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News > Who's Who > Leo Charitos, Class of 1988

Leo Charitos, Class of 1988

International finance expert, practical philosopher, and advocate of authentic global conscious citizenship
16 Nov 2022
Written by Effie Delimarkos
Greece | Switzerland
Who's Who

Leo Charitos may be best remembered by his Academy classmates as a loyal, fun-loving athlete, but 35 years after graduation the multifaceted global finance expert also remembers the valuable lessons learned at ACS Athens that guided him - both professionally and personally - throughout the years. 

Leo moved to Boston for his studies after graduating from ACS Athens. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Boston University and a MALD in International Private Law and International Finance from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He grew his career working at some of the premier finance firms in the world, including Ernst & Young, Credit Suisse and Merrill Lynch and now serves as Head of Legal and Compliance Affairs at BERG Capital Management, a Swiss advisor to sovereign funds and pension funds on issues such as investment governance and processes.

Mr. Charitos recently visited ACS Athens in 2022, both for the ACS Athens All-Class Reunion and as a panelist at the 2022 Global Ideagen Summit, where he shared insights about what needs to shift in the financial industry in order to truly enable global sustainable development. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the panel discussion (3rd from the right), he shared how his ACS Athens experiences still guide him, which prompted us to expand on that with a more in-depth discussion. 

What is your fondest memory of ACS Athens?

There were many fond memories involving sports, great teachers and living in Athens at a time when today's Greece was taking shape, but the best memories were the interactions with my schoolmates - some of the most interesting people I've ever known and I'm still in touch with many of them today.

Who were the most influential people from your time at ACS Athens?

Teacher:  Bill Diedrick - we wouldn't have won the Cold War without him! Bill realized that I was planning on coasting through my senior year and was interested in the Cold War, which was still a thing in 1987-88, so he sponsored my independent study and bombarded me with books from all angles on the Cold War. He taught me that the best way to manage an adversarial or competitive relationship is to know the adversary/competitor and to know yourself, which is something I continue to utilize in my business dealings. The Cold War ended when I was at university, but George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” and others taught me a great deal about framing strategic issues of all sorts. 

Coach: Neophytos Papaioannou taught us how to win, and win we did, but his most important contribution was preparing us for life. He coached soccer, although some of us joked he also coached cross-country, with all the running to Penteli we did! Phytos was a professional soccer player, a refugee from Famagusta who also founded the Western Kentucky University’s soccer team. His family lost everything, but kept working to improve his lot and always managed to convey a sense of optimism. He also showed us how real teams are built (no shortcuts, always compete against yourself first, and keep your head up) evidenced by the fact that our two 1986 EMAC All-Tournament Awards were won by our best and worst player, respectively. That spoke volumes to us!

Classmate: George Giannaris, from whom I learned more about entrepreneurship than anyone. He was running businesses when the rest of us still had training wheels on!

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

ACS Athens provided my schoolmates and me with something that is no longer encouraged as children become adults: perspective.  ACS Athens helped us gain perspective by encouraging us to ask what we were missing - in an assignment, in an essay, in a math/science project, etc. This helped me become a successful troubleshooter in my various stations as a professional.

We were extraordinarily lucky to have teachers and administrators that helped us focus on the lessons of the past and how to apply them in our world.  I must have read Kenneth Clark's "Civilisation" at least ten times since getting introduced to it during Humanities Class.  I also still reread my ACS Athens copy of "Four Socratic Texts.” I always go back to Plato’s “Crito,” where we were warned about the limits of listening to the advice of “experts” over those actually doing stuff. 

How do you apply the perspective that you started honing at ACS Athens in your career?  

The key is not to fall for emotional or facile solutions, and to be able to differentiate solid information from noise. I’ve seen great companies fall apart very quickly, often with the help of expensive consultants, when key decision makers lacking perspective are given free reign. Conversely, I’ve seen companies and individuals achieve great success by keeping their perspective in all sorts of dealings. The bottom line is that believing one’s own marketing unequivocally and developing tunnel vision when trying to achieve one’s goals never ends well. 

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

In 1997, Credit Suisse appointed me to manage the integration of our North American private banking businesses into a new group structure, so I was babysitting consultants and learned early on that there's a lot of fluff in big business.  

In 2006, I helped build up an advisory platform for Merrill Lynch's largest international clients, which reminded me that even most complex problems can be distilled into manageable components.  

In 2011, I realized a long-time dream by becoming CEO of a significant family office and confirmed my suspicion that there are better ways to manage than by fear, division and intrigue.

Are you involved in any civic institutions, non-profits or advocacy groups? If so, why are these important to you?

I serve as treasurer for the local Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners branch and am also on the respective international advisory boards of ACS Athens and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.  There is nothing sadder than having knowledge and not being able to impart it where it can make a difference to someone, old or young.

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

There were several inflection points in my career where I had to choose between family and career, and I always chose family.  You can't take the money with you when you're gone.

If you had to choose, what is the single moment that defines you most and made you who you are today?

During my first Camino de Santiago, I did the trek (330 km in 11 days) to give thanks for the arrival of my daughter.  On the third day, my high-tech hiking boots had turned my feet into hamburger meat and I considered stopping.  I walked 20 kilometers into the next city in sandals and bought a pair of ordinary trekking shoes, eventually making it all the way to Santiago with feet looking like a mummy's.  The lesson: when something is that important, you can't rely on tech and you have to keep plugging away no matter what.

Some last words of wisdom

What advice would you give your younger self?

Listen to my parents even more than I did.

What advice would you give students currently at ACS Athens?

Your brains are still developing and you have a LOT more distractions than we did.  Do not let these distractions keep you from filling your brain with solid knowledge that will help you succeed in and beyond university.

Developing conscious global citizens is a foundational part of the ACS Athens approach to education, why do you think this is important in today’s transforming world?

As long as being a global citizen follows the Socratic/Aristotelian model (ouk Athinaios, oude Ellin, Kosmios eimai), there is nothing more vital.  If "global citizen" becomes a buzzword for superficial analysis and interaction, like I've encountered throughout my career, then we're not doing the students or their "clients" any favors.

After living in five countries, Leo Charitos now calls Zurich, Switzerland home, which allows him to visit Greece (and ACS Athens) with some frequency. He has a wonderful daughter that he admits keeps him on his toes, and he still plays sports “albeit a bit more gingerly” than his ACS Athens days. He enjoys music and literature, and as he shared, has been called to hike the Camino de Santiago in Spain more than once.

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