The Lyric Revolution

By Editor | April 5, 2011

Managing Teams, Purpose, Strategic Leadership

by Alexa Kefalas for Bonjour Athenes
The Lyric Revolution
At the head of the Greek National Opera for almost a year, Nikos Mourkogiannis has managed to save this historic institution by straightening out its economics and transforming it into a cultural place par excellence. Our interview took place at the Athens Club in the centre of the capital, a place where he frequents. Nikos Mourkogiannis with his round tiger eyed glasses and a wide brimmed hat pulled down over his head has a killer smile. This is a man of communication who is suspicious of platitudes, a pragmatist averse to ideology, and a provocateur who knows how to show
conservatism, a lover of change as much as politics. At 55, he is the phoenix of a life where he is eternally dissatisfied with himself and where he has tried several times to change. As the head of the Greek National Opera in Athens, he avoids conventions. This is what makes him original. His philosophy is unique and reminds me of Rimbaud: “change everything”.
In April 2010, when the government entrusted him with the Greek National Opera, he had to make a choice: either to close the historical institution or to revive it. For this brilliant economist, a Harvard graduate, the solution is a mathematical one, “It is almost as expensive to keep it alive than it is to close it. I therefore took the lead…I am from Mani and thus take a direct course,” says Nikos Mourkogiannis. A few weeks later the opera is everywhere. And even outside Akademias Avenue. We find the troops in summer theaters, hospitals for the holiday season, plastered on double-decker buses roaming the streets of Athens. The program takes off and “for the first time, all performances are sold out!” he exclaims.

Ten months later, it is a success. The budget is balanced. A time of fun for a man who always breaks records; He graduated first from the Athens Law School, then Harvard, not to mention his studies in French Literature to which he proudly says he owes a lot. Everything Nikos Mourkogiannis touches turns to gold. After Harvard, he became a Director of F-16 Programs and then Chairman of Monitor Group, Europe. He was soon close to the world leaders in politics and business. Renowned for his love of concepts, he is capable of explaining in simple terms the most subtle rules of economics.

Sometimes he is reserved and appears to be somewhere else, especially when it comes to small talk. But everyone will tell you that he is totally present and attentive with his interlocutors and his dossiers to the point where is interested in technical details that would scare even a graduate of the French School of National Administration. He is always thinking about the formation of high performance teams. He could fill a key chapter in a management book from a single conversation.

Nikos Mourkogiannis is bursting with ideas. For him, the arts can help save Greece from the crisis.”The country cannot depend only on Mykonos for the tourist season; Athens must be changed and even Faliron must be made into a centre for open air concerts, like Venice. Summer opera is a key requirement.”, he says with enthusiasm. In terms of artistic performance, the most complete Greek product, according to him, is Maria Callas. “Thus, it is necessary to work on this originality” but he wants to continue to innovate. Patriotic but progressive, he wants to make the national Greek holidays a symbol of Greek civil consciousness. The 25th March celebrations were based on the theme of lyricism and ecological patriotism so that the environment would be an affair of the heart. And for the national holiday of next 28th October, he has already put in place a concert with the participation of Europeans and above all the Italians.

The lyrical revolution is underway for Nikos Mourkogiannis and he hopes the rhythm will lead to its success.