As the cradle of modern civilization, Greece has contributed countless innovations to humankind. From roughly 460 BC- 146 BC, Greeks dominated the ancient world by way of cultural developments and military might. The mathematical developments of Euclid and Archimedes; the philosophical dialogues and treatises from Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates (who some readers may remember from his cameo in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure); and dramas created by Sophocles and Euripides are still venerated as important contributions to knowledge even in the twenty-first century. It should also be mentioned that we can thank the Greeks for many other important inventions like the Olympics, gyros, and Liam Neeson’s portrayal of Zeus.
In modern times, Greece has been better known as a tourist destination with its plethora of beautiful beaches, historical sites, and excellent cuisine. But since the economic collapse of 2009, times have been tough for the Hellenic Republic. Even before Greece joined the Euro zone in 2000, the country suffered from financial trouble brought on by high inflation and record unemployment, with one in ten Greeks out of work. After ridding themselves of the drachma like a cheap plate on a taverna floor, Greece used their newly strengthened credit to increase government employee wages and to fund their massive pension program. When you take into account the rapidly aging population of this Mediterranean country, this was a disastrous move. Greece’s financial troubles were made even worse by Olympian levels of government corruption. One of the highest profile cases involved Akis Tsochatzopoulos, former defense minister and Socialist party member (the Socialists have since kicked him to the curb). During his tenure as defense minister, Tsochatzopoulos reportedly took $26 million in bribes for assigning military contracts to rich buddies. As a result of this widespread corruption and mismanagement, things have only gotten worse. As of November 2013, the unemployment rate in Greece reached an astounding 28%, nearly double that of the previous record high for unemployment in the Euro Zone. While many of Greece’s 11 million people are struggling as a result of the financial devastation of their country, a number of Greeks (both at home and abroad) are dominating various industries.
Among Greece’s most famously wealthy are Greek-American Ariana Huffington, the Editor and Chief and founder of the Huffington Post news blog; Greek-British Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of the no-frills European airline easyJet; and Greek-American musician Jesse Katsopoulos, who once performed with the Beach Boys and knew the Olsen Twins way back when.
The five billionaires on our list prove that there’s still plenty of moving and shaking among the Greeks and Greek diaspora.
5. – C. Dean Metropoulous- $1.3 Billion
Greek-born Metropoulous is a 67-year-old investor who specializes in acquiring and revitalizing troubled brands. In 2010, he bought Pabst Blue Ribbon for $250 million and spearheaded an innovative marketing technique which rejected “traditional” beer advertising (big boobs, tiny bikinis, and fast cars) and sought to cultivate a more niche market by having tattooed guys distribute his product at music festivals. Metropoulous has done similar revamping with other well-known brands such as Bumblebee tuna, Chef Boyardee, Aunt Jemima, and Duncan Hines. Most famously, he saved Twinkies, America’s favorite non-expiring snack cake from extinction. In 2013 he partnered with Apollo Global Management to purchase the dying brand from bankruptcy court, thus satisfying nostalgics and stoners everywhere.
4.- Aristotelis Mistakidis- $2.7 Billion
Mistakidis, who is a dual Greek/British citizen, holds a BsC in Economics from the London School of Economics (much like another Greek further down on our list). He began his career at Cargill, where he learned about the metals industry, before joining the Glencore Company, where he is the Co-Director of the Metals Commodity department. When Glencore went public, Mistakidis was propelled onto Forbes’ billionaire list as a result of his 411.8 million shares. He is also the Chairman of Mopani Copper Mines PLC, Director of RecyclexSA, and a Non-Executive Director of Katanga Mining Ltd.
3.- John Catsimatidis- $3.1 Billion
Hailing from the small island of Niseros, Catsimatidis emigrated to the United States as a young boy. After growing up in a rough neighborhood in NYC, he dropped out of New York University several credits short of graduating when he spotted a business opportunity that he was unable to pass up. He revitalized a failing grocery store (belonging to a family friend) and that fateful decision led to his eventual title of CEO of Red Apple Groups and Gristedes Food in Manhattan. Catsimatidis is also heavily involved in NYC area real estate, owning over 300 properties in New York and Pennsylvania. He also owns the Hellenic Times, the New York Metropolitan area’s largest Greek-American publication. Catsimatidis is, perhaps, most famous for his failed bid for the 2013 NYC Mayoral republican party ticket, where he was defeated by Joe Lhota.
2.- Spiros Latsis- $3.3 Billion
Number 2 on our list, Spiros Latsis, is the only Greek on our list who is not a self-made billionaire. The son of shipping tycoon John Latsis, Spiros holds three degrees from the London School of Economics, including a PhD in Philosophy. He currently manages EFG International, Lamda Development, and Hellenic Petroleum. Proving that billionaires are not insulated from the Greek economic collapse, Latsis’ own net worth his been deeply affected; as a result of stock depreciation, his fortune has lessened by approximately $4 billion since the recession. That’s about 1 billion gyros less in purchasing power.
1. – John Paul DeJoria- $4 Billion
Our numero uno (or ena, as the Greeks like to say) is billionaire is Greek-American John Paul DeJoria. The son of an absentee Italian father and a Greek mother, DeJoria’s fortunes have changed drastically since his birth. His family often did not have enough money to make ends meet, and as a child, he spent time in a foster home. When DeJoria partnered with friend Paul Mitchell in 1980 to create John Paul Mitchell Systems, a hair product line, DeJoria was homeless and living out of his car. Their shampoos and conditioners were an instant success and DeJoria’s first foray into other entrepreneurial ventures occurred in 1986, when he partnered with businessman Michael Gustin to start Gustin Energy Company, which specialized in gas and oil exploration. In 1989, after a friend’s trip to Mexico, DeJoria was inspired to start the Patron Spirit Company with Martin Crowley. DeJoria owns 70% of the ultra-premium tequila company. He owns a number of other companies, including DeJoria Diamonds, a company that specializes in conflict free gems. About his eclectic business interests, he states, “the key is to be excited and passionate about what you are starting, and the quality with which you produce something.” He has also acted in a number of small roles including a cameo in 2008’s Don’t Mess With the Zohan, where he played the part of his business partner, Paul Mitchell.