Now on the bumpy road to recovery, Greece’s GDP is at last on the rise, and thus a new post-Memoranda era begins for Hellas. The country stands behind its innovation-driven sectors in a push to attract investors, diversify its economy, and encourage entrepreneurship – in a knowledge-based economy.
Active in several sectors, Quest Holdings is poised to be a key contributor to Greece’s economic programme, as it stands for diversification, technology, innovation, and extroversion.
The way that Quest Holdings’ CEO, Apostolos Georgantzis, explains the conglomerate’s diversification strategy echoes a coach’s tactics in a football match. On the one hand, the defence depends on five sectors, or pillars, thus giving it more stability. On the other hand, the tactics are also “offensive”, as the group is actively and continuously seeking out and making new investments in emerging sectors. Its core five at the moment are: wholesale and retail IT products, IT services, courier and postal, financial transactions, and renewable energy.
One could also talk about a more subtle sort of offensive line when discussing the group’s corporate responsibility programme: IQbility. This initiative develops youth entrepreneurship and acts as a new business incubator, supporting start-ups from the get-go. Helping to put the brakes on Greece’s brain-drain; IQbility provides mentorship, angel capital, a workhub, and access to investors – among other things. In the past ten years, Quest Holdings has invested more than one million euros in about a dozen different start-ups.
Quest Holding’s original pursuit remains its main line of business: information technology products. Info Quest Technologies grabbed an early foothold in the sector when it was established in 1981, and has maintained its leading position in ICT products and cloud services distribution. Controlling more than 40 per cent of IT distribution in Greece, it collaborates with many head-turning names; such as Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Lenovo, Xiaomi, and HP, among others. Turn-over in 2017 was just shy of the 125 million euro mark, rising the following year to more than 155 million euros.
Under the Quest Holding’s umbrella we can also find iSquare and iStorm (authorised distributor and sole reseller, respectively, of all Apple products in Greece and Cyprus) as well as Quest Online (an on-line mega-store, perhaps only second to Amazon in the country). Interestingly, e-commerce in the Hellenic peninsula trails behind that of many other countries, having begun growing gradually only after 2013. Whereas in Germany, France, Spain and Italy, penetration is around 15 per cent, in Greece it hovers around 5 per cent. This not only presents growth opportunities for Quest Online (www.you.gr), it also determines a main strategy for another of Quest Holding’s companies: ACS.
Also established in 1981, ACS Postal Services is Greece’s largest and most modernised company in the courier and postal services sector; making more than fifty four million euros worth of deliveries annually.
According to Mr. Georgantzis, also Managing Director of said company since 2003, 40 per cent of ACS’ volume and revenues stem from e-commerce. “It is something which is strategic for ACS, for our leg in the postal services, because we believe the growth will come from this sector”, he said. “Therefore, what we do is we invest continuously in new operations, new infrastructure, and the enhancement and improvement of the consumer experience.”
A forty-million-euro investment is currently at work, to build a new 27,000 square metre distribution centre in Egaleo. Once the finishing touches are made, the warehouses should be up and running in the first half of 2020.
A similarly sized investment was made in 2015, to acquire Cardlink for the group’s first foray into the financial transactions industry. “It has managed to grow its presence within the market to more than 250,000 POSs throughout Greece”, said Mr. Georgantzis. This ranks it as the country’s largest.
Quest Holdings ventured into its fourth sector, renewable energy, back in 2006. In late 2018, Quest Energy acquired an additional seven new parks for sixteen million euros. Now, with thirteen photovoltaic power plants, totalling 13.2 MW, the firm would like to acquire more operational plants to up its capacity to 20 MW in the coming years. Given the Greek government’s interest in skewing the energy matrix more towards the renewable end, this goal should be feasible enough. In fact, this coming July, 300 MW of photovoltaic capacity will be offered in an energy tender.
Perhaps one setback facing investors like Quest Energy, however, are the currently low retail electricity prices. In order to make the venture profitable, energy firms must grow significantly. As Mr. Georgantzis put it, “Our target is to increase this sector more, and reach a much bigger size through which we will also have managed to achieve economies of scale.”
Taking on new pursuits has been paired with international growth. Not surprisingly, what inspired the group to look abroad was the recession in the Greek market. Quest’s IT service provider, Uni Systems, for instance, set its sights on European expansion, in late 2007. Today it has subsidiaries in Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, and Romania, as well as in an additional thirty other countries. More than 40 per cent of Uni System’s eighty million euros in revenues are produced outside Greece’s borders.
“In the Greek market we have a market share in the IT services – between 15 and 20 per cent”, explained Mr. Georgantzis. “There is a huge market, much bigger, in the European Union, which amounts to about one billion. We have managed to gradually increase our market share from zero to 3 per cent in that market.”
“We believe we have a very good technological know-how of the IT services [sector]; and the specialised personnel that we have makes us strong enough to feel that we would be able to increase our market share abroad. It’s a very small percentage that we have, and it’s easy to get this market share to double [it] and increase it more.”
All in all, Quest Holding’s international sales account for about 16 per cent, more than sixty five million euros. Total sales have increased steadily year on year, passing 497 million euros in 2018, up from 294 million euros in 2014. And thanks to a keen strategy of organic growth, coupled with carefully planned acquisitions, the conglomerate has been rewarded with a positive growth trajectory on the Athens Stock Exchange. In 2018, shareholders enjoyed a 12 per cent increase in earnings over 2017.