an electrician. You got your first job as a video store clerk and wound up as one of the most prominent people in the planet in global entertainment. And it dawned on me that the business part of your life is fairly well known. But I’d love to know more about that Greek part of your life. How did your family end up in America? What impact has your heritage had on you? And specifically, did you learn anything from your background that helps you today as a leader?
Ted Sarandos: First of all, my breath is taken away from where we’re sitting right now. Right this second. I don’t think it’s a coincidence or incidental or piece of trivia that I do what I do, that I’m here tonight and that my grandfather was born in Samos, Greece. Samos, Greece. Samos is Greece. We’re Greek from Samos. And I say that because what the Prime Μinister just said just over on the other side of this, the whole idea, big ideas were born, critical thinking about drama and those discussions 2,500 years ago when thinking about what a great society might be, took drama and storytelling into incredible consideration. When Aristotle writes about it in Poetics, he tries to make some sense of what the rules of storytelling might be, which tells you how important it was already that long ago. And those very arguments, those very debates I have every day, about what is storytelling, what is art, what is cinema. All those debates that continue to this very day, is it going to be defined by distribution? Is it going to be defined by the written form versus how it’s performed? Αnd I have those discussions and I have those debates with the curiosity and the passion of a Greek.
And that’s why that heritage is important to me and why it sits in my blood and in my bones when I do what I do every day, which is always about storytelling and advancing the art of storytelling. And so that is, I think, the impact of my Greek heritage. I would learn a word last night. I don’t speak Greek. I apologize. «Σόγια» which I just love the sound of, but which is in my heritage. It’s something I knew as soon as I get off the plane here that I’m home.
And the journey of my grandfather to America was a classic and that he was a very young man. Son of a farmer. Who I’m sure 120 years ago would not have contemplated that someday his grandson would be sitting next to the Prime Minister. But left home at a very young age with his head full of stories of cowboy books that he would read and went to America because he thought he might be a trail cook. He thought that it was a real job in America when he went to America. And he changed name from Alex Karyotakis to Sarandos when he came to America.
Linda Rottenberg: Mr. Prime Minister. We go way back. We met in Harvard College as fellow social studies majors. And I remember back to our 18 year old conversations when even with your family’s history in politics, you were determined to go into the private sector. And you not only joined the private sector, you led the creation of Greece’s first venture capital fund. So my question to you is how and why did you start that pioneering the VC funds? The entrepreneurs in our audience will love to know. And what role does your private sector experience have on your role as a public leader?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, yes, we do go way back with Linda. And I was actually probably there when the idea behind Endeavor was born in 1997 when we discussed this concept of you going to Latin America to launch what has become a tremendously successful organization. And frankly, I also have to be very honest with the audience. Back in 2007 2008 when I was helping out as a member of your ISP panels, I told you you should bring Endeavor to Greece, and you said “no way”. And then three years later, my wife comes and succeeds where I fail. So thank you Mareva for getting this done.
Linda Rottenberg: That’s totally true.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: But indeed, when I graduated from business school, I was not thinking about politics. Although I came from a political family, I was disillusioned at the time about the political situation in Greece. And I decided to build my career in the private sector, spent a few years in consulting, and then returned to Greece to work for a venture capital company and then joined the National Bank of Greece. And one of our projects was to set up the first tech fund in Greece in 2000 and the first Greek incubator a year later. It was probably an idea ahead of its time. At the time, the tech ecosystem simply did not exist in Greece. And although the fund was relatively successful, I’m really very happy about what has happened in the tech ecosystem ten or 15 years later. What I learned from my time in the private sector, especially in venture capital, is two things I’d say. First is to be – these are valuable lessons in my daily job – is to be data-driven and to make sure that you ask the right questions and focus on real analysis to look really deep into the complexities of problems.
And the second aspect, which I always find fascinating about venture capital, was the variety and the sort of intellectual curiosity that you need to examine companies that come from very different sectors. And I think this experience of how the Greek economy was really functioning is quite useful when you have to deal with macro problems at my level. So as someone who was probably there way before all the funds that are currently active in Greece established their presence, I’m so happy about the fact that now we have an active venture capital scene in Greece.
" Many funds, great teams are really supporting Greek companies, and it’s extremely satisfying for me to really observe how the venture capital ecosystem has matured."
Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis
Linda Rottenberg: So that’s the perfect segue to the next thing I want to discuss, which is innovation and building this culture of disruption. So beyond our own model, which we’ve discussed, Endeavor has researched what it takes to build ecosystems of innovation. And we’ve noticed a few key ingredients from quality education and mentorship, a culture of angel investing, which you mentioned, and celebration of success. But, Mr. Prime Minister, you’ve mentioned that one of your key goals is to turn Greece into a hub of innovation. And you’ve likened this to Israel or Ireland, small places with big impact. So why is it such an important goal of yours? And tell us some of the things you’re doing to make this dream a reality.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We’re also thinking big and I think it is important for a country such as Greece, which is coming out of a very difficult decade, to be able to think big because I think we have certain natural comparative advantages which we had not leveraged in the past. First of all, we have amazing talent. We have great public universities, great graduates who I think are really striving to succeed and they would love to succeed in their own country.
We have a passionate diaspora that would like to contribute to the success of the country. We have 500,000 Greeks, talented Greeks, who left the country during the very difficult decade, who would love to come back to Greece. We have a market that is big enough to test ideas. We sit at the crossroads of three continents. So we can be an excellent regional hub for companies that want to expand their activity. So we just looked at what other countries have done and we try to replicate their success in terms of providing the right tax incentives for investments in R&D. Making sure we make it easier for people to return to Greece. Setting up a dedicated platform called “Elevate Greece” that for the first time really makes sure that we have a central database of all the companies that are active in the entrepreneurial space and of course also reforming our higher education.
We will pass tomorrow a landmark legislation that is really freeing up our universities to partner with the private sector.
Linda Rottenberg: Tomorrow.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It’s actually tomorrow, yeah. It’ll be voted into law tomorrow and we’re very proud about it. Allowing universities to set up their own incubators, making sure that they can set up joint degrees, setting up what we call an internal Erasmus program, which is a replica of the European program. So you can take a semester and study at another university in a discipline that is completely different from what you are majoring in. All these are big revolutions for our universities.
But if I look at the interest in terms of partnering with American universities and what Greek universities have to offer, I think we are on a very, very good path to really change the way our higher education system is working. And last but not least, what we realized during Covid was that people are happy to work from anywhere. So if you can work from anywhere, wouldn’t you love to work from Greece?
And as long as you have good connectivity. Greece is a lovely country, it’s a safe country. And what we actually see is that we have many sort of digital nomads who are taking advantage of the incentives we’ve put in place who are actually working from Greece. And I think in their own way they’re contributing to this booming ecosystem.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: So again, we want to be disruptors. When you think about entrepreneurship, it’s not a linear process. You can actually see big jumps and sort of exponential growth. And the last point I want to make is that we also want to introduce this culture of innovation into the public sector, which is a huge challenge. But if you look at what we have achieved in terms of digitizing the state, it is generally appreciated as something which is close to a revolution. The ability to essentially interact with the state from your mobile phone through our gov.gr application or your PC, these things were unheard of in Greece. So the state is also innovating, and of course, the state is also engaged in big procurement. And we want to make sure that whatever we do in terms of technology is state of the art. And we want to use also the cutting edge Greek startups to support us in transforming the way the Greek state is operating.
Linda Rottenberg: I think there’s a lot of people from these other countries who wish their leaders and their countries had as good an answer to that question as you did. Certainly I do. Turning to you, Ted, you live in Hollywood, one of the most creative places on Earth, and you lead one of the most innovative companies in a rapidly changing space. So I’d love to hear from you, some do’s and don’ts, for how to build this disruptive, innovative culture within a company.
" I think innovation thrives in freedom, and innovation thrives when you have a lot of empowered people and the willingness to try new things."
Ted Sarandos, Co-CEO & Chief Content Officer, Netflix
The things you said about celebrating victories are very important, and I think exploring failures are incredibly important and have a culture that can talk about both with equal vigor so that you can learn from each other and learn from things.
People generally want to join Netflix, because we historically -Reed Hastings, the founder of the company- wrote a culture document that basically laid out what this company might look like someday. And we started, he and I, talking about that document in 1999, the concepts that are in that document. And they were pretty lofty goals for a company with 100 people back then. And when you talk with the ideas in there around basically finding the best people in the world, give them the resources to do the best work of their life and then get out of their way and not give them a lot of structure and not give them a lot of rules, and then you will attract those kind of people, and they will innovate.
If you have a big pre–culture with a lot of rules and rigor, you generally attract people who are more comfortable in that way. And their goals are not really to break rules and to innovate and break through. It’s mostly a comfort level that people generally don’t have when they work at Netflix. But the idea is they can say, look, I’m the best at what I do and I want to work there so I could show you.
And I think that you have to foster that environment always and sometimes you could do it internally, which is really important. But it’s also about just like when you pick the people you want to work with inside the company, you pick the people and the places you want to work outside of the company that fit really nicely
To the great credit of the Prime Minister, the incentive to bring production to Greece. It’s in its infancy, but it’s remarkable, it’s been incredibly effective to bringing film production and television production to Greece. And I think both telling Greek stories to the world, but also coming here to make films for the world. And I think that’s just the beginning of what you’re up to and being able to look at, forwardly looking as far as this has been, because it’s going to be a few years as this comes together, but it’s going to get better and bigger every year.
The same way. When we had these big idea discussions in 1999, it wasn’t clear you needed for it 100 people, but we sure needed today with 10,000 people.
Linda Rottenberg: Great. So I want to turn to the moment we’re in today, and everyone in this room, no matter where they work, is dealing with headwinds and challenges, from COVID to the capital markets, to war, to inflation, to the talent issues. And especially if you’re leading a business or an organization, you’re in uncharted waters and making difficult decisions every day. So I’ve been leading these conversations we call «leading through crisis», these hosting, these webinars since Covid. And one thing keeps coming up over and over, which is how do you maintain that culture of innovation you were just discussing that forward looking, positive, internal way of doing things. When you have to deliver bad news, when you have to pivot your strategy, when you have some destabilizing events, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And there are a lot of entrepreneurs out here who would love to learn from your example.
Ted Sarandos: Sure. Look, I think being there and showing up when the news is good and being there is easy. And then being there and showing up when the news is bad is important. And it’s really important to talk people through the implications of it so they’re not feeling around in the dark when things feel a little unstable.
And our business changes. You’ve said our industry is in flux. I have seen our business go from hills and valleys that you would not believe in 20 years as a public company. When I look at that, though, and I look back at, I think young people think of the world in success like always, straight up into the right. And as you know, as you get further into the cycle and look backwards, it was really a bunch of failures and successes and hills and valleys and peaks and valleys. And you have to remind people all the time that remember when things were not so great. And you have to do that sometimes when things are really great. And often sometimes we forget to look back and remember the tougher times when things are good and get too comfortable in that.
But I think that to survive and to thrive and to grow, you have to be as strong as a team in failure as you are in success. So when things are down, there can’t be finger pointing, there can’t be a bunch of different ideas of why. Υou have to have a common narrative about what you’re going to do, to change it and turn that around. And having come through several cycles of that in the entertainment business.
Remember, since we started this, we’ve seen formats come and go in DVD, VHS, pay television, the rise and the decline of pay television, satellite TV. All these things are really kind of in the course of the lifetime of Netflix have run through these cycles. So, of course it’s not going to be steady. And I think you have to constantly, I think, root people in history and the history of your own company sometimes, so that people know not to expect steadiness. They’re going to be very disappointed if it’s going to be expecting steadiness.
I got crisis. You said earlier from your podcast, but that’s a Greek word, right? And I was taught that this is crisis and then the verb for that is I’m going to say it wrong, but is «Κρίνω» which is not panic, it’s decide. So it’s all about the crisis. The word not only tells you what it is, it tells you what to do. Decide. Make a decision.
" And I was taught that this is crisis and then the verb for that is I’m going to say it wrong, but is «Κρίνω» which is not panic, it’s decide. So it’s all about the crisis. The word not only tells you what it is, it tells you what to do. Decide. Make a decision."
Ted Sarandos: Did I get that right?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It means either decide or judge.
Ted Sarandos: Yeah, from the land of big thinking.
Linda Rottenberg: So, a similar question to you. We talked about one of your platforms, your big agenda. How do you focus on this grand agenda you have when you’re forced to reckon with so many events outside of your control? And what lessons can you give to others who are not in your position but could learn?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It’s certainly a challenge. What you learn in my position is that you have to be able to deal with the unpredictable and manage crises – which is a short-term challenge – while at the same time maintaining the focus on the long-term transformation that you have set out to implement. And that is not easy.
A lot of it is about compartmentalizing and about proper time management and about making sure that you also have people within your team who can think beyond dealing with the next crisis. And, of course, when you also deal with a crisis, look at how you can turn what can be a very painful and difficult situation into an opportunity. For example, when Covid struck in Greece, we had to take incredibly painful decisions, as most governments. We were one of the first governments to decide to shut down the country very early. And that essentially saved us from the first very difficult Covid wave. But when we designed our vaccine program, we said, look, this is an opportunity to go fully digital. So when my daughter came back from the US and she showed me her vaccine certificate, which was a little handwritten card, I said, what is this? This doesn’t exist. Everything is digital.
So we use the crisis to drive through and accelerate the digital transformation. So when we are now, we now have the capability, when we look at how you support people during these very painful times, we actually have the capability of delivering targeted support that is means – tested, and we do it digitally. Had we not had these digital tools, we would not have been in a position to implement these focused initiatives regarding our public policies. So I think we need to be able to do both. Think long term and make sure that you stay focused on what your big transformation plan is for the country.
But, of course, moving from crisis to crisis, you become also more experienced in dealing with these crises in terms of how you communicate. You have to be brutally honest. You have to be open and willing to recognize your mistakes. You have to tell people that sometimes you have to reach decisions with imperfect information. And it is difficult because everywhere in the world, governments have to fight the ghosts of populism. There’s always someone who’s going to suggest that there are easy solutions to complicated problems, as if they have a printing machine that can spend money like there is no tomorrow.
But because Greece has actually gone through lots of phases, we’ve experimented with populism. It didn’t turn out very well. I have a lot of faith in people and in the sort of honesty of the interaction. And I do believe that when you tell people the truth and you explain to them what it is you try to do, what the difficulties really are, what are the challenges ahead. However, you need to maintain a degree of optimism that we can actually overcome these crises. You can actually muster a lot of public support.
And we’re also sort of in the business of storytelling in the sense that we need to be inspired from history and from our sort of historical lessons. We celebrated our 200 years of independence, of the beginning of the War of Independence last year. And if you look at the patterns of Greek history, it has been a sequence of a country that has done extraordinary things and has faced grave crises and even catastrophes. And every time we ended up better. So the trajectory overall has been positive. So that’s how I like to look at things, so that we don’t all get too depressed when we have to deal with a crisis after another crisis.
But this is the reality today. When you want to enter public service, you have to be ready for that.
Linda Rottenberg: And who can be depressed in locations like these? Right? I want to turn to how the world today is almost reshaping the dynamics between the public and the private sector. So if I were to have pulled entrepreneurs and CEOs up until recently and asked them the number 1 role of government, I think for many the answer would have been stay out of the way, do no harm.
But with all of the large-scale issues we’ve been discussing, that’s no longer possible for the private sector to wall itself off from the public sector. So I’d love you to give us kind of the behind the scenes inside look. What are the conversations you’ve been having recently with government officials, with business leaders? And how have these recent conversations changed perhaps from the ones you were having five years ago?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: They have changed a lot. And maybe five years ago we would be more sort of involved in discussions regarding the size of the state and the ability to sort of free the private sector and let it do its own thing. I think the one thing we learned during the pandemic is that when you are facing the crisis, the state needs to step in and really needs to be able to intervene in a manner that was inconceivable three or four years ago.
So we spent more than 40 billion supporting the Greek economy during Covid, and our main focus was to save jobs. And we worked with the private sector to find the appropriate schemes and to offer the private sector the flexibility to be able to retain workers.
So let me give you an example. You all know about the mess with airports in many European countries. We don’t have the same problem here. One of the reasons why we don’t have the same problem here is because we put in place temporary work schemes where we essentially allowed companies to employ their employees for 50 or even 30% of their time. But we covered the difference.
So the companies did not fire their employees. The employees stayed on the payroll. So when the demand picked up, the people were there. You didn’t have to go back to rehire them from the beginning.
So this is an example of what was a very successful public policy initiative, which we discussed with the private sector. But given the challenges that we’re facing, you need a state that is effective and interventionist whenever that needs to happen.
And frankly, there are also cases where markets are clearly failing. For example, if you look at the gas market today in Europe, it’s a failing market. It does not reflect the forces of supply and demand. And you need to be able to step in at the national level or at the European level.
In Europe, we did something two years ago which would have been, again, inconceivable 3 years ago. We borrowed as a supranational entity, €750 billion and we gave it to the member states. We distributed it to the member states through grants but also loans to support the economic recovery. So in Greece now, we have almost €30 billion of additional funds that we can channel towards reforms and investments in the post-COVID era.
So this public money is not crowding out private investment. If anything, it is leveraging more private investment to invest in the growth potential of the country.
So long gone are the days when we thought that we just had to have the government get out of the way. It doesn’t work that way. You need an effective government and you actually have the ability to drive through public policy initiatives that can actually make a big difference. So the private sector, no, it’s not going to solve all the problems, that’s for sure.
But you also need to strongly cooperate with the nonprofit sector. We’ve done that in Greece on numerous occasions. And a lot of the changes that we drive through have to be reflected also in people taking their own initiatives and making sure that we have ample support for those grassroots initiatives that are bottom up. We’re top down, but we need to make sure that we also foster bottom up change from society at the local or the regional level.
Linda Rottenberg: Great. So, Ted, a related question to you. I think, again, up until recently, if I were to ask most of our entrepreneurs or other CEOs what’s your role and stance on public issues? They would say, I have none. I’m a visionary or a product person or a creative person. My job is to stay out of the way. And again, especially with things being so charged, employees and stakeholders are demanding that their leaders speak out and act on some of our social and political issues of the day. And I get a call now daily from our entrepreneurs saying, what do I do? Am I supposed to speak up? How do I respond? I’d love to hear your experience navigating these recent sort of changes and any advice you have for entrepreneurs facing similar issues.
Ted Sarandos: Well, it’s probably the most complex issue facing CEOs today around these issues because all of these issues are incredibly polarizing. Not just polarizing in the world, but even polarizing in the workplace. So when I think when a CEO or founder decides they want to speak in the royal we, they got to be making sure they really represent the whole we, and they might not be. So that’s why I think it is probably the better role, which is to focus on the work that we’re doing, the product that we’re doing, the vision that we’re trying to execute, our storytelling is very effective in moving some of these issues and how they work through society. Our tweets probably are not.
I think a statement – without a real action – it might feel good for a second, but it really doesn’t change the outcome. And we’re really not capable of too many actions in local law, let alone international law in other countries. So in general, I really try to stay focused on the things that face our industry and our business, empower our people, and hope that they use the fruits of their work at Netflix to go out and make the world a better place in the way that they see it to be.
Linda Rottenberg: And if, though, your employees say it’s not enough, how do you respond? If they’re saying, hey, wait a minute. In our country, the Supreme Court decision came down, or some statement needs to be had or it doesn’t represent me as an employee, how are you handling that? It’s challenging.
Ted Sarandos: Yeah. Again, I think being upfront with employees so they understand what the expectation is upfront, what you plan to do, what you would do, what you will do. That way that they are not disappointed. We recently went through one of these very publicly around free expression and stand up comedy, and it wasn’t 100% unanimous for sure, but what we had did was we crafted a position and we sent it around to all of our employees and we said, feel free to comment on this document, and we’ll craft this together. And we spent a couple of months with all of 10,000 employees inputting into this document until it represented our position that we could go forward with so that we knew we wouldn’t have to deal with this every single time there was a comedian that you didn’t agree with their position.
What we were here for, we are here to entertain the world. That is our job. If we do it really well, then we’ll be able to help make the world a better place. But if you’re just going to take a polarizing position and just throw out a position on it without any action, you’re just throwing fuel on the fire, really not helping in the position.
Linda Rottenberg: Wonderful. So let’s turn to the Greek diaspora. As you heard earlier, our Endeavor Greece team has come up with this fascinating report on the state of the local tech ecosystem here in Greece. And they’ve included a study of startups founded by Greeks outside. And in fact, you correctly mentioned that it was Mareva who first got me to agree to launch Endeavor in Europe, starting in Greece.
It was also Constanza who convinced me that, yes, we should allow Greek diaspora to apply as candidates to Endeavor’s international selection panels and become Endeavor entrepreneurs.
This is now our policy worldwide. Proof that if you need anything done, it has to start with a request by a Greek woman. One takeaway. So I want to give you the opportunity. We have many Greek diaspora here in this audience. We have Ted right here. You mentioned a lot of things you are doing, which is wonderful, but what would you hope from them? How can this community contribute even more to build on this incredible momentum we’re seeing in terms of this innovation ecosystem we’ve been talking about here in Greece?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It’s very simple. You have to believe in the potential of the country and be willing to contribute to its success. And it’s happening. For the first time, we really see the Greek Diaspora actively engaged in Greek affairs, investing more in Greece, and being willing to spend more time, in your case, also mentoring new entrepreneurs.
And we have phenomenally successful Greeks abroad in Silicon Valley, in Hollywood. We have a few of them with us today. But we have to make it worth your time because in the past we’ve had these discussions before and then they didn’t lead to anything of substance. So we have to respect that these people are busy people, they would like to contribute to the success of the country, but the preconditions have to be there.
So we want to make sure that we lay the groundwork in order for this interaction to actually happen. And the fact that the country has broken out of this sort of vicious cycle of recessions and constant crises and is really aiming high is also equipping those who want to contribute to Greece with much more optimism. So when you come in and visit Greece and compare it to where the country was three or five years ago, you really get the sense that the country is moving in the right direction and this is generating more sort of positive momentum and more willingness to interact and to contribute.
And frankly, for us, it’s also an opportunity to leverage the expertise that exists outside Greece. Ι mean, when we, for example, want to see how we can support audiovisual production of the creative arts, we talk to people like Ted and ask him what more can we do?
During Covid, for example. The CEO of Pfizer is a proud Greek from Thessaloniki, and he actually not only helped us with helping us understand what is a very complicated situation, but he also took the decision to set up an AI (Αrtificial Intelligence) Center in Thessaloniki and he started with hiring 300 people. He’s at 700 people now, and he wants to go to 1,100 people in the next couple of years. And why is he doing it? Not just because he’s Greek. I don’t think the Pfizer board would accept that! He’s doing it because he convinced the board that there is enough talent in Greece to make it worthwhile for companies such as Pfizer to actually invest in Greece. So I think the potential is there. The networks are being built and again, this will not be sort of a top-down controlled exercise. It doesn’t happen that way. Networks are not built that way.
But I’m happy to see many people I know from the Diaspora actively engaged in Greek affairs. We want their contribution also when it comes to participating in public entity boards. We value their contribution, we value their time, and we want them to be part of the success of the country.
And I’m sure that they also, looking at Greece from abroad, maybe they have a clearer view of what’s really happening in Greece. The politics are less polarized when you look at Greece from abroad. And this is what the Diaspora can really contribute to Greece. So come back not just for your holidays. Make sure you invest more in Greece and be part of the Greek success. It’s an easier pitch today than it was three years ago.
Linda Rottenberg: You are here now. You’ve also shot movies in Greece, including Beckett, which was the first fully Netflix produced movie filmed movie in Greece. But when we were talking, Ted, you mentioned that it would take a large investment scale investment to do what the Prime Minister was talking about to make Greece this audiovisual entertainment production hub. So tell us what more needs to be done to make this happen and maybe we can make some more news today.
Ted Sarandos: Well, I should say if you speak of the diaspora and as a resource for Greece, you couldn’t look any further than one of the great Greek Americans, one of the great Greek Californians, and one of the most accomplished Greeks in the entertainment business ever, Jim Gianopoulos. So I see him sitting with us. So tell me about the power of having an unofficial ambassador in California and in the entertainment business and his lovely wife Anne. Hello, Anne.
So I would say, look, we’ve filmed about ten over the last couple of years, ten different projects in Greece. Beckett was the first of our original films we fully produced in Greece. We also filmed a big piece of Knives Out 2, which is our biggest film coming up this year here in Spetses. And it was an unbelievable experience for everybody. It was also during COVID and what the Prime Minister said is 100% true around trying to figure out ways to work at that time that we’re safe and effective and in partnership with government to make sure you can get production done. It was really remarkable.
Not just those films for us. But we also distributed around the world. the Oscar-nominated film Lost Daughter that was all filmed in Spetses and all, including the New York flashback scenes, were all filmed in Greece. And I can tell you the first experience that this is a very easy place to work than many places, thanks to all the things you just said. It’s lacking a little bit of infrastructure in terms of getting to the scale that we would like to get to. But that takes time and it takes attracting the production to come in and bring it with you and then it stays behind.
So every time you attract a new film to Greece, the whole system, the whole ecosystem gets bigger and bigger and bigger. So these sound stages, some entrepreneur would probably want to invest in sound stages as we’re attracting more production degrees. Training crews. There’s a lot of technical jobs, I think, on “Knives Out 2”, I think we had close to 400 people on that crew. So those are a lot of folks who need the experience of working on a film set to do some work like carpentry and electrician and grips, but also the cinematography work and all these things.
And that will also lead to great tech jobs like in post-production, animation and all those things that the whole ecosystem builds on every project. So you take it one step at a time. And the Greek government has done a wonderful job of making it this an attractive place to be in a very competitive world. So that’s probably good. Brings more good, good brings more good.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, we have this discussion. I’ll be really happy when we’re going to have the first Greek-speaking show doing really well on Netflix. Maybe it has already been filmed.
And I think it is important for a company like Netflix to really be aware of the fact that there is a lot of creativity when it comes to Greek productions, especially our TV shows – I think they are excellent.
And what Netflix has demonstrated is that there are global stories, regardless of the language in which these shows are produced. This is the beauty of this platform.
So why not have a Greek blockbuster on Netflix? Also make sure – I think I took very much note of what you said – that there are many new jobs that can be created around film production. And as we think, also, a lot about technical education and not just about sending everyone in Greece to a university. These skills, which can be acquired relatively quickly, could lead to very good jobs that pay actually quite well and that are also fascinating and very creative. And then when I, of course, try to pitch Greece to Ted, the obvious pitch is very simple. Who would not like to shoot in Greece in terms of international actors?
We’ve had so many celebrities come to Greece this year. They’re very kind in terms of tweeting or sharing their stories on Instagram. So, again, the pitch that Greece is a great place to work from also very much applies to production. Plus it’s a country that has not been sort of aggressively filmed. So there are still lots of scenery that is completely pristine, that is completely new. So there’s much more to do on that front in Greece.
Ted Sarandos: Being able to advance Greek stories that are already out there. We just added “Waiter” to Netflix around the world and we’re about to add “Green Sea”. I can’t tell you what exactly, but we are talking to one of the television partners here in Greece about taking a very big Greek show and getting it out to the world the way we did with la Casa de Papel, Spain and all that. So that is absolutely just around the corner.
How unlikely it is that some of the biggest stories in the world on Netflix have come from Korea. From France. From Spain.
And I’m sure they’re going to come from Greece. I’m sure they’re going to come from Greece.
Linda Rottenberg: Okay, I have one final question for each of you. But before we get to that, we are going to have some fun because I have eight lightning round questions that no one has seen. Neither of the speakers know what’s coming. So our first four questions are about the modern world. Mr. Prime Minister, favorite Netflix show.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Homeland.
Linda Rottenberg: He didn’t know that it was part of the Lighting Round. But Ted and I had a bet on this, and we think it’s Emily in Paris.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: That’s my wife’s favorite show. To be very honest, this is exactly what I need when I come home after a tough day at the office. I would pick Emily in Paris. I would pick Emily in Paris over Borgen at any time.
Linda Rottenberg: Okay, Ted, same question. Got it. To pick and choose.
Ted Sarandos: That’s for me. It’s picking children. It’s very difficult.
Linda Rottenberg: Yeah. Okay. Well, you can pick your favorite non-Netflix show, then.
Ted Sarandos: Well, it’s got a little bit of history to it. The reason why House of Cards became our first Netflix original show was. When we first heard the pitch. One of my favorite shows ever was the original House of Cards from the BBC that I had watched on DVD ten times before. So that’s always a special place for me. The original was a BBC and of course, Netflix. I think we upgraded it a little bit.
Linda Rottenberg: Okay, Ted. Favorite movie set in Greece.
Ted Sarandos: It’s a really hard question because I told you. Well, I’m going to say it. It’s “Knives out 2”.
Linda Rottenberg: Okay, favorite movie set in Greece.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: What was this James Bond movie that was filmed in Meteora? For your eyes only. Meteora and Corfu.
Linda Rottenberg: Favorite Greek island cannot be Crete, where your family is from.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: That’s easy. Tinos.
Linda Rottenberg: Favorite Greek island cannot be Samos, where your family is from.
Ted Sarandos: I’m going to come to see Antiparos. From Jim’s description, it’s already my favorite island.
Linda Rottenberg: Okay, so WhatsApp just this week enabled emoji reactions? Ted, favorite emoji.
Ted Sarandos: The one I use the most is I’m texting with my wife. The heart emoji that’s the most used emoji. The favorite one I think is just the one with the big eyes like, oh my God.
Linda Rottenberg: Prime Minister, favorite emoji.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The one that’s laughing with the tears.
Linda Rottenberg: Okay, now let’s pivot to four questions about the past. Ancient Greek figure you’d most like to have dinner with?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Aristotle.
Ted Sarandos: Same. Honestly. Same.
Linda Rottenberg: Greek god or goddess you would choose to be.
Ted Sarandos: Zeus.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I’ll go with Poseidon.
Linda Rottenberg: Olympic sport, you would compete in.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Ancient or modern?
Linda Rottenberg: Take your pick.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Basketball, but I would never be any good at it.
Ted Sarandos: Swimming, but I’d also be not be very good at it.
Linda Rottenberg: And last lightning round question. This odeon was built 2000 years ago. So what motto, idea or saying of yours would you like to last 2000 years?
Ted Sarandos: I will steal from my father in law Clarence Avant, who reminds me every day. Nothing remains the same.
Linda Rottenberg: Mr. Prime Minister.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I’ll skip that question. That’s my privilege.
Linda Rottenberg: So, Prime Minister, as your friend, as a fan, and as an American, I was deeply moved by your speech to the Joint Sessions of Congress in the United States. Google it if you haven’t. It’s amazing.
And among other things, you give this beautiful history lesson of the origins of democracy, which are so palpable here tonight. And so I’d love to hear your perspective. Democracy feels so fragile today. What can each of us as citizens, as business leaders, as members of civil society do to protect our democratic ideals? And what gives you hope? We all could use a little bit of hope. So, I’d love you to end this incredible evening with a message of optimism, which I know you always do.
" Well, democracy has proven to be resilient, but it also needs to change to adjust to the realities of the 21st century. But the story of ancient Athenian democracy can be inspiring in many different ways, because this was essentially the first experiment of a community of people to govern themselves without having to delegate that responsibility to a tyrant or a ruler or an emperor."
But the challenges that Athenian democracy faced at the time were still pretty similar to the ones we face today. Populism, the need to have a filter to moderate decisions, be sure that passions don’t overrun the democratic discourse.
A lot of these lessons of Athenian democracy are particularly relevant today. So I think the first thing is to make sure that we do participate in the democratic process. And my advice to young people is don’t outsource this responsibility to somebody else, because eventually somebody is going to make decisions and you don’t want somebody else to make decisions on your behalf without you participating.
And participating in the democratic process is not just voting every four years. It is a more systematic civic engagement, making sure you participate in issues that you care about, or even if you participate in social media interactions, make sure you do so without hiding behind the anonymity of social media.
And make sure you try to avoid the toxicity of the public debate that is really poisoning our democratic discourse. And democracy is about hearing, making sure that we are ready to be convinced by someone who has the opposing view from ourselves.
Netflix is sort of a unifying platform, because we all see the same shows and essentially we learn from other stories being told. And we understand that maybe there are some core values that we share as part of humanity.
But that’s not true about other social platforms. And the fact that now we have a political debate, which is very much driven by echo chambers, where one is not able to even listen at all to the other opinion, and that we’re rewarded by sharing content that essentially is motivating not the best emotions that we have as humans, is a real problem for democracy, and it needs to be addressed.
I think Europe is probably moving faster than the United States in addressing these issues, but this is a real challenge. What started as a democratic revolution where anyone could express their views without the need for moderators and people who are controlling content, is turning into something that is much more dangerous.
But at the end of the day, if young people really believe that they can change things that they don’t like, go do it. And the way to do it is to participate in the political discourse and also to contemplate participating in the public sphere.
One of the big problems that we have is that there is so much spotlight on public leaders that many talented young people don’t want to go through the pain of this sort of exposure. And this is a big problem.
If you look at maybe one or two generations ago, the best and brightest aspired to enter public service, I’m not sure that is the case now. So we have to make the case for making public service again more attractive to young people.
And that is why we have to address this toxicity of the public debate, which is really, in my mind, the biggest threat that democracy is facing today.
But it’s a story of resilience. Athens fought in the Peloponnesian War, essentially lost the war. Democracy was overturned, an oligarchy was installed. But then democracy came back and it came back stronger in the fourth century and wiser learning from its mistakes and with an incredible ability to self correct.
So democracies have that ability to be resilient and to change for the better.