First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
George Stroumboulis: Humans are resilient and adapt to most environments they are thrown in. This is no different. I have 2 young daughters that each had their birthdays during this was an experience. Learning what this is, what we need to do to adapt, and to stay healthy mentally and physically was an amazing experience to take with my family. Now we are ready to get back to normal with schools starting, and hopefully, the economy opening up.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Ideoli
George Stroumboulis: My background is diverse, and a long journey to get to where I am today, as the CEO of a global manufacturing company. My early exposure to business was in the family restaurant business, which we bought when I was 5 years old. Essentially from day one, my immigrant parents threw my sister and me into the business. To make sure we were at their feet daily. We learned about the economics of produce and food costs before I hit double digits in my age. Being exposed to so many elements was the greatest lesson to this day.
From there, I studied and did internships abroad in France, Greece, Ireland, and the United States. Working for companies in the executive learning, lighting distribution, and tech start-up worlds. For my spare time, I produced a reality television program for the Greek market that landed me on the Wall Street Journal cover for my efforts – something not expected but a testament to hard work and dedication in the business and movement I was leading. Since then, I met my now business partner at a LED lighting start-up, where we were both part of the founding team. Since that company sold and went public on the NYSE, we both decided to team up and start our interiors manufacturing company, combining our expertise and global know-how.
How does Ideoli innovate?
George Stroumboulis: We work directly with the industry’s top designers, architects, specifiers, and providers of LED lighting and related products on a daily basis. We help our sophisticated partners design, prototype, manufacture, and bring to market the latest and most incredible designs and products in the lighting and furnishing environments. We have a global team of designers and engineers who collaborate simultaneously in different markets, pulling from everyone’s unique background and experiences, making for the most efficient and dynamic system in our industry. Within hours, we can design, engineer, and prototype a concept from our client’s head, or simply just manufacture better and at better price points on a global scale
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
George Stroumboulis: The pandemic has crippled our efforts temporarily in the United States. In the first few months, while we were all trying to figure out what was going on in this country and the world, everything came to a standstill. As the weeks went by, we were able to push new orders to our partners in several international countries, helping to keep the team busy and pay the bills. Since then, we have been working heavily in strategic markets and industries, pushing past this standstill. Many factors now are influencing the next several months and years – politically, medically, and economically. We have been able to refine our team, our processes, and how we go to market via our channels. Every day is a transition and a challenge, but I personally thrive on barriers. They make it worth the effort and push me to want to get over it, or around it. And we have seen our fair share of barriers to date.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
George Stroumboulis: Many difficult choices with respect to operations, human resources, and compensation. That being said, going into this global shutdown, we were running a very efficient business with respect to how we operate, how we manufacture, and where we manufacture. Going through this, and still to this day, is an eye-opener that we are all connected in functions and how we operate across several industries. A shortage of face masks in New York City cased freight on my LED lighting products to increase 10x. Not connected to me, but connected in every way as well when freight affects us all globally.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Ideoli in the future?
George Stroumboulis: Personally, my 2 young daughters (ages 5 and 2) were and are the biggest stress relief. When I have pushed as much as I could for a given challenge, and I can physically do not more, I would shut the computer down, grad the girls, and go to the beach for an hour to forget the problems, even if only temporarily. They kept us busy and motivated to keep on fighting. And encouraged to try and simplify things for them while trying to explain why we had to do drive-by birthday parties for them and why we couldn’t see our friends daily. Strange times.
Professionally, we are still figuring this out. I would be lying if I said I have the answers to this and making sure we are stress-free as a team globally, especially when colleagues have lost loved ones to COVID-19 on different continents. The saving grace so far is we have been extremely blessed to have been busy and working on projects. The team has loved being able to have work to take on daily and take our minds off of things. Also, being connected virtually was standard for us before the pandemic. As our team is scattered around this planet, we made our transition to virtual meetings seamless.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
George Stroumboulis: Many companies are offering similar services and products for sure. But I spend very little time focusing on their efforts and offerings and continuously and religiously work to learn from our clients what they love about our services, products, and how we can be more competitively priced in general. We have always been able to transition to the clients’ requirements – and our clients have many needs to keep their facilities opening and operating. From hotels to commercial buildings to residential towers to retail outlets to restaurant chains – we service them all from a lighting and interiors standpoint. When many of our clients needed sourcing assistance for non-related items, we stepped up and supported them in the past several months.
Your final thoughts?
George Stroumboulis: My company is only as good as the people who work here. The team is truly dedicated and has shown its true colors and allegiance during these times when tough decisions had to be made. The pandemic will come and go, and likely come back again, but knowing this and building for the future with the right people is what has allowed us to survive and succeed.