Kostas Georgakoulias, 44, is a NetSuite consulting practice manager at RSM, a worldwide provider of audit, tax and consulting services. He is based in Nashville.
I’m proud to say I’m from Hamilton, Ont. People are blue-collar, work their way up, proud they got their hands dirty. Hamilton had that stigma for being a steel town, not as sophisticated as Toronto, but that’s changed. Hamilton’s reborn. We think of going back; I can’t believe how expensive it’s become. We sold our house for $427,000 five years ago; now it’s $800,000.
I was always the techie, taking apart machines and computers, the support for friends. You were cool if you had an e-mail address in the early 1990s. I had an e-mail address. Back then, the Internet was line of sight, no wiring. My parents had a house on Hamilton Mountain, the antenna’s still there because it’s so high no one’s going to go get it. My dad worked his butt off and bought my brother and me a Commodore 64. Then I bought a 100-meg hard drive. “Wow! I’ll never need another hard drive ever again!”
University wasn’t exciting. My cousin was at Maves International Software in Markham, Ont. and said to come work there. We did Y2K rollout and certification. In 2000, Maves was approached to be acquired by Descartes in Waterloo, Ont. Walter Maves said “no,” because he wanted to see what happened in the early dot-com days. Descartes offered me an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. I travelled internationally, to Australia and South America, a lot. When it was a startup, I joined NetSuite, a cloud-based [enterprise resource planning] system; no one knew what the cloud was. “I could log in and access my accounting system online from anywhere?” It was light years away.
Because I was doing larger and outlier projects, I didn’t see the benefits of everything NetSuite built into one system, until I left. I couldn’t learn that from my boss, who said leaving was a bad decision. No one wants to listen to their boss or parents. He was right. I went back to NetSuite, it was a valuable lesson.
RSM focuses 100 per cent on mid-market. I help manage southeast region companies with their tax, accounting and auditing systems. Nashville is an amazing place. We have a lot of trade with Canada because of auto parts. Where I live, it’s transplants from all over the U.S., the world, people always interested in [Canada’s] health care. With marijuana legalization, now it’s “Hey, when are you going back?”
Technology and using your brain are gender-neutral. When I was building computers, they were big mainframes. Now it’s $20 technology the size of a credit card that does way more than I ever could. I tell everybody who’s young to see how other businesses operate. Even if they all sell widgets, they sell and operate a little differently. I wanted to learn new software and technology. I’ve done that so many times in my career, the first to raise my hand. I was the one-man band for a lot of projects because I jumped in and learned everything. I could put technology-speak into C-level [C-suite] and end-user speak, use common sense.
I have the same friends I had when I was in diapers because of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. You grow up, have different trades, but a home game is when your “brothers” are back, put troubles behind them. During university, I owned a T-shirt company I’m toying with bringing back. My friend David and I made bootlegged T-shirts for a Labour Day Classic Game [while the two were in university] – they were confiscated by the Ticats. David and I were in the locker room for their end-of-year sale; our shirts were in the bin being sold.
Relationships are built on rapport and listening. Be attentive and value opinions, don’t come across as a know-it-all. I’ve grown to be a listener. My wife and kids would argue I’m not.
My uncle said this all the time when I was a kid: “Don’t be afraid of work. Let work be afraid of you.” As a kid, you don’t know what adults are saying. You think it’s rubbish. But, as soon as you see a problem, attack it head-on. You’ll learn the proper things to say over your career, don’t leave a room saying, “I wish I’d said that.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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