by George Vailakis
He was one of the most important trading agents in the history of the Greek state and a visionary politician. He was the one that inaugurated the “industry of the foreigners”, bringing for the first time organization and professionalism in Greek tourism
Vourloumis was one of the most valuable collaborators of Eleftherios Venizelos (during the period 1928–1932). Αs Minister of National Economy, Vourloumis envisioned the economic strategy of the country, adopted the industrial policy, founded EOT (Greek National Tourism Organization), shielded institutionally Greek exports, strengthened the institution of Trade Fairs, regulated working conditions and laid the foundations of modern social security. In addition, he institutionalized the insurance company that later evolved into the current IKA (Social Insurance Institution).
Undoubtedly multitalented, capable and insightful, he achieved success with method, knowledge and persistent effort – regardless of how challenging each project was.
Raisin family business
Panagis Vourloumis was born in Koumani of Ilia in 1867 and was one of the six children of Athanasios Vourloumis and Chrysafo, whose maiden name was Babali. Apart from being a viticulturist, his father had a wide reputation as a cooper in the area. As for his mother, she had special skills in arithmetic and fellow villagers would run to her whenever there were financial disputes. In January 1876, his brother Theodoros transferred him to Patras, where he worked as the director of the raisin export house of Georgios Pappas. There he attended school and due to his excellent performance in October 1882 he enrolled in the Law School of the University of Athens.
In December of the same year he returned to Patras to help his brother Nikolaos, who now ran their own family raisin business, while his eldest brother Theodoros had already settled in London, exporting raisins. In 1887, Theodoros would send Panagis Vourloumis to Marseilles, as the director of the branch of the company, from where he returned in 1888 to finish his studies; in the same year he was awarded a doctorate in law. He would stay in Marseille for the next four years. It was shortly before the raisin crisis broke out.
The catastrophic raisin crisis
Greek raisins were still in demand in the French market at the time, which used it for its winemaking. But the first adverse signs had already begun to appear. The French government took restrictive measures and a protective tariff following ongoing protests by French wine growers. This had catastrophic consequences not only for the Greek raisin trade but also for the entire Greek economy, as the only export product of the new Greek state was nihilated.
The raisin crisis began in 1890 and reached its peak in 1893 with the consequent bankruptcy of Greece. Earlier, it painfully affected a number of producers, traders and artisans, including the Vourloumis brothers and the family raisin export business with offices in Patras, London and Marseille. And yet, this discouraging end would mark a new beginning – with wonderful results.
With the brand name “P. A. Vourloumis”
While the raisin crisis was raging, Panagis Vourloumis in 1894 founded his own trading house in Patras under the name “P. A. Vourloumis”, undertaking the leadership and the initiatives on behalf of his brothers. This effort would be successful, at a time when the other export companies of Patras were closing one after the other. Vourloumis moved quickly and methodically, organized a distribution network in various countries and saw his business grow rapidly.
Apart from his inherent insight, Vourloumis avoided one common mistake of other Greek raisin traders, which contributed to the destruction of the Greek raisin: that is, he would not have loaded even one kilo of raisins, if he had not pre-sold it. Until then, it was a common practice of the Greek raisin trade to send whole shipments of raisins to foreign markets without ordering and to expect buyers in the warehouses of Marseilles or London. This disastrous system was abolished by Panagis Vourloumis.
That was the key to success, but certainly not the only one. As he states in his memoirs: “I worked tirelessly and carried out all correspondence in most languages alone. My management expenses were minimal. My personal expenses were negligible”. And so he managed to overcome the enormous difficulties of the crisis and to adapt his own raisin trade to the new conditions.
On the side of Eleftherios Venizelos
In just a few years, the young Panagis Vourloumis had developed into a rich merchant, an important figure of Patras and a very capable executive of the new economic order of the country. In June 1905 he married Eleftheria Koryllou, daughter of the lawyer Nikolaos Koryllos, with whom he had three children.
His commercial activity never ceased to be combined with the intellectual one, with him constantly enriching his knowledge and dealing through his articles and studies with the current economic problems of Greece.
Such a personality would soon attract attention: in 1910, officials of the Liberal Party visited him in his office and offered him, on behalf of Eleftherios Venizelos, a position in the parliamentary coalition of Achaioilida. Since then, Panagis Vourloumis never left Venizelos’s side. He stayed by his side in all elections and led the party’s economist staff. As for the raisin policy of the liberal governments, it always bore the stamp of Vourloumis, and his opinion on the raisin issues was very important to Venizelos.
He was elected independent member of parliament for Venizelos in the Revisionary Parliament of 1910 and since then he was continuously elected until 1915. He supported Venizelos in his dispute with King Constantine and from 1918 to 1920 he was Minister of Food. He was in Patras when he received the invitation and hurried to Athens. As he states in his autobiography: “I left Patras urgently by commercial train, so it traveled from Patras to Athens in 22 hours! This is enough to understand what Venizelos and the whole country expected from the new minister: The Greek railways were running, at that moment, with pine cones as fuel, when the locomotive was saving money was a great success! The new minister had to feed not only the mouths of the people, but also the mouths of the locomotives and factories. A magician was needed, in order to awaken the deceased economic life of the place as soon as possible…” His ambition and intentions were obvious: he wanted to contribute to the change of Greece. After all, Venizelos’s motto was “to make Greece unrecognizable”. And Panagis Vourloumis would have the great opportunity to contribute to this, a few years later.
Indeed, he was one of the first to be called by Eleftherios Venizelos as soon as he returned to Greece in June 1928. A month later he gave him the portfolio of the Ministry of National Economy, which then included the responsibilities of the later Ministries of Commerce, Industry, Labor and of Coordination. And he perfectly fulfills this historical role.
First of all, as an ardent supporter of the country’s industrialization, he promoted industrial laws that helped the development of Greek industry in practice, while he organized the distribution of domestic products and founded the relevant exhibition at the Zappeion Palace – realizing its importance, he points out in a letter to Viomichaniki Epitheorissis (issue 6, December 1934): “The report of Zappeion, the constituent decree of which bears my signature, proves what our industry can produce and what obligations are imposed on them by the government to strengthen it. It is understandable that the industry should also feel its obligations towards consumption and not abuse the state protection and the current monopoly character, which was given to it by the restrictions of imports”.
The Greek industry of tourism is born
Another sector of economic development that was inaugurated by Panagis Vourloumis was “the industry of the foreigners”. For the first time the Greek state took seriously the organization of the tourist exploitation of the country and on its own initiative, in July 1929, the Hellenic Tourism Organization (EOT) was founded.
For the first time, a “summer tourist season” was defined in Greece, measures were taken to facilitate tourists at customs and passport control, schools were established for hotel staff and guides, tourist kiosks were established at archeological sites and an advertising campaign was used to promote Greece properly.
In addition, Vourloumis introduced social security – something that had been discussed since 1915. With the social security system created by the Vourloumis bill, “all Greek workers, those employed in urban work, were insured for old age, disability, illness and death”. At the same time, it proceeded with a series of important laws which established Sunday as a public holiday without exception and for the whole state, increased the time limits for warning the employee for dismissal, and established the eight-hour period for almost all sectors of work.
Nevertheless, he failed in the elections of 1933, and after the death of Eleftherios Venizelos, in 1936, he retired from politics. He spent the last years of his life until his own death, on January 5, 1950, in Athens, and his favorite occupation was writing his autobiography.
Greek Business File presents some of 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 story is published in the March/ April issue of Greek Business File available here.