07/11/2013 08:55 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The New Greece Imagined -- A Thousand Small Businesses

I noticed a different energy the minute we docked. Although beautiful beyond description, the financial turmoil that has rocked Greece has also clearly taken a toll on the magnificent historic island of Corfu.

It first became apparent to me that something was wrong while I was touring the ancient fortress. Looking for a restroom amid the ancient rock, I found not one but four facilities with large signs on their doors, reading "Out of Order." Astonished that this place, which is so frequented by visitors from around the world, could be without restrooms, I turned to ask the two guards what was wrong. And, I was even more surprised when they replied that all of the bathrooms were simply without toilet paper. I asked them to please fix the situation. "It is not our job," said one while the other one shrugged. That captured it.

Once the nation of invention and creation, the land of Homer and Aristotle, the Athenian paradise of the entrepreneur, Greece now appeared to be the land of "it is not my job."

We have all read about this tragedy in the news. National debt climbed to 160 percent of total GDP. The wages that need to be paid by the national train service exceed its current revenues. Unemployment is over 25 percent and perhaps the most telling harbinger of things to come -- the youth unemployment rate is nearly 60 percent. It is heartbreaking when you look around at this beautiful country, but most young people under 30 want to leave Greece, seeking employment overseas or in Germany.

Faced with this sad reality, I was relieved to make the acquaintance of many Greek entrepreneurs during my recent trip there. Our driver, Philippos Atsopardis, was self-employed and eager to get things done. He drove safely, knew the best routes, and was punctual and on the ball. He displayed an outstanding intelligence and initiative. He was perhaps the best guide I've ever had -- sharing his love of Greece with us through a deep wisdom and historical knowledge. However, according to Greek law, he wasn't self-employed. He was required to subcontract with agents who were licensed to transport tourists.

Later, upon arriving at one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen, Philippos drove us up the mountains to Palaiokastritsa, a lookout over the island of Corfu. It took my breath away as I walked around, eating a chocolate ice cream. I felt a sense of total happiness and contentment, so glad to have the opportunity to see Greece.

Soon a young woman came to speak to me. She was the owner of the Golden Fox restaurant and hotel where I stood; she was an entrepreneur. With beautiful golden hair, she explained to me that her mother had founded the Golden Fox in honor of her own hair and had used a fox for their intelligence. She was a confident and charming small business owner who commanded impeccable service. I was delighted when I learned that she had created 14 jobs there, employing three of her own family members. She was eager to expand her business by building more rooms in the hotel and marketing to attract more tourists. I got a picture with this princess of entrepreneurship -- I saw in a moment the rebirth of Greece through thousands of small businesses like the Golden Fox.


The view from the Golden Fox in Greece


Me with the owner of the Golden Fox.