“There is nothing more important than your reputation—to onoma”
  1. Could you tell us a few things about your Greek heritage?

All four of my grandparents are immigrants. My Mother’s parents immigrated from the village of Olympoi in Chios. My Father’s family immigrated from Halikarnassos (Bodrum) in Asia Minor. My Grandfather’s family was destroyed in the Asia Minor genocide. My Grandmother’s family stopped in KOS for a number of years on their way to the U.S. We still have family in Xios, Kos and Athena. My parents were born in West Virginia and so was I. But despite being a second generation Greek-American, I didn’t learn English until I started school. My grandparents took care of me and only spoke to me in Greek.

The first time I went to XIOS was in my mid-twenties.  When my wife and I landed on the island, I had one of the most intense, unique and moving experiences of my life. To this day, I believe I was touched by the Holy Spirit. When we landed, while still on the plane, I was overcome with a feeling that I cannot describe. I knew that I had come home. My soul knew.  I cried.  And I was right – I was home. How else do you explain such an overwhelming mental, emotional and very physical reaction to touching the soil for the first time? 

During another trip, I experienced one of the greatest days of my life. My family, accompanied by my parents, went to OLYMPOI. My Mother’s grandfather, Father Stamatis, served as the parish priest in the village generations ago. The emotion of watching my children, my mother’s grandchildren, enter the old Church where my Mother’s grandfather was the Priest was overwhelming. 

I will never forget when my family, Parents and I visited Halikarnassos.  It was an extraordinarily emotional day for my Father and me.

  1. How did you choose to study Finance? Did you have any role models in your life that helped you choose this path?

We are manufacturers and industrialists that happen to manage one of the world’s leading private equity funds. I was inspired by, and my life would be changed by, an epic event in my hometown over a quarter century ago. I am from a steel town, Weirton, West Virginia. In the early 1980s, when I was in High School, National Steel announced it was going to close or sell the mill. The steel industry in the U.S. was collapsing and giant mills were closing all over the industrial Ohio Valley.  A closure would have been devastating. Weirton had 20,000 residents and 10,000 worked in the mill. A man named Eugene Keilin, a New York investment banker, engineered the largest employee buyout in the history of the world. I had never heard of an investment banker before. Gene saved the town, saved the jobs, and provided a future for thousands of people and their families. I said to myself I want to be him. I want to do that. Gene created a new path, a path where “labor” and “capital”, which are usually anathema to each other, worked together to create something unique and incredibly successful.   I still cannot believe I would grow up to be Gene’s partner, and co-found KPS Capital along with Gene and my partner, David Shapiro.  

My heroes and role models professionally are my partners, David Shapiro, Raquel Palmer and Jay Bernstein. My brothers and sister. Brilliant, hard-working, stunningly creative, but deeply loyal, humble and the embodiment of filotemo and humility. They inspire me every day. While we are all different, come from different places, backgrounds and traditions, we share the same value system.

  1. Which moment of your career, until today, do you consider of being the most important?

Of the more than 60 manufacturing and industrial companies we have created, turned around and transformed, none has meant more to me that HHI.  It is a story of two Greek-Americans forming a partnership and accomplishing something extraordinary.

The story begins when I was randomly introduced to George Thanopoulos at the Detroit automotive show.  George is an immigrant from Crete.  He was known as the Michelangelo of the auto parts business and ran a giant division of a huge multinational company. I invited him to NY to have dinner. 

At that dinner, George said, you have the capital, the turnaround experience, the union relationships, and I have a credential in automotive parts business second to none. We agreed that we were not just going to do make an investment, but rather we are going to transform and consolidate an entire industry in North America. And we did. At the time, we were a small firm, not the global multi-billion dollarfirm we are today.  All of the large firms wanted to hire George.  But his parents, immigrants, metanestes, who don’t speak English very well, said to him, Na pas me ton Elena.”

We created a new company, Hephaestus Holdings Inc. on a napkin, (“HHI”) which went on to acquire five companies primarily in the automotive forging industry. We chose Hephaestus for the obvious reason. Four of the five companies HHI acquired were in bankruptcy, four of the five were facing liquidation, four of the five were cash-flow negative, not just unprofitable, four of the five either didn’t have management, or had terrible management.  We turned each of these business around and integrated them into the HHI platform under George’s leadership. 

The result was a groundbreaking win-win-win-win for all stakeholders.

The sale of HHI seven years after its creation was a huge win for our investors, resulting in an $870 million cash distribution to stockholders, an $800 million profit, and over a 10 times return on our invested capital. It was a win for labor and working people.  We saved 3,000 premium manufacturing jobs in the United States. We worked constructively with the of the largest and most powerful labor unions in North America. It was a win for the communities where we operated. We saved 15 plants in the 15 communities that needed those plants. It was a win for our management team, who are now independently wealthy.

Our accomplishment was recognized by the trade publication Private Equity International as “the turnaround of the year” globally in private equity.

Our success was the result of two Greeks speaking a common language, with a common culture, a common religion, common traditions, that fostered a level of trust between two men that can now finish each other’s sentences.  Our partnership was magical.

  1. After all these successful years, could you share with us the secret of success?

The secret of my success is are attributable to the following:

(1) an exceedingly hard work ethic,

(2) the willingness to take risk,

(3) creating something different and unique the market place, and

(4) building and owning my own business (with my Partners). 

With respect to work ethic, anyone who views their job as just a paycheck will never be successful. I sacrificed the decades my 20’s and my 30’s by working seven days a week. I am almost 50 years old and still never stop working. I don’t have a job, I have a vocation, a mission and a passion. Some readers would say “that’s not a life.” They are wrong – there is nothing wrong with having a passion and making a material impact to in the lives of your family, your community and your Church. You have to take risks in the course of your career, the truly safe path is the easiest, but least rewarding. Along the way, I risked my career and future on two occasions. While both decisions resulted in success, in retrospect no prudent person would have taken that risk. KPS’ success, and mine, is because we created a differentiated and unique private equity firm. We are a firm that actually transforms the business of companies, not just their balance sheets.  There are a thousand private equity firms, but very few with our skill set, track record and demonstrated ability to effect change.  Finally, the only way to create true success in purely financial terms is to own your own business.

  1. You have said that “There is nothing more important than your reputation—to onoma”. What does “onoma” mean for you?

There is nothing more important than your reputation. There cannot be any separation of who you are as a person, who you are as a business person. A reputation takes a lifetime to build, and can be lost in one moment. At KPS, we conduct business with filotemo. Nobody is perfect. Nobody can always do the right thing, but you can try to do the right thing. We treat people with respect and dignity.

  1. You have resurrected over 50 manufacturing companies… Do you recon a resurrection for the Greek economy?

Greece has experienced an unprecedented financial catastrophe, and its people have suffered under an inhuman, irrational and dogmatic Troica-imposed austerity regime that has destroyed a country, destroyed communities, and caused great injury to families.  Despite everything however, the people, “the Demos”, still maintain the hope and dreams for a better tomorrow. No amount of austerity will ever crush the Greek spirit, sense of destiny, and will to overcome.

I have spoken about this issue very publicly. Context is important: we own and operate manufacturing facilities in over 20 countries.  We have built plants all over the world. We understand what it takes to compete in the global economy.  Greece is competing for investment with every country in Europe, and its periphery (especially its periphery), every country in the world, and even every state in the United States. In order to compete, I respectfully suggest that Greece do the following:

First, Greece must elect an unambiguously pro-capitalist Government. There is only economic system that works – capitalism, more specifically Anglo-Saxon capitalism. Capitalism has lifted over a billion people out of abject poverty in India and China in one generation. Communism, Marxist/Leninist philosophies have failed. The only place that it appears these discredited and failed ideologies are still practiced are Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela and the Syriza Government.  Greece needs a Government that will immediately implement drastic reforms for its economy – labor law, tax policy and enforcement, anti-corruption measures, etc… Greece needs a government that will create the environment to attract foreign direct investment – look at the success of Ireland, the Czech Republic, Poland and Portugal in this respect.

Second, Greece must default on its debt and float the drachma.  Greece will never repay its debt.  Everyone knows that. The Troika knows that.  Austerity has crushed the Greek economy. For what? So that Greek economy can generate a “surplus” to one day service the just the interest on this debt – maybe? Is that the future that every Greek mother and father want for their children? There are many forms of bondage. The financial crisis has substitute the bondage of debt for the bondage of the Ottomans.  Look at the stunning resilience of the British economy because of the free-floating pound sterling. The pound acted as a “shock absorber” post BREXIT. Greece should follow Britain’s lead.

Finally, Greece must capitalize on its human capital. Greeks are amongst the most educated, creative, and brilliant people in the world. Greece has been a global center of thought for three millennia.  Greece needs to develop its human capital, and attract businesses and industries that rely on the product of the mind.  Given the traditional self-reliance, entrepreneurship and work ethic of the Greek people, coupled with the brilliant Greek mind, Greece should be able to become the “Silicon Valley” of Europe if its people and economy are finally unleased from the regulatory burdens imposed by the Government.

  1. How often do you visit Greece?

 We have been to Greece many times. We have been to Athena, the Cyclades, XIOS and the Dodecanese Islands. Last year we chartered a boat and toured the Cyclades as a family.  It was a magic week. I look forward to buying a home in Greece.

  1. What does Greece and being Greek mean for you?

I am who I am today, and to the extent I have had any success, it is because my family raised me with a fundamental understanding that I am an American of Hellenic Descent. I am not just some “hyphenated-American”. This has grounded me. This has provided me with confidence.  This has provided me with dignity.  I know exactly where I am from. The island, the village, the house. I have a sense of place, and that is powerful.

I am who I am today, and to the extent I have had any success, it is because my family raised me with a value system, with the traditions and respect resident in every Greek family, along with accompanying obligations and expectations.   I carry that value system with me every day.  I understood from a young age, that my actions reflect not only on me and family, but on our entire Hellenic Community. 

I am who I am today, and to the extent I have had any success, it is because my family raised me our Orthodox Church. I want to be very clear about something, in my opinion, there is no such thing as Hellenism without Orthodoxy.  I can only view Hellenism through the glorious prism of our Church. You cannot separate the two.

  1. If you could address a question to all Greeks, what would you like to ask them?

I love to grill. I would ask them to send me their recommended recipes for grilling lamb – marinade, spices, technique, etc… All good manufacturing people like me believe in the process of continuous improvement. I welcome any suggestions.

Famous Greeks

“There is nothing more important than your reputation—to onoma”

Michael Psaros is a Co-Founder and Managing Partner of KPS Capital Partners, LP, and a member of its Investment Committee. He is among the wealthiest Greek-Americans according to the annual list published by The National Herald.

KPS Capital Partners, LP is the manager of KPS Special Situations Funds, a family of private equity funds with approximately $5.5 billion of assets under management focused on making controlling equity investments in companies across a diverse range of manufacturing industries experiencing a period of transition or challenged by the need to effect immediate and significant change.

“There is nothing more important than your reputation—to onoma. What I owe to my family, and the All Saints community, is that they taught me filotimo. And if you run that parallel directly to my business at KPS, we are a firm that has a value system. We are a firm that understands we have obligations, and there’s nothing more important to our firm than our professional reputation—to onoma mas” he says.

He received a B.S.B.A. degree in Finance from Georgetown University and attended Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan.
His role models were his grandfather Mike, who worked until he was 86, and his grandmother Evgenia.

“All four of my grandparents are immigrants. My Mother’s parents immigrated from the village of Olympoi in Chios. My Father’s family immigrated from Halikarnassos (Bodrum) in Asia Minor. My Grandfather’s family was destroyed in the Asia Minor genocide. My Grandmother’s family stopped in KOS for a number of years on their way to the U.S. We still have family in Xios, Kos and Athena. My parents were born in West Virginia and so was I. But despite being a second generation Greek-American, I didn’t learn English until I started school. My grandparents took care of me and only spoke to me in Greek” he explained in an interview at ellines.com

Mr. Psaros and the Co-Founders of KPS have successfully developed and executed a proprietary investment strategy that has resulted in the creation of successful enterprises by transforming non-core assets or businesses into vibrant and thriving independent companies or by acquiring assets or companies that were close to shutdown or liquidation, suffering from a history of operating losses, operating in bankruptcy, or in default of obligations to creditors.
The KPS Funds’ Portfolio Companies have aggregate annual revenues of approximately $4.5 billion, operate 93 manufacturing facilities in 23 countries, and employ approximately 40,000 associates, directly and through joint ventures worldwide.

Mr. Psaros currently serves on the Board of Directors of the following KPS portfolio companies: American & Efird (Chairman), Chassis Brakes International Group (Chairman), Electrical Components International, Expera Specialty Solutions, Heritage Home Group, and International Equipment Solutions. In addition, Mr. Psaros previously served on the Board of Directors of 23 former KPS portfolio companies, including as Chairman of seven.

Previously, Mr. Psaros was an investment banker with Bear, Stearns & Co., Inc.

In April 2013, Mr. Psaros and his spouse created The Robin and Michael Psaros Endowed Chair in Business Administration at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, where Mr. Psaros presently serves as Vice Chairman of the Executive Board of Advisors. He also serves on the Board of Advisors of the Georgetown University Center for Financial Markets and Policy.

On December 2, 2016 received the 37th Homeric Award of the Chian Federation. His parents George and Marie – Anne come from Olimpous and Kalamoti that belong to Mastichochoria (“the mastic villages”) of Chios. The Homeric Award was established by the Chian Federation in 1977 and is awarded annually to distinguished personalities from the fields of politics, arts, literature and to philanthropists.


  Comments: 6

  1. Paulette Galiotos

    Great interview! Michael, I am proud of you. I remember you as a young child…I lived next door to your grandparents, in Weirton. God Bless you & keep up the good work!

  2. Lenny & Jodi Verebay

    Every time we read another article about your accomplishments it makes us more and more proud to be your friend. We look forward to seeing you soon.

  3. Themistocles Themistos, aka Thomas

    Your interview Michael, reflects the opportunities we have in America. I also went to First grade speaking very little English because both of my parents were immigrants who came through Ellis Island. I am not a fan of bilingual education. Speak in the vernacular. Your story is the story of the American dream. Most immigrants left their homeland for a better life. You are a great example of what a person can do who is willing to take a chance and work hard. You have also given back with your generosity. I will share your story with our daughters.
    My best to you and your family,

  4. Kevin Dean

    Another brilliant contribution by my best friend!

    Hoya Saxa!

  5. Steve Brezny

    You still continue to impress me. Hope all is well with you and your family. I will try to make it to NY sometime soon and perhaps we can catch up.

  6. Stamatis Billis

    make Kos proud