Elly Andriopoulou (DEREE 1997) spoke to Touch Base in mid October about her days at DEREE, her international career and her work as Chief Operating Officer at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.

What made you decide to go to DEREE?

At the time, I wanted to become a student councilor, but that didn’t exist yet as a position in Greek schools. So since I really loved math, I intended to study math at the University of Athens, and psychology at DEREE concurrently, and combine the two by working in a school initially as a math professor and later, when they instituted the role, as a councilor. Once I enrolled at DEREE and as I was also working in the family business at the time, I decided to only pursue the degree in psychology.


What was the family business?

My mother is an interior designer. She designed, produced, and sold wholesale white-linen products, and I worked with her during my first three years at DEREE. Then, during my junior year, I applied to Citibank for an internship. I was initially aiming for a position in Human Resources [HR], but the opening was in the Quality department.

It was a six-month internship because I was replacing a lady who was on maternity leave – but after the six months, I just continued as a regular employee, full time. So, my senior year at DEREE was quite hectic. I was working full time at Citi and taking senior-year courses.

And later you decided to pursue your MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management…

Yes, I went to Kellogg in Chicago in 1999 for a two-year MBA program. Following my MBA, I moved to Boston and worked for Oliver Wyman, a management consulting firm, for a few years. I really enjoyed living in Boston.


And you were consulting on strategy?

Oliver Wyman is a strategy consulting firm, so most of the work I was doing was on revenue growth and new opportunities. I worked on projects for a large international paper company, a fast-food company, an insurance company, all types of industries. Usually the question the companies asked us to work on was “Our industry is changing. What other revenue streams are out there? How can we change our business model to capture new opportunities?” Some were more specific like sales and marketing, but mostly that was the general question.


So, then you came back to Greece…why?

The year 2003 was a very exciting time in Greece as the country was preparing for the Olympic Games and there was growth in most industries. When I returned, I applied to a number of mostly multinational companies, and decided to return to Citibank. I looked at FMCG [Fast-moving consumer goods] companies and many other industries, and decided to return to Citibank for a position that was very interesting and where I would be working with people that I had worked with in the past and knew I wanted to work with again. Working at Citi was great because I switched many different roles in the years that I was there. I think I changed roles and departments almost every year and a half. I worked in most departments of the bank.


What then spurred the transition to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC)?

When I returned from Boston to Greece, I had actually looked into the non-profit industry and realized that it’s not as developed in Greece as it was in the US. There are many NGOs, but, in most cases, they’re not professionally-run organizations; they usually don’t have the resources to attract professionals. I could work for one of them, but it wouldn’t be a career-advancing role, it would be more like volunteering and I wanted to continue to learn from other more experienced professionals. So, I hadn’t found anything that combined my interest in being in the third sector while continuing my professional development.

Later on, I learned about the activities of foundations, and, I realized that, especially the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, is a place that is professionally run and has the capacity to actually make a difference, so I was very interested in joining. I was seeking the opportunity to come here for a couple of years before I finally did.


Going back to DEREE, how would you say that that helped you in your career?

I think, as I also told the prospective students at Discover DEREE Day recently, that my key learning experiences at DEREE were derived from my involvement in extracurricular activities. That’s where I had the chance to become a professional, to develop all those soft skills that you need in any position. I was on the Student Union Board, the Community Contribution Club, the Debating Club, the organizing committee of the World Universities Debating Championships that we did at DEREE back in 1998, the Ambassadors Club…


Can you tell us what academic strengths you found?

The academic aspect of my studies was very strong. The reason I had selected DEREE and not the Greek university to study psychology was because I wanted a structured system that was also based on developing students’ critical thinking, and where I could explore many different interests, something that could not be offered by the Greek universities.

I found it interesting that I was able to pick very different subjects and that I was able to study a minor through which I could combine psychology with a more applied version of it, HR and organizational behavior.

I had some professors that were great, not just academically, but also in terms of the interest that they showed towards their students and their openness and approachability.


Have you kept in touch with old classmates?

With some yes. Actually my two best friends are from DEREE, – the three of us are also koubares [maid of honor/godmothers] now…


Can you tell us about the SNFCC? People can visit now to get an idea, but what is the stage of construction?

Construction is under way. People cannot enter the construction site for safety reasons, but we have created a Visitors Center on the esplanade right next to the SNFCC that provides an excellent view of the project. We also have binoculars, but they are almost not needed because the site is so close.

Construction completion is in early 2016. This is a 566-million-euro grant of the SNF [Stavros Niarchos Foundation] towards the Greek state, so when it’s completed in early 2016, it will be donated to the Greek state. The acceptance by the Greek state takes a couple of months, and then the two organizations that it will host – the Greek National Opera and the National Library of Greece – require another eight months to complete their move, which brings us to end of 2016 as an opening date to the public.

The Library will be very impressive…

They’ll finally be able to showcase and provide access to everything that they have. The Library has priceless collections – for example, manuscripts that are hundreds years old – and in the new building they will have all the right conditions to preserve the sensitive manuscripts and other rare books in their possession. They will also have the space required to make all this material available to the research and academic community.

You can’t take a book out now.

Not today, but you will be able to at the SNFCC.  The National Library of Greece today is a research library and that’s typically the case with all national libraries. But with the move to the SNFCC, the library will add a public library to its services. The public library will be accessible to all, open and free, and designed according to the highest standards. We hope that it will become more of a community center. It will offer services in addition to books. It will have children’s libraries for different age groups, a recording studio for young people to record their music, a performance space, an entrepreneurship center, a video-gaming zone…


Was the public-lending addition your idea, the Foundation’s? Was it part of the thinking behind the grant?

Yes, it was part of SNF’s thinking and grant because what the Foundation wanted to do with the creation of this cultural center – the end goal – is to improve the quality of life of Athenians, but also other Greeks and visitors too. And the National Library of Greece embraced the idea.

The Foundation strongly believes that education and culture is the way for a nation to develop and grow, and achieve their goals. So, they wanted to make sure that the cultural center is for everyone. They didn’t want to limit it to academia, although their role in education is unquestionable. Yes, the National Library of Greece will be able to offer greater services to the academic community, that’s its core role, but the Foundation wanted to ensure that this is a place that is accessible to all, irrespective of their education level, financial ability or physical ability.

Accessibility and inclusion are key values of the SNFCC’s mission. And not just meeting the minimum standards – it goes beyond that. For example, in the opera house, we’ve added a system where people with hearing aids can block out surrounding noise so they can better enjoy a performance.


Was the idea to house the Public Library and the Opera House the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s (SNF’s) idea? Was that part of the thinking?

The idea began in 1998 when the National Library of Greece approached the Foundation to request their assistance in moving into new premises. The building they’re currently in is an absolutely beautiful building, but functionally it cannot accommodate their needs.

Later on, the Opera also asked for a grant and when the Foundation found the space where the old horse race track was, the idea emerged that these two could be co-located. It’s quite an innovation, as you rarely find a national cultural and a national academic organization co-located. And, the space allowed for the 170,000-square-meter Stavros Niarchos Park, which is an important third element of the complex.


Will it be like New York’s Central Park, where they have concerts in the park?

Yes. Once the SNFCC is donated to the Greek state, there will be three organizations there: the National Library of Greece, the Greek National Opera, and the SNFCC SA; founded and currently owned by the Foundation. When the grant is delivered to the Greek state, this organization will also be donated to the Greek state, and will fall under the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance. So the entire SNFCC will be state-owned.

The SNFCC SA is responsible for the park, for facilities’ management of the entire complex – cleaning, maintenance, security services, etc. – and its own programming. Their main space for programs and events is the park and the focus will be on educational, cultural, and sports events. They’re also going to do some more limited programing in the performance spaces in the Opera and the Library, when they’re not using them, mostly to round-out the diversity of SNFCC’s programming.


How many jobs are being created?

There are many jobs being created during the construction phase. It is estimated that over 2,400 jobs will be created during construction. Right now, we have 1,200 people on site, and those will reach 1,500; plus there are jobs being created outside the site, but related to the project.

The Foundation hired Boston Consulting Group back in 2010 to do an impact study for the grant. There were three types of impacts identified: Obviously, the social one, which is what the Foundation is aiming for; Secondly, a great environmental impact because of the forty-two acre park and all the environmental choices that we’ve made…the solar panels, the irrigation system that basically provides water throughout the park, without taking any drinkable water from the public system EYDAP, etc. We aim to obtain the LEED Platinum certification – which is the highest level one can achieve for environmentally responsible construction of a building. And if we succeed in obtaining it, we will be the first complex of this size and complexity in Europe to have achieved this distinction.

Finally, there’s a financial impact.


So, 1,200 in construction right now?

Yes, construction workers, architects, consultants, on site.

It reminds me of the Olympic Games…

In terms of job creation and construction activity, yes, only in different times. These 1,200 jobs at the moment are almost changing the employment rate in the construction industry, because things have been so tough. And, the economic stimulus being created by construction in the economy is about a million euros.

Once the SNFCC opens, we expect the economic contribution in general of the SNFCC to be 160 million euros a year. As to jobs after construction completion, the library will certainly have to add staff in order to expand their services as they are planning to do, and to add the public library component. The two organizations maintain their independence, however, with each being supervised by their respective ministries, and they follow the hiring processes of the public sector.

We will also have some jobs created in the SNFCC SA, which we will staff before we deliver it to the Greek state, in order to be able to hit the ground running. We need to be ready to operate the Cultural Center on day one, and that’s why all the preparation is being done right now.


Can you tell us what added value the SNFCC will bring Greek society in your opinion?

I think it spans multiple levels. I believe “improving the quality of life,” while a very generic statement, captures the overall impact. Having a large park that’s a public space, in addition to its environmental impact – will be a great addition to Athens.

Having a public library of this scale offering free educational programs and all the services I described is another important addition. We have public and municipal libraries in Greece, but they are underfunded and overall have not managed to become a reference point in their communities.

And, even at the Opera, there are ticketed events for performances, but I’m sure you’ve seen that the Opera has left its theater and has gone onto the street and done many free performances for all people to enjoy. They can continue to do the same at the SNFCC; they can put on a performance inside and broadcast it in the park…things like that.

So, access to education, to culture, and to the environment can have an impact on people’s quality of life. Plus, there is the financial impact I mentioned earlier, and the impact on Greece’s identity and tourism. We’ve talked to a number of travel-industry experts, and they believe that the creation of the SNFCC will help render Athens a city-break destination.


What has this role meant for you? What have you personally gained from it?

It’s a great role.  I very frequently think that there’s no job in Greece right now that’s more interesting than what I’m doing.  To be able to – in this time of crisis, when people are just trying to get by – to work on something so creative, so forward thinking, and so exciting… In preparing the SNFCC for its operations, we are literally starting with a blank sheet of paper, and we’re developing the plan of how this is going to work, how we’re going to offer this added value, and how we’re going to achieve this vision of the SNFCC. Knowing that this will have such a great impact is very rewarding. I’m very privileged to be in this position right now.


Can you tell us about the architect’s vision?

Renzo Piano is a well-known architect, as you know, and a great personality as well. His vision for the SNFCC is that it becomes a place, a destination, which people will love.

If you see the design of the building, Renzo Piano has buried it under a green roof. He created a park that’s on an artificial hill which then extends over the buildings. So, even though all the buildings are above ground they seem to be buried below this park.

He didn’t want anything grandiose. He wanted a center that will be accessible and state of the art, in all aspects of it. He visits quite frequently; he is on top of the project.


What advice would you give young people who are thinking about leaving Greece in this time of crisis?

I think that working and living abroad is something that all young people, who can, should do. It’s just like traveling. It expands your horizons, it expands your way of thinking. It helps you tolerate different opinions and accept diversity. So, I think that living and working abroad provides the opportunity for great experiences.

Also, there are many industries that in other countries are a lot more developed. So, even from a technical and professional-experience perspective, it’s very valuable for Greece to have people who have worked abroad to come back and share their knowledge. Whether they decide to come back, I believe will depend on the situation in the country at the time.

I came back just before the 2004 Olympic Games; a very different time. I don’t know if I would’ve made the same choice today, in this environment.

Like so many people…

I think it’s a real shame that Greece is losing a lot of its youth, who are going abroad to find opportunities, but if we manage to bring them back a few years down the road, we’ll have a work force that could contribute a lot to the country. It’s the youth that are staying and are unemployed that I’m more worried about, the “lost generation.”

In that context, I believe that the SNFCC, can play a role in providing educational opportunities and helping young people achieve their potential.

Also, recognizing the impact that the crisis has had on the crisis, the Foundation, in addition to this large grant and its regular grant-making activities, has launched two major initiatives in the last three years: One was 100 million euros for addressing the impact of the crisis, of which 97 million euros have already been awarded in social welfare, health, and education grants. And in October 2013, the Foundation announced another 100-million-euro grant, called Recharging the Youth, whose aim is to help create new opportunities for Greece’s younger generations.

A foundation cannot reduce the unemployment rate. But, it can help young people develop the skills to become more employable and it can fund initiatives that foster innovation and collaborations.


Elly Andriopoulou (DEREE ’97)

Elly Andriopoulou (DEREE ’97) serves as Chief Operating Officer at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, after working as co-COO at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Previously, Ms Andriopoulou worked at Citibank for several years, becoming Marketing Director at Citi Greece/Citigroup before joining the philanthropic foundation. She has also worked for Oliver Wyman in Boston, MA, consulting Fortune 500 companies on strategy, revenue growth, restructuring, and organizational design.

She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from DEREE in 1997, followed by her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 2001. Ms Andriopoulou went to Athens College for her secondary education (1993).