Jul 23, 2021

The Customer Experience Show™ Ep.12 / Stavros Ioannou

"The Customer Experience Show™"
Nicosia, Cyprus
Grant Thornton Head Offices Cyprus

Michael R. Virardi (00:03):

Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening, depending from where you are watching us. This is The Customer Experience Show. It’s our 12th episode, and this is a show where we pick on the brains of the best minds when it comes to customer experience, either internal customers or external customers.

Michael R. Virardi (00:20):

Today, I’m very happy to welcome to the show, the first ever Cypriot, Stavros Ioannou, the CEO of Grant Thornton, Cyprus, and our show will be divided into two parts. The first part, I’m going to be asking him a few questions so we can pick his mind. We’re going to learn a lot from Stavros. He has been a friend and a mentor to me personally and, as I said, he’s the first Cypriot ever to be invited on the show.

Michael R. Virardi (00:47):

And the second part will be your questions. So, please, once you start listening to the answers and if you have any questions coming up, please send them in. I will see them from here and then I’ll answer them during the second part. Altogether, we will be live for approximately 28 to 30 minutes.

Michael R. Virardi (01:07):

With this in mind, I welcome Stavros to The Customer Experience Show.

Stavros Ioannou (01:10):

Thank you, Michael.

Michael R. Virardi (01:10):

It’s great to have you here.

Stavros Ioannou (01:12):

Thank you very much. [crosstalk 00:01:14].

Michael R. Virardi (01:15):

So, Stavros, before I get into my questions, I have a small question I need to ask. Are you doing this because you love it or are you doing this because of the money, your current job?

Stavros Ioannou (01:29):

There’s a short answer and a long answer. The short answer: I love it. My job satisfaction is 100%, but I think what’s interesting for you, Michael, and the audience to know is that I’ve ended up doing this job out of, effectively, lack of options.

Michael R. Virardi (01:48):

You have lack of options?

Stavros Ioannou (01:51):

Yes. I had a lack of options.

Michael R. Virardi (01:53):

Oh, you’ve had.

Stavros Ioannou (01:54):

After studying I became an accountant for the wrong reasons. I had no money to do a master’s degree. I had no money to do a PhD degree so I had to do a professional qualification, something that obviously I don’t regret. At the back of my mind was to do this qualification just to get a paper and do something in an industry. But joining my first ever employers in London in the profession, what kept me was the interaction with the clients, the interaction with people from day one, something which continues today. So whether you believe it or not I still haven’t seen a day that is the same after so many years. So I absolutely love my job and it’s definitely not for the money.

Michael R. Virardi (02:41):

Excellent. Good. Great. Stavros, I recently read a book. This is a book, dear friends and [inaudible 00:02:48]. It says Employees First, Customers Second. Do you agree with this statement? Do you disagree with this statement and what’s your take here at Grant Thornton, Cypress?

Stavros Ioannou (02:58):

I absolutely agree with the statement. We are an industry ourselves, [inaudible 00:03:02] itself is a professional services firm. It’s very hard for us to differentiate and to tell you here that we can do it better all the time, a competitor or do better evaluation with so many professionals in Cypress and so many professionals in the world. What we are trying on a daily basis it is to differentiate on the way we offer our service, the delivery of service, the accessibility to our people, the way we take care of our customers, these are priorities. And this is the only way we could differentiate. And, therefore, the only way our people who deliver that service is our only asset. They are our top asset and we should be taking care of them in order for the clients to receive the best service. But, absolutely, I agree. Employees should come first.

Michael R. Virardi (03:59):

So you believe that customers cannot have a better treatment if their employees are not having an excellent treatment-

Stavros Ioannou (04:04):


Michael R. Virardi (04:05):

… in the beginning? Since you talked about treatment, my next question is what best motivates an employee? And is it a different motivation for each person?

Stavros Ioannou (04:17):

Motivations can be very different for persons, but also for generations of people within an organization. So if I was to pick something that motivates people is to give them the stage, make them feel safe and give them the stage where they can contribute with their ideas, find ways to involve them in decision making. So that is a big motivation. It’s not the money, it’s not … They have to be remunerated fairly, yes, but that’s not what’s going to differentiate, that’s not going to keep them happy. Make sure they’re involved in the business. Be transparent.

Michael R. Virardi (05:06):

And do you involve everyone in the hierarchy? Or are you talking about a certain level?

Stavros Ioannou (05:12):

Let me give you an example. A few years ago, we set up our cultural advisory board. It’s an advisory board which advises me on everything that’s happening around the firm, so 90% on culture issues. It’s a group of seven people and it includes junior members of staff.

Michael R. Virardi (05:32):

Come a bit closer there, Stavros. Thank you.

Stavros Ioannou (05:34):

Junior members of staff and senior members of staff across all departments and both offices. So these guys have access to information that I have and the partners have in terms of results of staff surveys, they have access to our policies and our competitors’ policies. So they continuously look and assist me by bringing suggestions to me and the partners on how to effectively adjust, if we need to, any policies or take decisions and make the company even more friendlier or improve the culture. So, in the example I’ve given you all of the employees and all of the levels are represented in the cultural advisory board.

Michael R. Virardi (06:18):

I like this. Cultural advisory board. Guys, cultural advisory board. Hope you’re not giving us all your secrets.

Stavros Ioannou (06:25):


Michael R. Virardi (06:25):

Oh, you’re keeping some. So this ends our interview for today, guys.

Michael R. Virardi (06:30):

Stavros, next question. It’s a tough one. Are you ready?

Stavros Ioannou (06:33):

I am.

Michael R. Virardi (06:34):

Okay. Can you name three skills that will help a manager make the transition into a leader? Three skills that will help a manager make the transition into a leader? And you will help us also because we’re studying at Mastermind helping managers to become leaders. So I’m going to write all these things down.

Stavros Ioannou (06:53):

Michael, first of all, to make the transition from a manager to a leader, IQ and technical skills are not enough. Important yes, but they are not enough.

Michael R. Virardi (07:08):

All right.

Stavros Ioannou (07:08):

Your emotional intelligence is going to make you from a manager to a leader. So that’s a statement to start off this difficult question. Now, what do I mean? And I will come to the point and be more specific. First of all, you need to develop a very good self-awareness, self-regulation, you have to be motivated and have the ability to motivate. And also you have to exhibit empathy at all times.

Michael R. Virardi (07:56):

Okay. I need an example for each. I will help you with the self-regulation. You told me last time we spoke that people need to feel comfortable as well to come to you and deliver news to you, or whatever their opinions, and not make them feel bad. And if you’re like this at home, you cannot be different in your office. So I understood a few things: know thyself as the ancient Greeks used to say and separate relations in terms of regulating how you come across. Can you help us a bit with motivated and being motivated and empathy as well?

Stavros Ioannou (08:31):

Yeah. I mean, being motivated, it means you have to love your job. You need to be linking back to the technical side. Okay. It’s important to have it, yes, but to make the transition, you have to love your job. You need to know the insights and you need to learn how to trust people. As you go up the ladder … I’ll tell you, there’s no way you can do everything you used to do as a manager. When you’re a manager you cannot [inaudible 00:08:57] you used to as an employee. So you need to surround yourself with top talent, but you have to have the trust to give the work to them.

Michael R. Virardi (09:08):

How do you learn how to trust people? You learn by failing? You learn by-

Stavros Ioannou (09:13):

Absolutely. You need to trust your instinct. You need to know yourself very, very well. I come back to the self awareness point. You need to know your strengths, your weaknesses and work on those things. But there’s only one way of finding out is you have to try.

Stavros Ioannou (09:31):

In terms of empathy, it’s something that, as a leader, you always need to work on. It’s something that you can develop, yes, but it’s not something that you can say, “I have mastered now,” and then after the tick and I file my diploma. You have to keep working on it. Keep putting yourself in every person’s position, understand where they’re coming from, despite the fact that you could disagree, but you need to exhibit those attributes when you make that transition from a manager to a leader.

Stavros Ioannou (10:07):

Now, in terms of a skillset, to be more specific for your … There are a number of skills, I think, which can be developed, assuming that you exhibit all those attributes I discussed. First of all, as a leader, you need to be able to frame the challenge. You need to tell people, you need to be very clear, “Guys, we have this issue. We have this challenge. We have this problem. We have this task.” You have to be clearly to identify that. So frame the challenge is one attribute that, as a leader, you need to [inaudible 00:10:43].

Stavros Ioannou (10:42):

The second thing is that you have to be able to give the work back to the people, involve them in finding the answers.

Michael R. Virardi (10:54):

What keeps people from giving the work back to the people in your-

Stavros Ioannou (11:00):

It’s being not confident enough, fear-

Michael R. Virardi (11:05):

That I might lose my job, my position?

Stavros Ioannou (11:07):

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. So that’s a fundamental thing that people can work on. So you need to give the work back to the people. That’s a trickier here element, which I will mention. You have to be in a position to manage work avoidance. And how do you do that when you are a leader and, let’s say, at the top of the pyramid, if there is a pyramid? How do you make sure that junior members of staff or other members are [inaudible 00:11:39]. So you need to manage and find a way to manage work avoidance. That’s a skill that you have to-

Michael R. Virardi (11:44):

How do you do it, Stavros, if I may ask?

Stavros Ioannou (11:46):

You told me not to [crosstalk 00:11:49].

Michael R. Virardi (11:49):

[crosstalk 00:11:49].

Stavros Ioannou (11:50):

I’ll come back to that. And most importantly, closing the element that you need to work as a leader, you need to be able to orchestrate conflict. I’ve read somewhere, Michael, that-

Michael R. Virardi (12:07):

Do you mean orchestrate conflict to resolve conflict or to create conflict?

Stavros Ioannou (12:12):

First of all, you need to expect that there will be conflict, okay? So orchestrating, making sure that the conflict does not end up in any disaster. You are in a position to … And that’s where the other skills come in to-

Michael R. Virardi (12:26):

To absorb it.

Stavros Ioannou (12:27):

You have to see the point, absorb the point, make the people see each other’s points and involve them in that decision making. So these are attributes. I’m leaving deliberately out a few things that … Also, you’re teaching and you’re training people. Let’s say, presentation skills, networking or negotiation skills. But if you think behind everything I’ve talked about here, I think there’re fundamental limits to this.

Stavros Ioannou (12:59):

So coming back to the original question, I think let’s focus on the importance of the emotional intelligence. And then, from there, there are a number of things that helped me a lot: frame the challenge, give the work back to the people, manage work avoidance and then orchestrate conflict.

Michael R. Virardi (13:21):

You just gave me the titles for my Mastermind coming up.

Stavros Ioannou (13:25):

For free.

Michael R. Virardi (13:26):

And now I understand … Yeah, that’s for free. Now I understand why you say that IQ and technical skills are not enough. They’re enough to get you there, but not to become a manager at the end of that because your job changes in a way.

Stavros Ioannou (13:40):

Yes, it does.

Michael R. Virardi (13:43):

[crosstalk 00:13:43].

Stavros Ioannou (13:43):

And many times when I’m explaining these things people think that the technical expertise or the academic performance are not important. No, they are, but everybody has those. It’s what you do. It’s the benchmark effect. So anything you do above that, you need to work on your emotional intelligence and all the other skills.

Michael R. Virardi (14:02):

Brilliant. We have a lot of questions coming in so I’ll be brief because if you can see here from the chat, we have a lot of people I’ve written down. So I’ll be brief with my questions as well.

Michael R. Virardi (14:11):

Okay. The next question: what leads to customer loyalty in your experience? Customer loyalty. I’m talking about external customers?

Stavros Ioannou (14:21):

Well, I can only obviously speak from experience. You need to always be close to your customers, understand their business and be able to listen. Okay? You always have to try to add value. And don’t be afraid if you cannot service and give them top service, don’t be afraid to even refer your clients to your competitors.

Michael R. Virardi (14:47):

Amazing. I like this, really.

Stavros Ioannou (14:49):

I’ve done this before. People respect that. But to do that, you need to build that trust with the client. Again, it starts with you. Coming back to the fundamental issue of self-awareness.

Michael R. Virardi (15:00):

And, again, it starts with trust.

Stavros Ioannou (15:01):

Yes, it starts with trust. It’s very, very … You need to have that relationship with your clients, break the ice as you do and this will form long term relationships. So customer loyalty comes from being close to your customers, easily accessible so they can reach you. They don’t have to phone 50 times a switchboard or your PA to put an appointment. Get back to the guys, listen and, usually, work will come back to you if you listen and understand their needs. And also, trust, first of all, yourselves, trust the organization. Even if you refer a client for a specific service to a competitor, customers will value that.

Stavros Ioannou (15:48):

And, of course, throughout your journey, throughout your customer experience, you should be trying to add in value, because nowadays with technology and automation, especially in our profession, I think, if you don’t add value, you’ll be out of business.

Michael R. Virardi (16:03):

Excellent. So don’t be afraid to lose business. As long as you refer people to the right person, you win on trust and you become a trusted advisor instead of a-

Stavros Ioannou (16:15):

Be transparent with your clients. Okay?

Michael R. Virardi (16:16):

Last question and then we go to our audience’s questions. I’m going to come to your comments as well, guys, in a little while. You have to allow me a minute to show people’s comments and see what they’re saying-

Stavros Ioannou (16:25):


Michael R. Virardi (16:26):

About my friend, Stavros Ioannou. So last question from my side. How can an organization build a strong company culture?

Stavros Ioannou (16:34):

That’s a million dollar question.

Michael R. Virardi (16:35):

Yeah. I know it’s a million euro question here.

Stavros Ioannou (16:39):

Michael, then, I think it starts with values. Organizations should clearly identify the corporate values. And then the tricky thing now, recruit based on those values. Don’t recruit based on, again, academic performance or qualifications. Yes, you can find those. You can find people with top class degrees. Yes, they have a skillset. Yes, everything’s needed, but try to recruit from that group based on their values. And then if you have a value alignment between the corporate values and your colleagues might use, that’s when magic-

Michael R. Virardi (17:28):

Starts to happen.

Stavros Ioannou (17:29):

So, my opinion is, okay, obviously it’s very, very difficult. I know we’re not in the business of … You cannot turn the tap and say, “Okay, now I’m sorting out my culture.” It’s something that evolves. It takes a lot of pain, a lot of effort, but if you stick to the values of the organization, recruit based on those values, I think then the culture will take care of itself.

Michael R. Virardi (17:55):

Now, I know why the late Tony Hsieh from Zappos that are selling shoes online used to walk in after the training session was over and ask people to recite the 10 values of the company. If they didn’t know the 10 values, they were out. So you have to know your values to live your values. And that’s very important.

Michael R. Virardi (18:12):

Shall we go and take some comments and see from our audience? Let’s see. Let’s see all the … Good morning from India. Nadia Themis from London, “Good morning.”

Michael R. Virardi (18:23):

Sophia Shillimintri. Good morning, Sophia.

Michael R. Virardi (18:26):

“Good morning,” from Nikolas Valerkos. You know Nicolas Valerkos?

Stavros Ioannou (18:31):


Michael R. Virardi (18:31):


Stavros Ioannou (18:31):


Michael R. Virardi (18:33):

A great guy, yeah?

Michael R. Virardi (18:34):

“Good morning,” Maria Spyrides.

Michael R. Virardi (18:38):

Let’s see. Let’s get our first question. “Stavros is an incredible mentor. Thank you for putting this together, Michael.” It’s Petros Djackuris.

Stavros Ioannou (18:44):


Michael R. Virardi (18:44):


Stavros Ioannou (18:46):

I met him in China.

Michael R. Virardi (18:47):

In China.

Michael R. Virardi (18:49):

Good morning, Costas.

Michael R. Virardi (18:52):

Good morning, Maria Antoniou.

Michael R. Virardi (18:55):

Pan Fouli, “Good morning, gentlemen.” Good morning, my friend.

Michael R. Virardi (18:59):

“Watching from Tokyo. You’re both top. Mt”

Michael R. Virardi (19:03):

Let’s get a question. We have a question here, Stavros. Are you ready?

Stavros Ioannou (19:06):


Michael R. Virardi (19:07):

I’m reading it for the first time, so if there are any swear words it’s not me. “Dear Mr. Stavros.” It is from Pan Fouli, an accountant and a good friend and a mentee. “What advice do you have for the new accountancy graduates who aspire to follow your footsteps and one day rise to the position of partner and maybe, just maybe, one day rise to the top as managing partner?”

Michael R. Virardi (19:32):

What advice would you have for those accountancy graduates?

Stavros Ioannou (19:38):

Coming back to the issue I said in my last [inaudible 00:19:41], I think the accounting graduates who want to enter into this profession should pick their employers very, very carefully. Many years ago, I taught you the phrase interview.

Michael R. Virardi (19:54):

Interview your employers.

Stavros Ioannou (19:57):

Interview your interviewer, making sure that your environment, where you’ll be feeling … Where you’re happy, where you feel safe in that environment from whatever you can see from the interview. And I think the most fundamental thing is, obviously being in the accounting world, you need to make sure you pass your exams. Okay? And then you have, again, to live with your values, exhibit that you care, that you respect relationships. At the beginning of your career you have to be on time, respect people.

Michael R. Virardi (20:39):

And then it’s okay not to do that?

Stavros Ioannou (20:41):

No, you can be a little bit late. Okay? But then keep respecting the people around you.

Stavros Ioannou (20:49):

Another thing which young graduates fail to grasp until very, very late in their careers, is the fact that things in life go always up and down. We always use the phrase in Greek, “We’ll sort things out when things are going to be better.” Now, what they don’t realize is that the lens we’re using, that has to change. And when things are down, either because of work pressure or some exam failures, the only thing that keeps us afloat is our achievements to date.

Stavros Ioannou (21:26):

So young graduates, they make the assumption because they’re surrounded by like-minded people and people that are also had an education, that everybody finishes high school, everybody goes to university, everybody gets a top class degree, everybody gets a job and constantly they want more and more and more. So when things go a little bit down, they don’t appreciate their achievements to day. We’re just going to keep them afloat.

Michael R. Virardi (21:53):

They get discouraged.

Stavros Ioannou (21:55):

They get easily discouraged. So they never say to themselves, “I want to say, when I finished from a top class university, I obtained a degree. Most probably I’m going to be okay with my exams.” So it is a journey where you need to trust yourself from day one, trust the organization that has employed you. And I think if you stick to your values, then you’re going to come out successful. It’s a very long journey from an accounting graduate to become a CEO, but I think the principles are the same.

Michael R. Virardi (22:28):

But you can still be young and be a CEO, as you can see here.

Stavros Ioannou (22:32):

Thank you. Youngish.

Michael R. Virardi (22:33):

When you interview your interviewer, might you appear arrogant in this way?

Stavros Ioannou (22:39):


Michael R. Virardi (22:39):

Are there any questions you suggest we can ask?

Stavros Ioannou (22:42):

No, you can just find out, “Are there any, for example, induction courses when we join? Are there any other schemes, let’s say, coaching, training or mentoring.” It’s just general questions. “I join day one, will somebody be looking after me on day one? Will I belong to a group?” And you tend to find out from those questions about some policies, which they might seem obvious for some people, but they’re very, very important, especially for the new graduates.

Michael R. Virardi (23:16):

Are there any induction course programs at Grant Thornton? Any mentorship programs?

Stavros Ioannou (23:19):

Yes, there are.

Michael R. Virardi (23:20):

So we have to thank Grant Thornton for hosting us today. [inaudible 00:23:24].

Stavros Ioannou (23:24):

Yes, okay.

Michael R. Virardi (23:25):

Guys, Mr. Stavros Ioannou. I’ll send you his phone number later on.

Michael R. Virardi (23:31):

He has a whole lot of questions. He says, “Once in a while.” Christos Makedonas. Thumbs up.

Michael R. Virardi (23:36):

Nadia Themis says, “Great story. Well done.” And, “How is now the situation in the Cypress corporate world? How you handled the crisis in 2013 re customer service?”

Michael R. Virardi (23:47):

How’s the situation now in the Cypress corporate world?

Stavros Ioannou (23:48):

The situation in the Cyprus corporate world is, I guess, it’s okay. Coming out of the pandemic as much as we could, there’s some services that … Some industries that have been hit hard, like tourists. We still have an issue with the [inaudible 00:24:08] that are not performing loans but, generally, I think it’s going better than expected.

Michael R. Virardi (24:14):

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Stavros Ioannou (24:17):

Yes, there is, Michael, and, as I said, publicly a few weeks ago for the future of the professional services firm, I think it’s key that the public sector … Sorry. As a country and as a government, we will have a complete change of mindset. The public sector should be working together and supporting the private sector, its efforts, and not-

Michael R. Virardi (24:41):

The other way-

Stavros Ioannou (24:42):

And not the other way-

Michael R. Virardi (24:44):


Stavros Ioannou (24:45):

… around. So we want to be a digital country. We want to take care of the … I mean, take advantage of the technology. And yet you arrive in Larnaca Airport and you still have to show a piece of paper to a policeman to get through. It’s things like that I think which we could always find ways of improving and making a difference. But-

Michael R. Virardi (25:07):


Stavros Ioannou (25:08):

… it’s better than expected. 2013.

Michael R. Virardi (25:08):

It looks like a big crisis.

Stavros Ioannou (25:09):

I think they’re referring to the banking crisis. That’s well over now in terms of that crisis. It left us with big issues in terms of sorting out our house in terms of compliance and too much pressure from the European authorities and the US authorities on the way we do business, scrutinizing transactions and everything, which is, by the way, the right thing to do. But I think now we’ve gone to the other way where we’re making it a little bit difficult to even open a bank account in Cypress. So there has to be a right balance. Hopefully we’ll find that soon.

Michael R. Virardi (25:44):

Okay. I will interview a developer next time?

Stavros Ioannou (25:46):


Michael R. Virardi (25:47):

All right, George Sfiktos. You know George Sfiktos?

Stavros Ioannou (25:49):

I know George, yeah.

Michael R. Virardi (25:50):

One of the best, if not the best, negotiator in the world. “Give them the stage, motivate and involve them. Spot on Stavros.”

Stavros Ioannou (25:58):

Thank you, George.

Michael R. Virardi (25:58):

George, you will be teaching at the Mastermind. We’re planning to … Stavros has already agreed to join. I didn’t make a proposal. You are making it live on air now. No, I mean it. I’m not joking.

Stavros Ioannou (26:08):

So I’m joining, yes?

Michael R. Virardi (26:11):

Yes, of course. You said, “Yes.”

Michael R. Virardi (26:13):

“Good morning from Nicosia. Glad to see you.” Alisa, good morning.

Michael R. Virardi (26:20):

“Bravo for this ‘inclusive for all way’ of thinking,” from Yvonne Tsanos.

Michael R. Virardi (26:23):

Let’s see what is here. Are you okay with time?

Stavros Ioannou (26:27):

Yes, yes.

Michael R. Virardi (26:28):

I like to be on time but we have a lot of audience here, and-

Stavros Ioannou (26:30):

It’s okay. I have the time.

Michael R. Virardi (26:32):

Petros Djackuris, “Including both junior AND senior staff members in decision making = recipe/ culture for success.”

Michael R. Virardi (26:38):

You have to include them all. As you said, your advisory board?

Stavros Ioannou (26:40):


Michael R. Virardi (26:41):

Cultural advisory board?

Stavros Ioannou (26:42):


Michael R. Virardi (26:43):

Let’s see who else? Artemis Kasapi, “Motivation is the key success in organizations. If you are not motivating your staff, game lost.”

Michael R. Virardi (26:54):

Good morning to Richard Pettinger. Richard Pettinger is the head of the business school at UCL-

Stavros Ioannou (26:58):


Michael R. Virardi (26:59):

… where I lecture once a year or when I used to lecture once a year. Richard, I’m coming in October. Everything is open from yesterday, okay? That’s great.

Michael R. Virardi (27:08):

Athenadara Mentzis, “Good morning. Glad to see both of you.” Glad to see you too.

Michael R. Virardi (27:14):

We have Ronak Jain, “Good morning.”

Michael R. Virardi (27:17):

Let’s see. “Good morning, gentleman.” Stathis Stasis.

Michael R. Virardi (27:20):

Let’s get another question, Stavros?

Stavros Ioannou (27:23):


Michael R. Virardi (27:23):

From Spyridon Georgakopoulos, probably from Greece, “How is the management style of the company, Grant Thornton? How has it changed within the last year? Have you moved towards an agile way rather than hierarchical way?”

Michael R. Virardi (27:37):

But from the day I know you, you were never in hierarchy.

Stavros Ioannou (27:40):

We’re always a very-

Michael R. Virardi (27:41):

Great question, by the way.

Stavros Ioannou (27:45):

… flat structure. If you ask, you can have access to the partners, they don’t have PAs outside their offices. If you get Michael out here and you ask if I have a PA, probably most people they just don’t know who my designated PA is. So it’s a complete flat structure. People have the platform to ask questions, to communicate. We keep … I mean, okay, pre-pandemic create the events or the forums for people to come together. It’s been a challenge since that’s why we had to move online. And I have to keep very, very close to everyone. But the structure is absolutely flat from day one.

Michael R. Virardi (28:36):

Excellent. Very good. Thank you for asking this question, Spyridon. If you need anything else, let me know. I’ll pass on the details of Stavros.

Michael R. Virardi (28:47):

Let’s see who’s here. My friend, Vaso Vardaki, a coach as well. She says, “Good morning, Michael. Great conversation with Mr. Stavros Ioannou. Thank you for this episode. Question for Mr. Ioannou. What is your opinion on vulnerability at the workplace?” Great question. Great question.

Stavros Ioannou (29:08):

This is a great question. It’s something that I’ve been talking quite a lot to people. Vulnerability, I’m in favor. First of all, as people like that, to be authentic, to show that you are vulnerable, it’s not a problem. People should not be ashamed. So to be your authentic self which, of course, includes sharing or exhibiting vulnerability where you wish to.

Stavros Ioannou (29:42):

But I think it comes with two disclaimers. I mean, with two conditions: if you are a newly appointed leader or newly appointed manager, to be vulnerable, sometimes could be … To show vulnerability sometimes could be [inaudible 00:30:02].

Michael R. Virardi (30:01):

Can it hit you-

Stavros Ioannou (30:02):

However, if you have been successful in your career and you have shown people that you can actually deliver your work, then vulnerability is not a problem. People will love that. So you need to have a track record of success. It’s easier to be vulnerable once you do that. And, of course, as long as you respect everyone in the workplace, you could be your authentic self. So often TCD, which includes, I think, being vulnerable, has these two conditions for me.

Michael R. Virardi (30:38):

Can you fake vulnerability?

Stavros Ioannou (30:40):

No, it’s very difficult. I mean, you can try but, eventually, it’s going to be out there.

Michael R. Virardi (30:47):

Okay. Very good. Very good. Stephanie Pilavaki says, “Good morning.”

Michael R. Virardi (30:53):

Who else is here. “Spot on.” Maria Suipacha, says, “Recruit based on values.”

Michael R. Virardi (30:59):

“[foreign language 00:31:01].” Niki.

Michael R. Virardi (31:02):

And, let’s see. “Question for Stavros,” from Petros Djackuris. We have a lot of questions. I think we should get this one and maybe another one [crosstalk 00:31:11].

Stavros Ioannou (31:12):

It’s okay.

Michael R. Virardi (31:12):

“How do you encourage entrepreneurship (behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization?)” How do you encourage that?

Stavros Ioannou (31:22):

But this is a great question. You have to encourage people to speak out, share their opinions, give you their views. So it’s going back to they should encourage people to bring their ideas to you. It could be things like the cultural advisory board, it’s one thing. But also I make a considerable effort of my time is to be close to all levels of colleagues from day one, whether we go together for an evening run in groups of five or six people, or whether we go deliberately for lunches in a group of five or six people, encourage that it’s their ideas and that they’re going to assist us in innovating and becoming better. And through that I think we could encourage entrepreneurship.

Michael R. Virardi (32:15):

I don’t know if you’d like, but I think you’re a rare example of a CEO who is so approachable. And, at the end of the day, I think it works to your benefit. So you shouldn’t say, “Oh, our secret’s out,” but you said it first, okay?

Stavros Ioannou (32:28):

Yes, that’s fine.

Michael R. Virardi (32:30):

Jenny Hadjicosta, “Good morning.”

Michael R. Virardi (32:32):

Chrystalla Kazara, “Good morning. Great session.” Thank you very much.

Michael R. Virardi (32:37):

Let’s see who’s here. Stephanos Constantino, “Good morning to all.” Good morning, Stephanos.

Michael R. Virardi (32:42):

Christos Makedonas, “Good morning, Michael and Stavros.”

Michael R. Virardi (32:45):

Savvas Trichas is asking a question. Great friend and a coach. And he’s the person who told me, “Stop doing this podcast on your own and do it with somebody that’s next to you.” And he was right. We have a great turnout. “And the old [foreign language 00:32:59]. The old Stavros used to say, ‘[foreign language 00:33:03].’ There is no way that helps you if you don’t know where you’re going. Excellent comment linking values and recruitment to corporate culture. Keep up the amazing work, Michael, and congratulations for your guest.” Thank you very much, Sava

Stavros Ioannou (33:21):

Thank you, Sava

Michael R. Virardi (33:22):

Statist says, “Do you hire character or talent?” That is Stathis, insurance advisor, a good friend. “Character over talent?” That was the last one.

Michael R. Virardi (33:35):

And [inaudible 00:33:35], “Good morning. Great session.” Thank you, [inaudible 00:33:37]. “How can a small company compete with big ones? Any advice?” I don’t know if it depends from the sector, but I think you can give an advice. “How can a small company compete with bigger ones?”

Stavros Ioannou (33:49):

I think if you have to find your space in the market or what you’re delivering, it’s something that is, not just unique, but there is something that people can see a differentiation, usually the services industry. It’s all about the way you deliver your service. If you’re smaller, the chance is that you’ll be more approachable. Usually small firms, if I can turn it around to … They have a narrow offering, but they have a very, very deep expertise on something. So they need to find that expertise and take advantage of that.

Michael R. Virardi (34:31):

Now offering deep expertise and get to know your customers by name since you’re a smaller company.

Michael R. Virardi (34:38):

Let’s see. Sofia Christou. Sofia is a young talented person, a good friend, I will introduce you, Sofia, once-

Stavros Ioannou (34:48):

She should be working here.

Michael R. Virardi (34:49):

She should be working here. Sofia [inaudible 00:34:51] at Grant Thornton. “Is it important to align the company goals with the employees’ personal work goals?” You said, “Values.” Now we are talking about “goals.”

Stavros Ioannou (35:02):

Yes. This is a great question. I’ll use that as an example where we have set our local strategy, which is aligned to the global 2025 strategy. It starts with the vision. We have the three strategic pillars and, by the way, I’m not giving everything out because we have not communicated to everyone. We’ve just finished the first session in front of 60 people last Friday. We have another one this Friday and a few others to follow.

Stavros Ioannou (35:36):

And one of those strategic pillars supporting the vision is culture. Okay? For each one we have said, “Firmer KPIs.”

Michael R. Virardi (35:47):

Key Performance Indicators.

Stavros Ioannou (35:48):

For the company as a whole. So when we evaluate these in five years time, we’ll say, “Because you have achieved this and this and this, we can say confidently we have achieved our vision.” Deliberately, we have not linked to this to any financial measure. We have not said that, “In 2025 we will increase our revenue by so much, we will increase our profits for so much,” because we are great believers that if we take care of our people, if we have zero tolerance on quality and risk management and we manage to finance strategic caps, the numbers will follow. Those KPIs will be linked to partner KPIs, which everybody will know, and manager and staff KPIs will be set with the involvement of all the people. So no one in the firm will get a KPI that there hasn’t been a discussion at the manager level or at the cap level. And that’s the intention.

Michael R. Virardi (36:53):

And nothing is linked to financial goals?

Stavros Ioannou (36:55):

Nothing’s linked to financial goals.

Michael R. Virardi (36:56):

Amazing. That was my favorite answer, guys, and I’ve learned a lot from this.

Michael R. Virardi (37:02):

Oh, Viktoriya, good morning. How are you doing?

Michael R. Virardi (37:07):

Who else is here? Bassel Matta, “Good morning from London.”

Michael R. Virardi (37:12):

Are you up for another question from Yvonne Tsanos?

Stavros Ioannou (37:13):


Michael R. Virardi (37:16):

“Do you believe blended working will be a permanent option?” I have a [inaudible 00:37:20] I hear this answer. “A permanent option in the professional environment of GT post pandemic?”

Stavros Ioannou (37:25):


Michael R. Virardi (37:27):


Stavros Ioannou (37:27):


Michael R. Virardi (37:28):

Right. It will be. Do they get a choice? How many days they will be working from [crosstalk 00:37:33]?

Stavros Ioannou (37:32):

It’s absolutely up to the-

Michael R. Virardi (37:36):


Stavros Ioannou (37:37):

… individual to choose.

Michael R. Virardi (37:38):

As long as they meet their KPIs, which are not financially [crosstalk 00:37:42].

Stavros Ioannou (37:42):

No. No, no, no. As long as they live their values, one of which is respect. So if they respect, whether that’s a partner or the deadlines and stuff and they keep communicating with each other, they can work from wherever they want to.

Michael R. Virardi (37:53):

Great. Great. Cleri Evagorou, “Good morning, gentlemen. Great conversation. Thank you to both.” Thank you, Cleri.

Michael R. Virardi (37:59):

Dessislava Evangelou, “Great conversation. Thank you.”

Michael R. Virardi (38:05):

Panagiota Victoros, “Indeed a great one. Thank you.”

Michael R. Virardi (38:07):

And Stathis Stasis.

Michael R. Virardi (38:10):

So guys, with this, I want to thank Stavros Ioannou, the CEO of Grant Thornton, and Grant Thornton for hosting us. You have been amazing like always. I don’t feel that you are only a friend, but you’re also a mentor to me-

Stavros Ioannou (38:24):

Thank you.

Michael R. Virardi (38:24):

… and I appreciate that a lot.

Stavros Ioannou (38:26):

Thank you.

Michael R. Virardi (38:27):

And the last word is on you. If you want to say something to our audience, you can look at them there and tell them anything you like.

Stavros Ioannou (38:34):

It’s been a difficult journey. First of all, for me personally, to find, let’s say, my purpose at work. And this is something I think which you can find through work, something which is going to keep you going. And, for me, it always has been, from day one, the connection with our people and the connection with our clients. From day one since I was a trainee in London to today, this is what keeps me in this job. So trust yourselves, live your values, and I think the rest will take care.

Michael R. Virardi (39:13):

And there will be never a day that is the same, as Stavros has told us at the beginning. And I have a feeling that this is the secret of success, personal and professional success.

Michael R. Virardi (39:24):

Stavros, thank you very much.

Stavros Ioannou (39:26):

You’re welcome.

Michael R. Virardi (39:26):

Thank you to Grant Thorton. Thank you to all of you for tuning in and I hope to see you back on Monday with another episode of Jump-start Monday. Take good care, guys. Bye.