Maine Business School alumnus Themis Violaris, founder and managing director of Monarch, a satellite communication services company based in Cyprus, returned to campus last October to speak to graduate students in Assistant Professor Anne Canabal’s international business class.
It was the first time that Violaris, 43, had been on campus since he was a student at MBS, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1992 and an M.B.A. in 1994.
“I came here because I wanted to share my experiences in the international business environment over the last decade with you,” he told the class, which included students from France, Egypt and Germany.
With his direct and engaging manner, Violaris, a native of Cyprus, immediately captured students’ attention as he talked about Monarch, a leading provider of global mobile satellite communications for the shipping industry, with customers mostly from the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar.
“We’re very strong in the market,” said Violaris, who started Monarch in 2007. “We’re now considered one of the big players in the Middle East. People know us and like what we do. We have agreements with companies worldwide. Our partners are from New York, Canada, England, France, Italy, Germany —everywhere. Shipping is global; it never stops and it never sleeps.”
An avowed technophile with an adventurous spirit who enjoys the excitement and ever-changing nature of his job in which he gets to meet new people and see the world, Violaris had some pithy advice for students: Be willing to start at the bottom. Don’t be afraid to change jobs and, above all, love what you do.”
“You’ll spend more hours at work than at home, so if you don’t love what you do, get out immediately because it will be too much of a burden,” he said. “And don’t think as soon as you leave school you’re going to become vice president or CEO. You don’t want that. Practice plus experience is what makes you a good manager. Don’t be afraid to go out there and start from the bottom. That way you’ll be respected and end up on top.
“And don’t worry about changing jobs. Change is good. I changed jobs seven times to reach where I am today. I have been a marketing and human resource manager at a hospital, an international sales representative at a welding company, a marketing manager for a hygiene company, and a general manager of a soccer club. But none of these were fun. Still, I gained experience from every job I had. I remembered things, I met people. Doors opened because of these jobs.”
Doing business in the Middle East is much different than in Western Europe or the U.S., Violaris told students. “Culture, history, tradition and religion are important in the Middle East,” he said. “You have to understand their working times and adapt to their ways. They’re not going to work during Ramadan. And their weekend is Thursday and Friday, and sometimes Saturday.
“To be successful, you have to respect and appreciate the Arab world – you can’t go there and tell them what to do. You have to listen – open your ears and let them talk to you.”
Violaris offered a number of strategies that he uses as he does business in the Middle East, but that also hold true in general: Don’t show off or be loud; follow up with after-sales service; keep your promises; be punctual; be genuine; take time to prove yourself and build trust; give credit to your team and the people you work with; and learn about and understand your customers.
“In the Middle East you don’t go in with a three-piece suit,” he told students.
“They hate ties. Once, for a business meeting, I put on a dishdasha (a long white robe traditionally worn by men in the Middle East). They laughed because I hadn’t put it on properly. But it was fun and I won business because of that clothing. Don’t copy others. It’s fake and it’s really boring. Be a leader, not a follower.
“The most important thing,” he said, “is to get the job done. It doesn’t matter how – it’s up to you to figure that out. Just get the job done.”
Violaris told students he had fond memories of the Maine Business School, where he received a quality education that provided him with the fundamentals he needed to be a success in the international business world.
“Maine has an atmosphere that allowed me to do my studying,” he said. “It’s good to be back. The Memorial Union has changed, but Bangor and Orono look the same.”
He said he hoped to do some remote projects in Maine and invited students to join him.
Image Description: Themis Volaris