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News > Who's Who > Kostas Kefalakis, Class of 2000

Kostas Kefalakis, Class of 2000

Greek boomerang and advocate for failure and uncertainty as secrets to success
29 Sep 2023
Written by Effie Delimarkos
Greece
Who's Who
Kostas Kefalakis, Class of 2000
Kostas Kefalakis, Class of 2000

Kostas “Kefa” Kefalakis proves himself right when he says that some of Greece’s most talented people are (or at least were until recently) part of the diaspora. Returning to Athens after 20 years abroad, with his wife Ece and their son Leo, he brings with him professional success, a spirit for reinvention and a commitment to help others that brings conscious citizenship to life. 

How would you describe yourself in 10 words or less?

Traveled half the world to help teams improve and transform.

If you had to choose, what is the single moment that defined you most?

There are too many to count. I guess it is when I failed one year in uni and went into overdrive throughout the rest of my career.

What is your fondest memory of ACS Athens?

The wrestling team which doesn’t exist anymore!

What was the most important thing you learned at ACS Athens?

At ACS Athens I learned how to think and not just memorize answers. I always remember Theory of Knowledge, where I personally built the skill to think critically about life from a multitude of perspectives and learn how to debate.

How did ACS Athens help you on your path? 

ACS Athens exposed me to many opportunities to try out and explore, from photography to science fairs, sports and debate clubs, and it gave me the opportunity to be in the wrestling team, where I learned teamwork and very importantly the value of failing before winning.

ACS also gave me the opportunity to be ahead in terms of technology, even back in the 90s, which gave me a huge advantage going into university.

Lastly, ACS Athens reinforced in me the value of diversity and inclusion because, much like the student population today, we had a lot of students from a myriad of multicultural backgrounds.

What did you do after graduating from ACS Athens?

I studied Business Studies with Finance in Brighton University followed by a Masters in Supply Chain Management from Cranfield University in the UK.

What was your first job after finishing school?

After university I joined Toyota Motor Europe in Belgium as a graduate in an 18-month intensive management program where I had the opportunity to work in various departments from organizing events to creating proposals for next generation car development to actually building cars in a manufacturing plant in the UK! This later gave me the opportunity to travel all over Europe as well as Japan.

What do you currently do?

I am currently the Chief Transformation Officer in Roche Hellas, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, where I help teams, locally and globally, adopt a culture of agility and innovation.

What is the most important lesson you have learned since leaving ACS Athens?

One of the most important lessons is how to deal with setbacks and failure. Not everything will go your way and that’s fine. It’s about moving forward, learning and adapting continuously.

Another big lesson is that of rapid experimentation. We rarely know what we want to do in our lives and that’s also okay. I started in finance, shifted to logistics, then to quality,  then to Lean management then to cultural and business transformation. 

Life is a rollercoaster and you never know your path. Soren Kierkegaard once said “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”

What are your top 3-5 career highlights and why do they stand out to you?

I have been blessed to have quite a few so far. My top five are:

  • At 27, I led Toyota’s European Voice of the Customer program driving 9 cross-divisional teams across research and development, manufacturing, sales and next-generation product planning. departments and next-gen products.
  • At 31, I led Vistaprint’s Global Lean Program across 4 continents, created the handbook and trained 800 people in Lean management.
  • At 33, I helped Vistaprint’s Australian plant win the Shingo Bronze Award (equivalent to a Nobel prize for Enterprise Excellence).
  • At 36, I led Hilti’s Global Lean & Agile program across 30,000 employees in manufacturing, logistics, business units, product development, professional services, sales, HR and finance. 
  • At 40, I finally returned to Greece to take on the role of Chief Transformation Officer for Roche Hellas, helping boost employee engagement faster than projected.

What do you do for fun?

I play with my son Leo, I build furniture, watch movies, go to concerts, watch standup comedy and workout!

What activities are you involved in outside of your career?

I am involved in the Brain Regain program to support Greeks living abroad to return to Greece, which is important to me as I believe there is a lot of opportunity to improve the way Greece works, and many of our best people are outside Greece.

I also serve as a TED-Ed mentor for the ACS Athens team because I want to contribute to our school and support the next generation.

Why do you think conscious global citizenship is important in today’s world?

It is vital because we are responsible for the next generation and long-term survivability of our world.

What are you most proud of - not just professionally - but also as a person?

Three things come to mind, including:

  • Saving the lives of two people, one from choking and one from drowning,
  • Serving as an Evzone in the presidential guard for my military service in Greece, and
  • Inspiring people and helping them whenever I can to live better lives.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Live in the moment. You cannot avoid pain, unpredictability, and continuous work. Be grateful for the little things and stay humble.

What advice would you give fellow ACS Athens alumni?

Connect with old friends and alumni you don’t know!

 

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