Greek Business File, November-December 2019, No 123
Interview by A.D. Papagiannidis
Greeks know shipping better than the others...
Greek shipping has come through this crisis much better than the shipping of any other big nation insists Panos Laskaridis, the outgoing ECSA President. In this exclusive interview he gives the reasons for the unparalleled success of Greek shipping and notes that “Like it or not we have been active in shipping for the last 2.000 years or so; if after that time you haven’t learned the business, nobody can help you”
Speaking of Greek shipping, would you tend to say that today it is well regarded – both quantitatively and qualitatively – abroad? When you say “I’m a Greek shipowner” how is it heard?
I think this is very much an issue of who you are. Because you should remember there are about 650 ship-owning companies in Greece. So, there are obviously different sizes, different stories. Big companies are well-regarded, there is no question about it; but such companies normally also have the better fleets – unless there is a small fleet of a traditional family that is very well run, yet having just 3 or 4 ships. From then on, all those who are active internationally in shipping – insurers, charterers etc. – they all tend to respect the Greeks.
Politicians and regulators tend to see us as very conservative and still a little old-fashioned, not pro-active – and also, sometimes, tricky! Which is the picture of Greek shipping some years back. But then, you see, perceptions take some time to change. Still, when you go and talk to the Commission, the IMO or the ICS, they do recognize the Greeks as reliable partners. Overall perception is good – unless spoiled either by old-fashioned reflexes, or by the occasional rotten apple.
How important has the impact of the crisis been over – say – the last 10 years. Not the shipping cycle, but the impact of the global financial crisis? Have you had important breakage, or was it manageable?
You can argue about how important and how hurtful the crisis has been – but at the end of the day this will have to be seen at the scale of each particular company. Broadly speaking, though, Greek shipping has come through this crisis much better than the shipping of any other big nation. The Germans have suffered tremendously, they lost a third of their ships; the Chinese have suffered quite substantially.
How come? Isn’t this counter-intuitive?
Well, they have a lot of new companies which have pots of money but not real knowledge of shipping.
The Japanese came through so and so; the Norwegians have had a rough time, the Danes not so much since they have a specialized fl eet of very good quality. So, generally speaking the Greeks have done better – for a number of reasons.
First, what would happen to you in the crisis years was to a large extent pre-described by our stance before the crisis. So, whoever had built ships extensively one year before the crisis had amortised nothing – the crisis shot squarely at his hugely expensive assets. The Greeks never went out and overcommitted themselves, unlike many others.
Second, Greeks are usually more cash rich – being mainly family businesses – than other people, who are run as corporates etc. In Germany, at the first sign of trouble, the shareholders disappeared and companies went bust. The Greeks had some money, which they used to support their companies – if they were not hopeless.
Last but by no means least, Greeks know shipping better than the others...
Isn’t this a little too haughty?
Like it or not we have been active in shipping for the last 2.000 years or so; if after that time you haven’t learned the business, nobody can help you! At the end of the day, Greece fared better through the crisis and came out in better shape. If you look at the numbers carefully, before the crisis Greece had the biggest fleet, Japan was second, China was third. Back then, everybody said that in 5 or 10 years China would overcome both Japan and Greece.
China increased its fleet substantially; but the difference between the Greek fleet and the Japanese, as well as between the Greek and the Chinese has in fact increased over the last 10 years – the years of the crisis. So, for the next 20 or 30 years it is improbable that either Japan or China overtake us – unless tremendous changes occur.