You could say that West Germany was partly responsible for the Hermes Expo and the Hellenic News of America. Both were created by Paul Kotrotsios and neither would have happened if he hadn’t faced a delay there waiting for a Master’s degree program to open up.
The Hermes Expo and the Hellenic News of America have helped Greek Americans and Greeks communicate, interact and conduct business over the past 33 years. Kotrotsios never imagined himself a newspaper publisher or heading up an international business Expo. Born in the village of Parakalamos, Ioannina, Greece, he received a degree in economics from the Graduate School of Industrial Studies in Thessaloniki (ΑΒΣΘ) which is now known as the University of Macedonia Economic and Social Sciences. He had hoped to follow up with a Master’s degree in regional development in Germany but the program had a 17-month to 18-month waiting list.
Kotrotsios had two choices; stay in Germany and work until the program opened up, or return to Greece and do mandatory service in the Army for 30 months. His mother’s brother in West Chester, PA, suggested a third option to him: America. He came to America, landing at Bennett Hall at the University of Pennsylvania on May 3, 1979.
Six months later, he transferred to St. Joseph’s University, earning a Master’s degree in Business in 1984.
Fast forward a few years. Kotrotsios had been working as a general manager for the Greek Radio Network, but in 1987 was ready to move on. He had narrowed his choices to opening an accounting office, travel agency or newspaper.
On the advice of his wife, Linda, and Koumbaro, Dr. Michael Papaioannou, he decided on a newspaper.“We discussed it and on Sept. 1, 1987, the newspaper was out. It was a labor of love,” Kotrotsios said.
The newspaper filled gaps he discovered while visiting many Greek American church communities and societies during his tenure in the radio industry.
“I felt that we needed something in written form in order to communicate with the people,” he said. He paraphrases. “What is spoken, flies. What is written, stays.”
The hope was the Hellenic News of America would bring the Greek American community together—“to inform them, to enlighten them, to advertise for their business, to promote their products and services, to bring them together and keep them united.”
The newspaper has adapted to continue that mission over its 33 years. Now his daughter, Aphrodite, is the publisher, a fitting move. “Aphrodite was born a few days earlier when we started discussing the idea of putting together the newspaper,” Kotrotsios said.
Not a man to rest on his laurels, Kotrotsios looked for other opportunities to keep the Greek American community engaged.
It came during the five-year anniversary of the Hellenic News of America. A celebratory dinner at a Philadelphia downtown Greek restaurant was a big success. People came from Boston, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. “We invited 200 people, but 400 came to the celebration,” Kotrotsios recalled. So many came, they were being served in the parking lot. The Hermes Expo was born at breakfast with friends the next morning.
Following up on the anniversary dinner’s success, Kotrotsios decided he wanted to do an event that thanked all of his supporters over the years.
“I wanted to give more flavor, more accessibility to my subscribers, my advertisers, my sponsors, to meet one another, to meet who is who in the community,” he explained.
In March 1992, Kotrotsios and wife Linda organized the first-ever Hermes Expo, with 100 booths at the Taj Mahal casino hotel in Atlantic City. Over 10,000 people came. There were busloads from as far away as Canada.
The Expo offered business owners a chance to come together and share knowledge and experiences. It is named after Hermes, the Greek God of Trade and Communications. Its main goal is to promote trade relations between Greece and the United States.
The success of that first Expo prompted a key sponsor, the late Ted G. Spyropoulos, to suggest it was time to branch out. In 1999 and 2000, the Expo went to New York and Chicago. In 2001, it settled in New York and in 2002, it was back in Atlantic City.
In 2014, a new venue opened up—the Concordville Inn in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Three years later, another move, to Center City Philadelphia at the Art’s Ballroom and the Estia Restaurant ballroom.
Before the Expo, there weren’t places for Greeks and Greek Americans to gather outside of the church, church festivals, and dances. “We wanted the Hermes Expo to become the stepping stone. That’s why we invite and we’re still inviting many more people from Greece and the southeastern European countries to take part in the Expo,” Kotrotsios said.
Greek American business people are natural participants because they are already familiar with products from that region of the world.
The Expo uses whatever tools it can to promote products and services between the U.S. and Greece. There are exhibits, demonstrations, seminars, panel discussions, receptions, luncheons, dinners, business to business meetings.
The idea is to promote networking and business in an enjoyable way. “That’s why 60 percent of the participants are coming back year after year. That means we’re doing something right,” Kotrotsios said.
The hope is to make the Hermes Expo an engine for cooperation and understanding between the U.S. and other nations.
That was demonstrated in 2002 when the municipality of Thessaloniki in Greece and the City of Philadelphia signed a Memorandum
of Understanding agreeing to promote business between Greece and the United States through trade fairs and conferences.
The deal was reached after Thessaloniki sent representatives to the Hermes Expo. Conversely, Kotrotsios took businesses from Philadelphia and participated in an international trade fair in Thessaloniki, where more than 1,200 exhibitors from around the world attended. That agreement led to more Greek companies approaching the Hermes Expo saying they wanted to bring their products and services to the Expo.
Following them were the chambers of commerce from Greece, then representatives from Greek municipalities. When Athens hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 2004, Greek government ministers attended the Hermes Expo to promote Greece and the games to the Greek Americans and philhellenes here.
“We’re not isolated, we’re not exclusive. We’re inclusive,” Kotrotsios said. “Anybody can stop in and attend the Hermes Expo. Anybody can buy a booth. Anybody can buy an advertisement. Anybody can sponsor a luncheon, a seminar, a panel discussion, a reception, take the podium and get his or her message across.”
It’s an open invitation but participants are expected to be responsible business people. They need to be USDA approved if food is involved. They have to provide marketing materials. Not every overseas business is ready to enter the U.S. market when they come to the Expo. “The companies need to do their homework first, and then come to this shore ready to do business, to strike a deal,” Kotrotsios said. The Expo also extends its reach into southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Countries as varied as Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, and Romania have all been represented.
How the Expo has Changed
Now that the Expo has become familiar to the general public, Kotrotsios is shifting its focus on the businesses that stand to benefit the most from the B to B experience.
“If you’re a business, you’re the best candidate to come to the Hermes Expo, to come and meet the exhibitors, to set up an appointment with an exhibitor, a sponsor, to talk to them and possibly do business with them,” he said.
He described it as an evolutionary shift. At the same time, the Expo is opening up to professionals like doctors and lawyers by inviting Hellenic medical and lawyer associations.
“We sponsor Continuing Legal Education, to unite all the Greek American lawyers, not only in the Greater Philadelphia area but nationally. We invite lawyers from Illinois, Denver, Florida to come as speakers at the Hermes Expo,” Kotrotsios said.
What’s happening for 2020
This year, the Expo features a four-city roster. “We want to give an emphasis that the Hermes Expo could come to your neighborhood next year or the following year,” Kotrotsios said.
It opens April 2 at Chateau Ritz in the Chicago area. A luncheon will honor Peter Parthenis, Sr., the founder of Grecian Delight, a manufacturer, and marketer of top-quality Greek and Mediterranean foods for the foodservice and retail industries. Grecian Delight was a sponsor at the first Expo and is a sponsor again, Kotrotsios said. ”They are good people, a very sound company and they have helped thousands of people.”
The Expo moves to the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. on April 6, then to Philadelphia’s Arts Ballroom April 8 with an awards dinner at Estia Restaurant. Finally, it closes out at the 3 West Club in New York City on April 9.
A wine and cheese reception to promote Greek wine and food, along with a chef demonstration (new this year) will be offered in Chicago.
At each location, there will be exhibitors from a wide range of industries and professions. Panel discussions will look at “Emerging trends for the food industry”; “Bilateral business solutions for Greek and American investors”. Delegations from two Chambers of Commerce from Greece will offer products and services and ideas as they look to connect with the Greek American community and philhellenes.
Inspiring the youth
One focus will continue to be toward the younger generation and the opportunities for them. For many years, the Expo has sponsored an essay writing contest for high school and college students through its non-profit arm, the Mid Atlantic Greek American Foundation. The best essay writers, chosen by a team of professors, will win scholarships announced at the awards dinner to study abroad in Greece or to help with tuition bills.
Kotrotsios credits his daughters Aphrodite and Stavroula for spotlighting the younger generation. Both served as founders and presidents of student associations at Temple and Villanova Universities when they were students there.
They founded the Hermes Young Professionals Initiative in 2007, which helped connect young adults to Greek American professionals and business people that can guide and help them with career choices.
“There are ongoing discussions about how to help the younger generation get together, and find out what business and work opportunities are available through the Greek American community,” Kotrotsios said.
This is a good time to be at the Expo. The business climate in both the U.S. and Greece is excellent. “So many American companies are looking to invest in Greece,” Kotrotsios said. The financial situation has improved in Greece and the austerity measures lifted. That is enticing investors in the U.S. and Greece.