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Irene Vantaraki: Meet ‘The Iron Lady’ of Greek House Davos

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By Ilias Karagiannis.

Irene Vantaraki dived into the enclosed world of the powerful with eerie certainty that she would make it. With the stubbornness of a Cretan, the organisation of an Australian, the ingenuity of a Greek woman, she created an explosive mixture. She was named ‘The Iron Lady’ of Greek House Davos.

Melbourne-born Vantaraki became the first Greek woman to enter the sphere of men that make decisions about the world in the World Economic Forum by organising the Greek House Davos, which contributed to Greece gaining a visible imprint on the world.

The Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, visited the World Economic Forum and this was the strongest moment for Vantaraki during the four days of May 22 – 26, 2022.

“The most intense moment was when the Prime Minister got out of his car, looked at the Greek House and said spontaneously: ‘Ah here we are’,” Vantaraki confesses to The Greek Herald.

“Of course I felt great pride every time someone passed outside and saw Greece.

“I highly appreciate Mitsotakis as Prime Minister, especially because he has knowledge of the international environment.”

Vantaraki’s leadership guide:

Self-confidence, ability, connections. This triptych could have been the leadership guide for Vantaraki. She envisioned and implemented the creation of Greek House Davos, a space that functioned effectively during the World Economic Forum and brought together Greek politicians, businessmen and important Greek brands with heads of state, ministers, bankers and businessmen of other countries.

The obvious goal is to develop abroad. A woman who has lived in every part of the world. Australia, the US, London and Switzerland. She has a resume that anyone would envy and this fact is proof that she did not accidentally rise to her prestigious position.

What was worrying her, however, was that Greece did not have its rightful place in the world firmament. And she decided to do something on her own.

“It was our duty to systematise our presence in the framework of the World Economic Forum in order to further highlight the comparative advantages of Greek companies and to contribute decisively to the realisation of beneficial partnerships,” she says.

“Davos is attended by governments and large influential global groups. They meet each year and discuss the agenda of the issues that will dominate the following year.

“Greece did not participate in the Forum in an organised manner. In order to understand the importance of the World Economic Forum in Davos, we should look back to 2020, when the current Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, secured the agreement with Microsoft worth 1 billion euros.”

At this stage, Vantaraki found the opportunity to tell those responsible for the World Economic Forum that Greece must enter the “game” because she believed the country will play a leading role in the coming years.

The loyalty of the Greek government and the problem of entrepreneurship:

It was this critical juncture that saw Vantaraki decide to use her connections and try to enter the closed World Economic Forum.

“The conditions had matured in order to ask the executives of the World Economic Forum to put Greece at the centre of their interest,” she says.

“All this happened during the pandemic. I ensured from the first moment that Greece would have a presence there with the creation of a Greek House.

“But I had two parallel goals. The first was to convince the World Economic Forum to make Greece an extension of its main program and the second was to make this emblematic event more known to Greek entrepreneurship.

“I had good luck and the Greek government, the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Minister of Development and Investment, Adonis Georgiadis, the Deputy Minister of Research & Technology, Christos Dimas, the Secretary General of International Economic Relations and Extroversion, Giannis Smyrlis, and the Head of the Prime Minister’s Economic Office, Alexis Patelis, understood what our presence in Davos had to offer and helped me decisively.

“On the other hand, Greek entrepreneurship did not understand this great opportunity. Here, I want to dwell a little and highlight the huge problem facing Greece: Business introversion. It is unable to enter the global business arena.

“We could help some Greek companies become multinational. As was the case with the recent agreement of the Greek start up ‘Viva wallet’ with the international giant ‘J.P. Morgan,’ worth one billion euros and marked the opening of what Greek companies can offer to the world.

“Greece has enough assets which, with the right acquaintances, could be internationalised.”

What can happen to an entrepreneur who decides to go to Davos? The hydrants of success can be opened, as can be seen from the example used by Vantaraki to understand the nature of the Forum.

“Our first guest at Greek House Davos told us that when he first came to Davos he saw in the lobby of the Belvedere Hotel the Chinese tycoon, Jack Ma, founder of the ‘Alibaba Group.’ At this meeting, he managed to expose his idea to him and finally extract funding to implement it. There are many such stories. Imagine what can be achieved when there is a targeted representation, with a specific agenda to achieve the expansion of business,” Vantaraki explains.

Her connection to Australia:

Vantaraki was born in Melbourne with her grandfather being an important figure in the community.

“I grew up in Footscray. My grandparents were the reason I was born in Australia. My grandmother was an Arsakeiada in Psychiko and eloped with my grandfather who was from Crete. They fell in love, “eloped,” as was done at the time, and went to Australia,” she says.

“My parents met in Melbourne and I was born there. I left Australia as a child because I had asthma and the climate didn’t help me overcome it. So we had to go back to Greece with my parents, which happened in the 1980s. My family, however, is still in Australia today.

“I remember a lot of things from Australia. Our house in Footscray, the weekends we spent in some marinas in Melbourne, which was amazing. I have great memories of Australia.

“I have kept very close contacts with my relatives in Australia, in Melbourne and Sydney. They often come to Greece. I haven’t been able to visit them again because I’m a very hard working woman and I haven’t had the time to go. But I really want to.

“It is my dream to visit Australia again, which is my second home.”

In Australia, Vantaraki will see a thriving community in which her grandfather also had an important role.

“Evangelos Vandarakis, my grandfather founded the Association of Rethymnians of Melbourne, and had a strong involvement in the community. My grandmother, Joanna Kontarini, also knew the then-Prime Minister of Australia, Goff Whitlam, and raised money at fundraisers. Maybe I have taken from this woman, who implemented what she put in her mind,” she says before again referring to Davos.

“I am sure that from January we will have important news for Greece.

“It is very important, however, that companies and organisations understand that they will be the locomotive for Greece that is rising. All those who are the practical proof that we can develop into a model country. A country that does not stand on its glorious past, but uses that past as a springboard to a better future…”

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