“We are the people who came here with nothing, but our values, our ethos and philotimo…”
By Apostolos Zoupaniotis – New York
The CEO and Founder of Mana Products Nikos Mouyiaris was this year’s recipient of the “Distinguished Merit Award” of the Cyprus – U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The award ceremony took place at the Union League Club in Manhattan, on Friday, June 15, in front of 500 people, during the annual dinner of the Chamber. Nikos Mouyiaris was honoured for his numerous philanthropic and social contributions, his struggles for a free and united Cyprus and his love and continues efforts to preserve Hellenism in the United States and the Diaspora.
His life and accomplishments were presented in short video shown, where friends and associates speak about Nikos, a young man from the village of Athienou, Cyprus, who came to the United States with few dollars in his pockets, studied Chemistry at St John’s and Rutgers, started Mana Products with $6,000 he borrowed from his brother and today it is one of the biggest companies in cosmetics with 1,000 employees.
The President of the Republic of Cyprus in a video message expressed to to honoree his personal gratitude, as well as of the people of Cyprus, for Nikos Mouyiaris’ numerous and long services in the struggle for the freedom of the island.
“Nikos Mouyiaris has faithfully devoted time, energy and effort diligently serving Cyprus, working tirelessly and persistently for the promotion of freedom, democracy and human rights of the people of Cyprus.”
Opening the event – characterized as the most successful ever of the organization – the Chamber’s executive director Despina Axiotakis called Mouyiaris a true benefactor to worthwhile causes and a humble humanitarian.
Nicole Petallides of FOX Business, the MC of the event, presented the dignitaries and the speakers, while Archbishop Demetrios offered the invocation and greetings. His Eminence praised Nikos Mouyiaris efforts for Cyprus, his support for Greek Culture and his passion for education. He said Mouyiaris will be remembered not only for touching the hearts of many people, but also for cultivation their brains. The President of Cyprus – US Chamber of Commerce Nicolas Nicolaou – CFO of Mana Products – opened his remarks with the goals of the Chamber, that was founded in 1997 and since its inception it has been committed to strengthening the economic relations between Cyprus and USA, by engaging the business communities of both countries. This year’s accomplishments include the successful Cyprus Investment Forum organized by Capital Link in New York City, in March. He also mentioned the support to young Cypriot professionals to get J-1 Visa and trained in the United States, as well as the efforts to organize the group of Young Professionals.
Nicolaou praise Mouyiaris’ philanthropic and humanitarian activities, and his tireless efforts to preserve and advance the Hellenic ideals. He also revealed that Nikos Mouyiaris was motivated at his childhood, around 1953, when he met a young Cypriot who has just came back from serving to the Greek Army and he taught him to love Hellenism. His name was Grigoris Afxentiou and in 1957 he sacrificed his life fighting for the liberation of Cyprus from the British rule.
Philip Christopher, Nikos Mouyiaris closest and comrade in the struggle for Cyprus for over 40 years, presented the honoree and spoke about his life achievements and qualities. He mentioned the common efforts in Washington, but also the fact that when Greece was stricken by the economic crisis, Mouyiaris was in the frontline of the efforts to build the Hellenic Initiatives. His contribution was even greater in Cyprus, after 2013. He also spoke about the love of Nikos for his village Athienou.
“He turned hi sorrow to courage and determination to fight for our cause”, Christopher said, referring to the loss of Nikos Mouyiaris’ son Alexis, who died in 2014.
The president of the Young Professionals of the Chamber, Christina Shaila, praised Mouyiaris as a mentor and an inspiration to the youth.
Greetings and special recognitions were offered by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Mike Gianaris, State Assembly women Aravella Simotas and Nicole Malliotakis and NYC Councilman Costa Constantinides.
Also present at the ceremony were, the Cypriot Ambassador to U.S. Leonidas Pantelides, Cypriot Permanent Representative to the UN Kornelios Korneliou, Greece’s Deputy Permanent Representative Dionysios Kalamvrezos, the Consuls General of Greece and Cyprus Dr Konstantinos Koutras and Ambassador Vassilios Philippou and the Consul of Greece Manos Koumbarakis.
Nikos Mouyiaris with congresswoman Caroline Maloney
US Ambassador in Cyprus Kathleen Ann Doherty praised Nikos Mouyiaris’ accomplishments and spoke about her immigrant background, with her Irish father who immigrated to the United States when he was 10 years old and although he didn’t attend college he became a very successful businessman.
“In many ways I share the immigrant story and in many ways I share also the fact that my father who was a poorly educated man when he came to the United States has found his businesses and as entrepreneur he was very successful and his daughter became U.S.A Ambassador to Cyprus”, she said.
Offering the views of the U.S. government, regarding the upcoming Geneva Conference on Cyprus, on June 28, Ambassador Doherty said that obviously the chapters on security and guarantees and on territory will be very important at the negotiations on the Cyprus problem, adding that Turkey will have a pivotal role.
Doherty noted that the two sides in Cyprus have shared with her “some elements of the agreement”, adding that she is very impressed “with the enormous accomplishments the two sides have made. And I do believe there has been a foundation to create a very strong, sustainable, vibrant, robust federal Cyprus “, she added.
“We have to hope this is the best chance we might have had in 43 years to resolve the division of the island. I hope it is successful, because I believe very strongly in the potential of Cyprus both in the context of the reunification and outside the context of the reunification,” Doherty told the audience.
Addressing the event Doherty said that the two Cypriot leaders will meet “in an isolated mountain town in Switzerland where I guess there is no escape – with representative of the UK, Greece and Turkey and in the presence of the EU and the United Nations.”
She noted that the Cypriot leaders have met over 70 times in the last two years and the negotiators have met 150 times. “The two sides have shared with me some elements of the agreement and I must say I am very impressed with the enormous accomplishments the two sides have made. And I do believe there has been a foundation to create a very strong, sustainable, vibrant, robust federal Cyprus “, she noted.
Doherty said that opportunities for US businesses are endless in the context of the reunification of Cyprus. “Whether it’s infrastructure, telecommunications, public works or port development there are so many opportunities for US businesses. Tourism, agriculture, biomedicine, software development many many more opportunities,” she went on.
She added that there also opportunities today in Cyprus, referring to US companies ExxonMobil, Noble Energy, Hard Rock Casino Integrated.
“I am really impressed by the amount of U.S. businesses’ interest in Cyprus,” she noted. She also spoke about opportunities to train young Cypriot professionals to become business leaders and the potential of increased tourism from the US to Cyprus, noting that “only 18,000 Americans travel to Cyprus each year and that’s really a tragedy.”
Accepting the award, Nikos Mouyiaris paid tribute to his parents and relatives, teachers, his village, his wife Carol and his friends and associates.
“I have often said that we are successful not because we are very smart; not because we worked very hard and we were lucky; but because we had the good fortune of being able to stand on the shoulders of others…. I certainly would not be where I am today, if my soul, my psyche – were not formed by Greece and Cyprus and my Hellenic values, and if not for the US which provided me and all of us with so many opportunities. I would not be where I am today but for the great Mana employees past and present some of who are here tonight.”
Mouyiaris mentioned the many success of the Greek American Community in business and education, but he warned the audience for the danger to lose our identity and be unable to help Greece and Cyprus in the time of need.
“Sadly, in the last 50 years I noticed a decline in the organized groups of our Omogenia, our community. Our Federations and a lot of our local organizations, our somatia are threatened with extinction. They cannot attract our youth, our amazing young professionals. We have not managed to change our ways.
Our church, the only organized institution we have in our country unfortunately is diminishing. Membership is declining, our Greek schools are shutting down. Without institutions and organized groups a community eventually disappears. We are facing existential threats as a community.
In these 50 years, we have seen the decline of Greece and Cyprus. The amazing people in these two countries unfortunately allowed people to lead them, many of which were not leaders, but opportunists, if not worse.”
He underlined that because of them and because of Turkey, a chauvinist (xenophobic) aggressive neighbour, Cyprus and Greece are facing existential threats.
“Why is our Church and other organized groups diminishing and how can we help them reverse this?”, he asked.
Raising a series of questions regarding structural weaknesses of the Greek American Community, compared to the American Jewish Community, he pointed out that we can do all these things if we organize and work together and create professional institutions.
“We can do all of these things if we recognize that our “Achilles Heel” as a people, is our desire to do things as individuals and sometimes collectively but on a voluntary basis. Unfortunately, although we achieved certain things this way, we did not achieve the optimum and what will help us survive and thrive as Hellenes in the Diaspora.”
He said that it’s very easy to say how much we love Greece and Cyprus and our community. But at some point, the need for real and helpful actions becomes necessary, because theories and wishful thinking are not enough to correct our non-involvement and past mistakes for the common good.
Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC)
Mouyiaris spoke about the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) founded by himself five years ago, as a professional organization run by paid professionals, to address some of our Community’s challenges.
“In five years with only four people on the staff and some volunteers, with amazing members HALC in their thirties and forties, Greek professionals, doctors, academics, lawyers, judges, entrepreneurs, with 60,000 followers on Facebook, HALC became one of the most effective Greek organizations in our country”, he said.
He said thee members of HALC have emerged as leaders and now the organization is launching an investment in an even younger generation.
“This year HALC began leadership 2030 where young Greek Americans from around the country will experience an intense two-year fellowship. Once every two months, these young people go through an intensive all-day seminar. They travel to DC annually, write articles and engage in social media, have private dinners with academics and leadership experts. They are in continuous contact with their HALC mentors. By the end of 2017, there will be Leadership 2030 Fellows in Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Baltimore and California.
By 2030, hundreds of Hellenes will have gone through this program. They will have a common point of reference. They will have knowledge, experience, connections. Most importantly, they will have each other. And we will have gained a powerful force; hundreds of Hellenes in their 30s and 40s who are ready to lead the Diaspora, help Greece and Cyprus, and train the next generation for decades to come.”
Asking everyone to help the effort, Mouyiaris expressed confidence that we can be successful.
“(Because) we are the people who came here with nothing, but our values, our ethos, philotimo, and the desire to work very hard, to get an education and do better in life. We can do it once we recognize that no matter how high we climbing our profession, or our business, other people have helped us. Our parents, our teachers, our villages, our country, our friends etc.”