In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world seems to have frozen in time. Nothing seems to interest us unless it contains the word “coronavirus”. So I was very concerned about writing this story that, initially, seems so unrelated to its timeliness and anxiety, but in the end, it turns out to be more relevant than ever.
The story of one of our own, Panagiotis (Peter) Triantos is a story of constant struggle, persistence, resilience and victory. So it has all the features we need to cope with these trying times.
Following the rules of social distancing I interviewed Peter by phone. As he answered the call, a positive aura and a sense of conversation with a man full of passion and a passion for life filled the atmosphere.
“How is it now, because I don’t know?” he asked with disarming innocence, as if this was the first time anyone had interviewed him, and more specifically about his personal story.
AGAINST THE STATUS QUO
Peter (Panagiotis) Triantos is a second generation Greek-Australian. His father came to Australia in ’68 on the ‘Australis’ and his mother in ’73.
The two met, fell in love, and decided to start their own family in their new homeland that promised them a better future.
They had three children; a daughter and two sons. Peter is middle child and what he remembers from his childhood years was the hard work of his parents. His father worked at the harbour and his mother in the engines. They did not lift their heads and struggled so they could give their children a better life. This was after all, the dream of all immigrants of that time.
Years went by quietly, until Peter turned 16 and had a revelation to quit school despite his parents’ objection and everyone’s that the extended family would fail.
Peter paid no mind to what they were saying. He broke the mould of what “good” children were meant to go study to make proper citizens of them and moved forward in a conscious way.
He tells me, “Predefined processes create predefined people. The system exists to create employees, not bosses. So I said that school is not for me and I left it. I wanted to dive deep, get my hands dirty, to find how to conquer life.”
He began working in supermarkets, washing cars and even dishes. That was until his 17th birthday came around and tragedy struck his family and himself personally for the first time when his mother was diagnosed with leukaemia.
“That threw me a lot. I started to get depressed, I had an anxiety disorder, I would have panic attacks because I was so close to my mother,” Peter recalls vividly.
On one of the occasions when he visited his mother in hospital, she could not cope seeing him in his condition. She took his hand, looked him in the eyes and said, “Take the bull by its horns and go ahead.”
That was it. Peter “took on the bull” and proceeded. How far he would go, only fate could tell…
THE FIRST BUSINESS
After a year and a half, Peter’s mother’s health improved and he decided to go into business.
He was just 21 years old. He sold some cars he had as a youngster and with the money he raised, he bought a chicken shop in Richmond. It was a failed business that was run down.
And yet… the young Peter with his then 19-year-old fiancée Katie by his side, who had resigned from her position at the bank to support him, started from scratch, cleaned up the shop, reopened it, and did well from day one. Soon enough the profits doubled and in six months, they tripled.
“I had a relentless thirst and desire to succeed. It was exactly the same thirst that my parents had as immigrants arriving in this country,” Peter explains, speaking of the risk he took at such a young age.
“I had it in me from a young age, maybe I inherited it from my father who was very hard working, so when I got this shop I gave it everything I had. I worked endless hours, caring about the quality of the materials and the results. The customers were happy with us, we never closed, we were open every day of the week,” Peter describes passionately.
For him, the whole situation was a massive bet. Not only with himself, but with the whole community that surrounded him.
“It was my chance to prove to myself that I did it. Remember that I had dropped out of school. This was not acceptable in Greek society. The standard for a child was to undertake studies. All of my family was talking about me,” he says.
With his love for what he did and his passion for success he was hooked on the shop. It was then that the pain struck a second time. His father, his model, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Now he had two parents with cancer. This time, Peter accepted the challenge and stood up, ready to fight.
YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE
“In life, you have to deal with situations that shape you as a person and your character. If all this hadn’t happened, I might have never had the strength to overcome the obstacles that were in my way. There were constant obstacles, but because I knew the pain from a very young age, I wasn’t afraid. When you see your parents going in and out of hospitals, you are no longer afraid of anything after that,” he says.
Fortunately, everything went well with his father who to this day is full of pride for his son.
These blows and close encounters with death shocked Peter and made him completely change his attitude towards life.
“It was then that I realised that we only live once, that we only have one chance at life. And people will remember you for what you leave behind. So I went and opened five more stores and was doing really well, thanks to my wife who was by my side and was also working like a machine, and in due time we had children too. We created a wonderful life. ”
Peter’s restless nature, which had brought him success at such an early age, inevitably propelled him even further.
“I had started to get bored. I wanted more from life. That wasn’t enough. My biggest passion was the manufacturing industry. I wanted to open a sauce factory for catering businesses. ”
DAVID AND GOLIATH
In 2007 he decided to sell his stores and open ‘8food’, throwing $3 million into the new infrastructure. Manufacturing, however, is a completely different ball game to that of the shops and things got out of hand.
The big names in the game were not ready to share the market or a slice of the profits with a small family-run business that emerged out of nowhere. Thus began a war that was no more than a show of force. Goliath rose up threateningly in front of David and this time, appeared to beat him.
“They were fighting me through the distributors giving them offers at a time when I, as a young person in the field, couldn’t do that. They wanted to test my financial strength, thinking that if they made bids and I couldn’t sell, then I’d close very soon,” says Peter.
It was a slow death that finally came to an end in 2008. He lost his home in Thornbury. He could not pay his loans or his debts so everything started to collapse.
“2008 was the worst year of my life,” he admits.
However, David had not yet had his last word. Holding the stone in his hand, he managed to keep his business.
When he lost his home, he begged his father to give him a home he had been renting (which was in a miserable state), just until he got back on his feet.
“I remember how bad this period was for Kathy and I. The stress for both of us was unbelievable, until one day I told her, ‘It’s done. What am I going to do;’ she replied: ‘tell me when it’s time and we’ll give it up’. Then I remembered my mother’s words, ‘Take the bull by its horns and go ahead.’ And so I said, ‘We don’t stop, we just change tactics. We forget the distributors and go to the customers directly.’”
So he took seven vans to the streets with a representative in each of them and went to the customers directly. Slowly he began to build personal relationships with the shopkeepers and things seemed to change for the better. His sale increased and the market began to learn about Peter and 8food.
David had thrown the stone…
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
12 years later, “8food” supplies about 6,000 stores including Costco, Coles, Woolworths and catering companies, while also exporting its products to Hong Kong and Fiji. The facilities at the company’s two factories in Thomastown cover an area of almost 4,500 square meters, while the company’s value is estimated at $25 million.
For Peter, it was his job to succeed by following his parents’ struggles to give him a better life.
“They left their lives, their villages, their families, and came here to give us a better future. So I wanted to talk to ‘Neos Kosmos’ because it mainly represents this generation of early immigrants and I want to tell them that ‘yes, I made it’. I want to show them that their hard work and their sacrifices were worth it. Not just the fortunes they managed to set up but all the lessons of courage, hard work, patience and perseverance. When they read my story I hope to use it as an example for their grandchildren. To encourage them to move forward,” says Peter.
ADVICE FOR YOUNGSTERS
Peter believes globalisation and digital technology give many young people the opportunity to succeed.
“You don’t have to be perfect. You are also allowed to make mistakes. And don’t look for something new. Whatever you do, just make sure you put all your passion, love and hard work into it,” he advises.
“The secret is to live the life you chose and live it on your own terms,” he says, closing our conversation, and that is something Peter is achieving daily.