by George Vailakis
He was a successful ship-owner and businessman, a resourceful timber merchant, agent and owner of international shipping lines and a citizen of the world, with his activities scattered across the globe. And he always was versatile, imaginative and pioneering.
Above all, however, he had a rare ability: to see clearly the opportunities in all sorts of adversities. And whenever all hinted at the end, he simply believed that the conditions were right for a new beginning full of expectations!
He started as a trader. In shipping, his career was shaped by his interest in transport organisation and transnational trade. In the context of Greek shipping, it would stand out more than any other for its focus on scheduled services — such as the one that first connected Greece with North and South America. During his career, he was recognised for his achievements — which, among other things, would rank him among the national benefactors. Besides, he was the creator and sponsor of the “Eugenides Foundation.” And not only…
Eugene Eugenides of Agapios and Hariklia, of the Afentakis family, was born in Didymoteicho on December 22nd, 1882. The father — who was a judge in the Ottoman courts — made sure that his son received a good education early on in Didymoteicho and encouraged him to study in Istanbul, at the American Robert College. There he will be distinguished for his acuity and diverse personality.
At the age of 20, he got a job at a British shipping company in Istanbul, Doro’s Brothers, and four years later was hired as general manager at the large shipping company Reppen. He was only 24 years old. However, this success did not make him rest in the office, where he could enjoy relative security. He was interested in doing business himself. This is how he started importing timber from Scandinavia to Istanbul. In fact, he had the bold idea to establish his own small shipyard on the shores of the Golden Horn, where he built 24 barges to serve his grandiose business plans.
Meanwhile, the import of timber from the Nordic countries and Finland brought him into contact with one of the largest shipping companies — the famous Brostrom Concern, whose ships were chartered for the timber it traded. And it was on the occasion of this collaboration that he conceived the idea to organise the eastern line of the company. He later confessed that even in his school years he dreamt of earning a lot of money, not only for himself but to be useful to others.
The Swedish East Line
By 1922, Eugenides had become one of the most remarkable agents of Istanbul. But the Asia Minor Catastrophe comes and he is forced to leave the city. He chooses Piraeus as the headquarters of his companies. In this new beginning, in 1923, he succeeds and undertakes the general agency for Greece of the Swedish Eastern Line (Svenska Orient Linien). His organisational acumen and business genius are verified through a series of consecutive successes. His perseverance, hard work and endurance surprise everyone. His office has become his bedroom. He only rests a little to ensure he can work even harder.
And, of course, he left nothing to chance. Characteristic of his activity from his first steps in Greece is that he conceived the visit of the successor of the Swedish throne and future King Gustaf-Adolf, financing the reception and the hospitality of the visitors by himself.
The Nautical Chronicles of May 15th, 1954 report: “Those who managed to watch him on his dizzying ascent have many incidents to narrate from his career, which characterise the way this ship-owner was thinking and acting. In the close circle of his friends, Eugenides said how in the first steps of the ‘Swedish Eastern Line’ he managed to arrange the visit of the then successor and now King of Sweden to Greece and the countries of the Near East. This visit was needed to stimulate trade between the Scandinavian countries and the countries of the south-eastern Mediterranean. The Swedish successor, then, was the carrier at the highest level of his country’s economic activity. Eugenides knew that any increase in trade with the Mediterranean country would lead to the development of the line.”
Indeed, the “Scandinavian agency,” which managed the interests of the Swedish East Line, becomes the model agency throughout the Mediterranean. As for Greece’s relations with the markets of the Nordic countries, they are becoming closer and more efficient. Greek products are now transported to Sweden, not from the port of Hamburg, but directly from the port of Piraeus.
Greek tobacco exports increased, while timber transports from the port of Piraeus became the largest and most efficient in the Balkans. Eugenides has opened a door through which wealth enters the country. He is now the businessman who can play an important role in shaping the Greek economy.
Consul General of Finland
In 1926, he was appointed Consul General of Finland in Greece and began to organise exhibitions of Scandinavian products in Greece and Greek products in Sweden and Finland. One result of such actions was that, through direct shipping links, trade between Greece and other Mediterranean ports and the Scandinavian markets began to flourish in the interwar years.
But World War II comes and Eugenides leaves Greece, transferring his business activities with him. Initially, he reaches Egypt and from there he moves to South Africa in Cape Town. There, he organises a special agency and operates a regular line with South America with his privately owned cargo ship “Argo.”
He then moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, from where he continued to manage the ships of the Swedish shipping company Brostrom throughout the war. During this period, Eugenides prepares for his post-war business moves. It is the time when he foresees the economic and shipping developments that would follow the end of the war and adjusts his business plans accordingly.
The Home Lines Company
Immediately after the war, he returned to Europe and founded the Home Lines Company, based in Switzerland. He is confident that the flow of migrants from Europe to the other continents will be huge. Subsequently, the four ocean liners that the Company soon acquires are launched first to South Africa and Australia and then to the USA and Canada, quickly managing to occupy the third position of the passenger traffic on the North Atlantic line.
With the end of the Civil War in 1949, the conditions are sufficient for the return of Eugene Eugenides to Greece. This decision was taken in mid-1953 and is intertwined with the then government effort to repatriate shipping, making Eugenides the first ship-owner to set the example of repatriating one of his ships. Eugenides raises the blue-and- white flag on the ocean liner “Atlantic” and on December 4th, 1953 he signs a contract with which Greece acquires a shipping line connecting it with the New World.
His return home is accompanied not only by successful business activities, but also by a series of charitable moves. The devastating earthquakes of Kefalonia, Zakynthos (Zante) and Ithaca in 1953 will be a sad occasion for the first practical manifestation of the ship-owner’s sensitivity, who sends 1,000,000 drachmas “in an attempt to alleviate the suffering of the Greeks.” He also offered a prefabricated hospital and houses.
In the same year, he participated in a state auction for the ocean liner “Athens,” which was part of Italy’s war reparations to Greece. Eugenides consciously offered more to acquire the ship as he did not want to lower the value of a national asset. The “Athens” sailed from Piraeus in November 1953 for its first voyage to the South American Line.
He will say in an interview: “For our national economy, the importance of this line is now obvious as it will open new markets for the export of Greek products, as I am able to know, in South America. The benefits that the repatriation of our shipping will bring to the national economy are well known.”
Eugenides signed an agreement with the government in December 1953 for the newly formed National Line of North America. In fact, the new ship “Queen Frederica” would become the favourite means of transport of Greek immigrants to the United States for the next decade. The new ship did not make its maiden voyage until January 1955. By then, the ship-owner was dead.
The Eugenides Foundation
Eugene Eugenides died suddenly of a heart attack, at the headquarters of his company in Vevey, Switzerland, on April 22nd, 1954, when his plans to return to Greece for good were in the final stages. He loved work and at times expressed a desire to die “unexpectedly, while working.” Just as it happened.
According to the instructions in his will, Eugene Eugenides allocated a large part of his property for the establishment of the Eugenides Foundation, which as defined by the relevant article of the royal decree of February 10th, 1956 “ will have as its sole purpose the contribution to the education of young people, of Greek citizenship, in the scientific and technical field.”
The facilities of the Eugenides Foundation include the famous Eugenides Planetarium, one of the largest and best planetariums in the world. From the beginning, the Eugenides Planetarium aimed to establish a centre for popularisation of scientific knowledge about astronomy and astrophysics. The foundation’s work is also the publication of technical and shipping books and the annual awarding of scholarships — a constant posthumous offer of Eugene Eugenides to young people.
Greek Business File presents some of the most prominent Greek personalities that formed the modern Greek state. The material is drawn from the Great Greek Biographical Dictionary of Konstantinos Vovolinis, a five-volume reference work with 400 biographies.
This article is published in the May/June 2022 issue of Greek Business File, available here.