When Aristotelis Panteliadis stepped into the Managing Director position of his family’s longstanding company, METRO, he was tasked with the challenge of writing the next chapter in its success story. Aristotelis took it in his stride, steadily growing and developing the business, while winning a bevy of industry awards in the process. The CEO Magazine spoke to the leading man about the path he has taken, his unwavering commitment to looking after his staff throughout the economic crisis, and METRO’s latest business acquisition.

The CEO Magazine: Since its establishment in 1976, METRO has been a 100-per-cent owned and operated family business in Greece. Tell us about your first steps with the company.

Aristotelis: METRO is comprised of two store networks — Cash & Carry, which is the wholesale chain with forty-seven stores, the largest network of its kind in the country; and the retail supermarket chain with more than 240 outlets. Both networks operate throughout Greece.

I was born into a family where the entrepreneurial spirit was cultivated and encouraged. The truth is, I feel METRO is my second home. I grew up with it and therefore, as expected, I started working here in 1989 before I had even graduated from university. Being inquisitive and sceptical, I have always preferred to learn from experience rather than simply by studying theory. Over sixteen years, I have worked in most of the company’s departments, gradually assuming broader responsibilities. It was my choice to participate in the company’s administration step-by-step, and hence climb the corporate ladder progressively, and only after methodically gaining deep knowledge and experience across all functions.

I am proud of our company and I have been deeply honoured to take over as the next generation to ensure its continuing success and growth. My job is very challenging and certainly never boring. It is endlessly evolving and transforming.

When you first took over as Managing Director of METRO in 2001 at age 33, what opportunities did you see for the company, and what strategies did you put in place to make the most of those?

I had a vision to expand and develop METRO, and I wanted to offer upgraded services to a larger base

of clientele. I took over a historical company and a stable business, therefore development and growth were the priorities. It has been a one-way road for me and actually it still is. Having said this, it has not always been easy. It is not simple to develop and induce changes to your business while still sending a message of deep respect for the past. My aim is to continue to seamlessly take the successful business from one generation to the next. Our strategy aims to constantly grow METRO and is based on organisational infrastructure development, financial stability, and reinvesting profits back into the business.

What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced?

Undoubtedly, it’s been the smoothest possible transition from my father’s administration to mine. The transition of management to the following generation must be one of the most sensitive and complicated procedures in a family-owned business, given, of course, that the unity of the family must be preserved. I firmly believe that it is much harder to take over a successful business as the second generation than it is to rebuild a company that needs ‘saving’. Taking over a healthy company is a much bigger bet, as it entails a heavier responsibility to develop and grow it in a worthy way.

How has METRO grown over the years and what are the plans for its future expansion?

Since 1976, our growth has been achieved very carefully. Our values — integrity, honesty, and responsibility — have guided this aspect of operation. We methodically and steadily open new stores, and each new store meets specific standards in order to be in a position to stand up to current and potential future competition. Opening stores has never been a goal in itself, each and every move we make has to be sustainable.

We methodically and steadily open new stores, and each new store meets specific standards in order to be in a position to stand up to current and potential future competition. Opening stores has never been a goal in itself, each and every move we make has to be sustainable.

At the end of 2015, we had forty-six wholesale stores and sixty-six retail stores, and we were given the chance to buy a retail chain called Veropoulos, which was a daring move. But we did it, and that resulted in a wide network of 240 stores all over Greece, drastically changing our strategic position and simultaneously saving more than 4,300 job positions. We are still going through the crucial integration period which is not an easy procedure. It is a very demanding process.

You were recognised with a number of prestigious awards in 2015: ‘Retail Manager of the Year’ at the Retail Business Awards; the ‘Growth and Innovation Award’ at the historical Kouros Awards, organised by the Entrepreneurship Club; the ‘Business Excellence Award’ from the Entrepreneurship Unit of Athens University of Economics and Business; and ‘Manager of the Year’ from the Hellenic Management Association. What has this meant for you personally, and also for the company?

Awards are always won by a team and not by a single person. The market and business community has indeed honoured me with significant awards in 2015, but that has been a result of a common effort and collaboration of all departments. Thus, the awards constitute a noteworthy reward for all. Additionally, any award is a strong motivation to sustain high levels of performance.

With more than 9,800 employees, how does METRO communicate its sense of culture to keep staff passionate and motivated?

Our employees have always been a strategic priority for METRO, as they constitute the company’s driving force and have contributed to a large extent to the company’s success. Our goal is to secure a safe work environment for all members of the METRO family, building relations based on meritocracy and trust over time. Our actions prove this and we have kept the number of our employees and their wages intact during the entirety of the Greek economic crisis. Furthermore, it is important to note that the average store employee wage in our stores is 80 per cent higher than the minimum wages stipulated by the National Trade Collective Agreement.

On acquiring Veropoulos, we were firmly committed to safeguarding all jobs, we assured everyone that no job would be lost. We have honoured this commitment to the full, absorbing more than 4,300 employees into our operations.

How important is it to have a good supply chain, and what have you done to ensure lasting relationships with your suppliers?

For a business network like ours, relations with our suppliers are not just important, they are vital to the success and health of the business. We have therefore always operated on a basis of trust and lasting, reliable relationships. We count on our suppliers, as it is their products that bring added value to our shelves. We take great care to constantly arrange activities that we can do together, either on a business or on a social responsibility basis. We work together, side by side, helping and supporting each other, maintaining an equal relationship of mutual benefit, as well as a human communication that allows us to be supportive in times of need. Hence, we do not believe or engage in power games; for us, the only way forward is win–win relationships that are beneficial to both sides. It goes without saying that we are strongly committed to our business and financial agreements, something that, unfortunately in Greece — especially in recent years — is not as easy, or as obvious, as it should be.