Athanasios Mandis: A Trailblazer Pioneering Sustainable Innovation in Agrifood Sector
Athanasios Mandis, Founder and Director, De La Tierra Ltd
‘Entrepreneurship is a game of uncertainty, where we must learn to embrace the unknown’. The man whose life depicts this essence of entrepreneurship is none other than the brain behind the UK’s forerunner of sustainable farming. Today, The Europe Entrepreneur is proud to unveil the journey of Athanasios Mandis, the Founder and Director of De La Tierra Ltd, an enlightened visionary who chose to traverse the uncharted paths of life and reach the destination untraveled by many. Because for this maverick “Alice [of Wonderland] was hardly Alice when she stopped being curious”. Taking a tour into the life of this aficionado in farming and agriculture, we are enthralled to chronicle the making of a leader from rural roots to global impact.
Born and raised to parents of Greek heritage, Mr. Athanasios Mandis’ path diverged from the city’s cosmopolitan allure to the rural setting of Writtle University College, where he studied Agricultural Engineering. This cultural transition set the stage for a remarkable path that would lead him to the forefront of the international agrifood industry. His two decades of international agrifood experience sowed the seeds of his future endeavors and led him through challenges that tested his mettle.
His career kicked off working for fresh produce importers, witnessing two management walkouts, which spurred him to innovate and replace lost turnover and leverage new technologies that could steer companies back on track. Later, his stint with Innocent Drinks during the global recession and the Coca-Cola acquisition further allowed him to sharpen his skills in cost optimization and resilience while enhancing product quality. These experiences planted the seeds of entrepreneurship in his mind, as he realized the limitations of security within traditional corporate structures. “I had greater faith in myself than the four walls of a firm. Besides, I wanted to work with rather than for people,” affirms Mr. Athanasios Mandis. Thus, the vision of fostering sustainability and empowering farming communities globally through trade and technology was born.
The Birth of De La Tierra- A Breakthrough Business Model in Sustainable Farming
Athanasios’ motivation to focus on promoting farming communities through trade and technology sprouted from his early experiences as a fresh produce technologist. Working as a greengrocer during his school years, his early exposure to exotic produce labels opened his eyes to a world beyond the horizon. As his career progressed, he witnessed the impact of climate change on farming communities worldwide. This pivotal observation became the driving force behind his desire to create resilient farming systemsthrough the implementation of sustainable technological and innovative solutionsthat could mitigate against externalities such as biodiversity loss.
DE LA TIERRA was founded in 2012 to assist farming communities gain market access and to address the worst forms of endogenous socio-environmental risks and impacts. Armed with his expertise and a master’s degree in Sustainable Development, the entrepreneur now finds himself increasingly assisting firms transition to sustainable business models, further enhancing DE LA TIERRA’s impact.
At the heart of De La Tierra’s success lies a unique business model that diverges from traditional approaches in the agrifood sector. Rather than adopting a prescriptive approach and imposing solutions, the company emphasizes collaboration and empathy with producers and other actors. Mandis believes in understanding and harnessing the diverse knowledge and expertise of local farming communities into co-designed solutions that improve the triple bottom line. “Producers are custodians of the land, the salt of the earth. We need to empathize with them, to walk in their shoes,” emphasizes the leader.
Triumphs in the Face of Adversity
Athanasios Mandis’ initiatives in transforming farming communities acted as key drivers in preparing and propelling De La Tierra to the summit of technological innovation in farming and agriculture. Yet his journey had its concomitant difficulties and challenges. But a leader to the core, for Mandis it is only the perception that makes all the difference and he never perceives failures as deterrents to success. In the eye of the leader, the challenges are the stepping stones that help one to reach a greater height. Inspired by the teachings of Bismarck, the entrepreneur insists on having a clear vision rooted in reality and devoid of Ego. Embracing failures fearlessly as an opportunity to self-introspection and learning, has been the key to Mandis’crowning success.
The Leadership That Sails Ahead
Athanasios leads with a collaborative spirit, recognizing the value of diverse knowledge and lived experiences of others. His leadership approach resembles sailing into headwinds, where bold visions and shared journeys drive results. A storyteller at heart, he weaves a compelling narrative that fosters engagement and attracts like-minded individuals and organizations to join his mission. “One can coerce or cajole people into action, but the best results are achieved with a bold and ambitious vision rooted in reality, one where all actors are part of the journey”, encapsulates Mandis’ ingenious leadership style.
Enriching Farming Communities
De La Tierra’s initiatives have a profound impact on farming communities worldwide. One notable example is the revision of the internationally adoptedFarm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) in collaboration with the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform. By empowering farm management groups with a priority screening tool, the FSA now offers greater agency to producers in determining their socioenvironmental impact and fostering continuous improvement.
Paving His Way to a Greener Future
Looking ahead, Mandis envisions a future where DE LA TIERRA pioneers cutting-edge solutions. A patented process, implemented by the company, aims to retrieve highly functional molecules from agricultural by-products, thereby reducing post-harvest losses and promoting clean-label food and water treatment solutions. Additionally, a cost-effective and modular software solution for firms to disclose their sustainability performance is on the horizon, democratizing risk assessment and driving transformative change.
With De La Tierra’s impact reaching far and wide, Athanasios Mandis emerges as a true visionary, who continues to encourage sustainable success in the agrifood sector. His journey from London’s streets to global farming frontiers exemplifies the power of resilience, empathy, and sustainable innovation. During his illuminating course of entrepreneurship, De La Tierra has been shortlisted in the category of The Top Five Sustainable Farming in the UK in 2023 and it has also been nominated for Southern Enterprise Awards, 2023. We, at The Europe Entrepreneur, salute the leader’s pursuit of excellence through relentless passion and unwavering commitment to purpose and celebrate his indelible legacy in creating a greener and prosperous future for farming communities across the globe.