The Inspirational Speech Delivered by Entrepreneur, Ms Tasoula Hadjitofi, at the 2015 Company of the Year Competition Finale and Award Ceremony

What does freedom mean to you?? I am sure that at school whilst reading about the heroes of our history you were taught the value of freedom and why we should be prepared to die for it. This is the freedom you will learn at school. Today, I shall talk to you about another definition of freedom. The greatest prison of man is in our minds. We might live free in a country and yet remain prisoners of our minds, our thoughts, due to taboos, pre-conditioning, fears, insecurities, suppression of our dreams. Challenging our minds and liberating ourselves from fear, negativity and wasted thoughts will challenge us beyond the boundaries that we allow others to impose on us.

You will meet adults in life who will apply the Tulip effect on you, particularly if you are too smart, meaning that if your head sticks above the average person, they will try to chop it off, to level you. The challenge is to remember that you will grow back again, but this time taller, stronger.

If you are different you will be scrutinized and singled out and you will have to justify your existence, your perspective. Well, I assure you that the moment that you catch that airplane to go abroad for study or work, you become a single tulip in a field that does not bear your color.

We, come from a small Mediterranean Island with less than a million people that is the population of The Hague, where I started my career and live to-date. A Cypriot tulip different from millions of others. Beyond the boarders of Cyprus it is irrelevant what our name is or who our parents are. No special treatment. You are alone and you have only yourself to rely upon. Entrepreneurs are independent people because we are fully responsible for our organization. We become Self-Reliant.

When I arrived in Holland I did not speak the language but needed a job. On a daily basis I dressed myself to kill and turned up on the doorstep of every international company listed in the phone book around my area. More than a hundred doors shut on my face until one, allowed me in to see the Human Resources person. An Israeli woman gave me that chance and gave me my first job as she was impressed with my perseverance.

Imagination is more important than knowledge said Einstein and I agree. If we lack imagination, we would not know what to do with that knowledge. The entrepreneur does, and he/she also knows where to identify that knowledge in others. That is how we build our team with complementary skills, talents and education. To acknowledge the talent in other people we must first free ourselves from insecurities and egos. We must become content with who we are and what we are. Don’t be afraid of recruiting the best for the job even if they show that they will over grow you. If they grow, your organization will grow and you will grow too. Recruit the best for the task and don’t discriminate positively or negatively. I never wish to be given a job because I am a woman or of a certain ethnicity. I want to get that job because I am the best at it and so you should too.

Mastering minds, mastering our thoughts is another vital ingredient to success: How do we clean our minds from all this noise, the small talk, gossip, emotional burdens and expectations that others impose on us? How do we create space for thinking as to what matters to us?

We must not be afraid to be in our own company. Daily moments of silence, alone in our thoughts help reflect and evaluate our thinking and actions. Walks in the nature, swimming, sports, music, art are ways to clean our minds. Praying is another way to keep close to ourselves, find that peace within us which creates balance between our souls, body and mind. If we work on ourselves to improve ourselves and become better human beings we will discover strength within us and, we shall rely less on others. I have met many successful entrepreneurs in my life but the ones who really made it BIG are all spiritual people who pray or meditate daily.

Remember that there is only one person you are able to change and that is yourself and even that, you can only change your perspective, the way you look at things. We change nothing if we are not free thinkers.

Self-awareness makes us get to know ourselves, learn from our mistakes and make different ones in the future. Allow yourselves to make mistakes, it’s ok, be forgiving to yourselves. I do not know any entrepreneur who has only successes. An entrepreneur takes calculated risks and is prepared to win and loose. In fact many entrepreneurs have more failures than successes before they hit it big time. Cut your
losses when you have too and move on, take the lessons learned and the experience, and start again. Knowledge is important but with experience we convert that knowledge into understanding.

There is NO successful entrepreneur who is not passionate with what they do.

Self-awareness helps us find out our likes and dislikes, our passion. If we follow our passion, we will spend all our time on it and it will not feel as work, therefore, success and money will follow. When people ask you what do you want to become… never answer.. to be successful, to be rich… Just answer by what and how you want to do. State your passion. If you can do that, you are on your way to success…

We shall now move to the second axis of my talk… negotiation… We are born dealmakers, because from birth we are negotiating… We make deals… Day ONE of our lives… As soon as we are born we cry so we get milk and love from mummy… THAT’S DEAL no 1. We cry so we get a dummy or a comfort toy, deal number 2… Later in life we negotiate with our parents on school grades and what bicycle or reward they will give us.

Think carefully and you will realize that each one of us negotiates daily with everyone around us. So we are born dealmakers. What type of a deal we cut, will determine how big we become. A strategic thinker will cut a win-win deal. A winwin deal has no losers but two or more winners. To cut such deal you must study your opponent, understand their strengths and weaknesses. Understand what is important to them and which deal will they go for.

Never go into a negotiation without being prepared. Study hard, know your material, know your business but above all, know your competition like yourself. Study your competition and be sure when you enter that negotiation that you are confident. Information, knowledge is power and gives you control during the negotiation because it limits surprises. Always have a number of scenarios to play with, the best scenario and the worst scenario and use your tactics to position yourself and maneuver your opponent to strike the deal.

NOW, lets show you why… you are born entrepreneurs..

Freedom of mind, determination, creativity, spirituality, passion, building up the right team, self reliant, …… Some of you will have a bit of this, a bit of that and you definitely all have leadership skills otherwise you would not have being here today. So, I am already confident that you can become entrepreneurs, if you choose too. Remember though, that self-awareness is the key to freedom of your minds and the key to success. However, the password to the master lock is…. Determination…. determination and determination. The harder they kick you… the fastest you must bounce back…. Your passion will keep you focused, your self awareness will give you strength and an edge to competition but at the end of the day, it is your resilience that will be tested and the optimum winners will be the ones of you who…. Never give up

In my personal journey I can give you many examples of moments that I had many reasons to give up my business, my icon hunting and cultural passion etc. I had many smacks on my face and I lost many battles in my life because deep in my soul, I knew that I had to choose the battles to give if I was to win the war. Today, I stand in front of you as a mother, wife, entrepreneur, who turned her life upside down to become a cultural activist worldwide WHY? Because … this is what I love doing, this is what I want. This is what fulfills me. Titles, positions, power, people can take away from us. Nobody but nobody can stop us loving something. If you love something, your business concept, your idea as much as I love Cyprus and Famagusta, you will find your path just as I found mine in cultural heritage. Began serving my country first and now, serving humanity using my experiences from Cyprus.

I left Cyprus at the age of 17.5 with 75 pounds in my pocket to go abroad to work and study. At the airport my father gave me a five shillings note and wrote the date on it, and he told me……. I believe in you…..

Ever since I worked tirelessly to never let him down or any other mentor that came my way and believed in me because TRUST is the greatest responsibility of all. Trust in yourselves. Young Lions of Cyprus, I believe in you, not because you are the people of tomorrow but because you are the people of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Your perspective is a very valid one in our society and we, the grown ups have created a world which is only for the grown ups, because we don’t see you as our partners today but only as the wishful thinking for tomorrow. That leads us to create businesses with no jobs or opportunities for you. We create institutions that you are too young to be part of. We stay in positions of power until we are too old to function. I apologize for that on behalf of those who keep you down.

I invite every agent of change in this room to step up and together we create space in business boards, in politics, NGO’s in all levels of society where youth can be part of today. Here, allow me to congratulate the initiators and organizers of this fabulous initiative that sees you as partners of business today.

We must invest in bridging the gap between our generation and your generation. You speak another language, the technological language but also, you have purer ideals than us, as power and money has not yet corrupted you. You are pure and light… so light that YOU can fly. You can fly up in the sky like eagles so don’t U let anybody clip your wings.

Young Lions of Cyprus follow your dreams…. From the bottom of my heart… I really, really DO BELIEVE IN YOU….. I know it is your generation that will shake up our system and bring the change we need in Cyprus. Enjoy the journey and, I am at your call….….

Thank you!