John Calamos in an Exclusive Interview Before His Trip to Greece

Interviewed by Sophia Matsas

John Calamos, Chairman, CEO and Co-Chief Investment Officer of Calamos Investments talks about investing in the US & abroad and his upcoming trip to Greece to participate in the 1st Greek Power Summit.

What part of Greece is your family from?

My father came to the U.S. from a village outside of Tripoli, and moved to Chicago where my family resided on the West Side.

What are some of your personality traits that may be considered traditional Greek characteristics?

Definitely the strong work ethic. We lived above my father’s grocery store, where every day was a work day – even on the weekends. We were very proud to be Greek and to this day my heritage is still very important.

There is a notion that financial success brings happiness. Have you found this to be true as you accomplished substantial financial success?

I don’t know if that is the only measure of success. There are a lot of avenues and ways to succeed. For me personally, getting my wings in the United States Air Force was a personal success.

How has your success changed your daily lifestyle?

I am as busy now as I have ever been and continue to work full-time as the company’s CEO and Co-Chief Investment Officer.

Do you have international offices?

We did open up an office in London and are considering offices in other parts of the world as we build our business as a global asset manager.

How about Greece?

We do not currently have an office in Greece, but perhaps someday.

Would you suggest Americans be more conservative in the current economy?

Americans are saving more and are less dependent on their houses for their wealth, so saving more makes sense. For those who are investing, there is a lot of opportunity here. We think more globally as a company, and I think investors should, as well. People are hesitant because of the volatility we are seeing, but we believe when there is volatility there is also opportunity.

What would you consider the best asset classes in which to invest?

High debt makes us weary of the bond market here. Equities are very appealing to us. They are probably the most undervalued we’ve seen in years.

Have you ever invested in Greece?

We do invest globally and have a number of global strategies. We invest in other parts of the world, including Greece. Although right now we are very light and not directly investing in Greece, we continue to look for and see opportunities around the world.

What are things that you suggest Greece does to change the perception and the reality of the Greek economy?

One of the issues is that there is much focus on the restructuring of the Greek debt. This has to be done. There is also a focus on how to build up the private sector in Greece. Would you feel comfortable opening up a business today in Greece versus here in the U.S.? They need to start focusing on how to attract businesses to Greece and making a change. Greece is not a good place to open up a new business right now. Greece also needs to talk about how they become a market economy. Greeks seem to be successful in building businesses around the world, but they are not able to do the same in Greece. The government needs to create policies that encourage the private sector in Greece, because this private sector will provide the income to pay off the debt. The private sector would also create a bridge with Europe.

What will be your participation at the Greek Power Summit in Athens?

As a Greek-American, I hope that Greece can solve its issues. At the Greek Power Summit, I will be participating in a discussion on debt restructuring, as well as a panel on how the economy can grow and become a market economy. There are two types of capitalism, remember. One is crony capitalism where the government controls everything, and the other is capitalism that encourages upward mobility of citizens. The government needs to give its citizens incentives to build businesses, and the government needs to create rules so there is a fair playing field for everyone.

Do you think that Greek Diaspora can help Greece?

The only thing we can do is respond to good ideas. We cannot do much unless Greece restructures its economy into a market economy. We love Greece and we love our heritage, and want to see a prosperous future for the country.

Is a major psychological shift necessary?

Many countries around the world have made psychological shifts. Brazil today has become a very dominant economy, and it wasn’t too long ago in the 1970’s when they had structural problems. They restructured their whole economy to become a market economy. It can be done. Hopefully Greece has the leadership and the motivation to recover; they have had more serious issues in the past.

What do you think of the Diaspora bonds targeted towards Greek-Americans?

A bond is an investment. The question is whether that bond is a good investment right now. If you are buying them out of the kindness of your heart it is called philanthropy. Even in philanthropy though, you want something good as an outcome. The bonds are simply paying bad debts, unless the government thinks about how they can change the structure. This is not the proper way to bring about change. They need to privatize their public businesses. They need to be very aggressive in how they change to a market economy.