What are the secrets to building a successful global business?

31 October 2017

George Koukis

George Koukis in conversation at UTS

From humble beginnings to global tech powerhouse, Swiss-based Australian entrepreneur and UTS graduate, George Koukis, shares the personal philosophy at the heart of his multi-billion-dollar company, Temenos.

"I want to encourage people just to dream – to dream of building better companies, without any fear or concern. To achieve immortality within yourself: to say I've done it, and I've done it in my own way," says George Koukis.

It's this innovative spirit and single-mindedness that has helped Koukis build his software company, Temenos, into the market-leading business it is today.

The UTS Luminary and philanthropist recently shared his remarkable story and learnings at a special UTS event, in conversation with Deputy Vice-Chancellor - Innovation and Enterprise and former IBM Chief Technologist, Professor Glenn Wightwick.

Arriving in Australia in 1971 with only $140 in his pocket and speaking barely a word of English, Koukis graduated with a Diploma of Technology in Commerce from UTS in 1979.

"You have to have that quiet belief that what you are going to do; you have to say, I’m going to do it, no matter what you throw in front of me."

"You can complain about something in life, but it will not solve the problem," says Koukis. “I could have complained about not having a good start, but what does complaining do? Get on with what you have been given and overcome the obstacle.

"You have to have that quiet belief that what you are going to do; you have to say, I'm going to do it, no matter what you throw in front of me."

Koukis' determination to build new knowledge gave him a head start in his career as he pioneered computer systems at Qantas, including a profit centre system that helped the airline optimise the activities of its fleet and personnel, and a new way of modelling risk to insurance premiums. He then converted a consultancy at the Sydney branch of Management Science America to a managing director position within six years.

In 1986, at the zenith of his career, Koukis quit his job. "I thought to myself, I'm going to prove to the world that you can do these things and do them better, and in a good way."

Against everyone’s advice, he bought a failing banking system company, renaming it Temenos. It is today the fourth largest software company in Europe, with a market capitalisation of more than US$5 billion.

Koukis says that to achieve your goals and take risks which will ultimately lead to success, you can’t be governed by irrational fear or guilt.

"A certain amount of fear is necessary; it is in our DNA from birth to feel a little bit of fear. But that’s to make sure that the species survives. Beyond that, why would you feel fear? Why would you feel inferior?" he said.

"I make a lot of decisions – if they don't work, I learn something. If they work, I replicate them. But I’m not going to feel guilty. A lot of these emotions they are man-made things, to make us feel average. Nothing else."

Koukis says his success in business gives him the knowledge and resources to achieve what he calls his truest aim: to leave a virtuous and ethical legacy. "To me, you need to be humbled by how much needs to be done, not by what you have done.

"I would like to bequeath to my children a better world than what I have inherited. And that's a very tall order."

Koukis' philanthropy projects include the paediatric rheumatology service at Evalina's hospital in London, the ethical leadership programs he has taught for several decades, and the UTS Luminaries Postgraduate Coursework Scholarship, which helps outstanding continuing Postgraduate Coursework students pursue excellence in their chosen academic field at UTS.

Last month, UTS conferred a Doctor of Business (honoris causa) on Koukis in recognition of his outstanding contribution to entrepreneurship, software development and for his commitment to building future generations of leaders in business and the wider community.

Entrepreneur George Koukis

See all photos from the event here

Meet the Entrepreneur: In Conversation with George Koukis