During the 9th Capital Link Greek Shipping Forum on Thursday, February 8, 2018 in Athens, Capital Link Greek Shipping Award was presented to Panos & Athanasios C. Laskaridis, of Laskaridis Shipping Company Ltd.
Speaking to the event, Thanassis Laskaridis retraced his own and his family’s decades-long experience in shipping - but also reflected on their adventures in investing in the Greek economy; To end with thoughts about the central role of shipping for Greece - and its future.
“Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Circumstances beyond my immediate control have obliged me to address you a short video message rather than share the event with you in person.
Allow me to start by thanking Capital Link as an organization and Nicholas and Olga Bornozi personally for their initiative to honour my brother and myself for our modest success in the shipping industry over the last four decades. Great credit is also due to Capital Link for their own spectacular success after many years of hard work in bringing together so many worthy participants from all over the globe conferring over what happens to be our Country’s only world class commercial activity.
By way of an ultra short summary of my 42 years in shipping , allow me to say that at age 24 , back in 1976 , I returned after five years of mostly engineering related studies in the UK and joined my Fathers’ small fishing company that at the time owned and operated three small freezer trawlers fishing off the coast of West Africa. My brother Panos had joined the fishing business a couple of years earlier. The extension of the exclusive economic zones of the West African Nations made my Father’s business very complicated and thus the first assignment I got was to seek to broker the fixture of a trawler just converted into a small Reefer Carrier , representing the entrepreneur , an old friend of my Dad’s who admittedly could use some help as he operated in rather primitive business terms and lacked the knowledge of English let alone knowing how to agree a charter party. From this first operation I was able to draw what still today remains as one of my biggest beliefs and life experiences : Luck beats Brains every time – the reason is simple , I booked the ship, the Charterer did not perform so I got sent to Las Palmas to try and cash in a large unpaid demurrage bill- the delinquent Charterer , an Indian living in the Canaries for 30 years, turned out to be the Soviet Fishing Fleet’s sole representative in the Atlantic and with Nigeria importing almost one million tons of frozen fish business was booming in no time – so from fixing one semi rotten ship and trying to chase unpaid demurrages I became his exclusive house broker – a year and half he his brother , my brother and myself all partnered up and created Lavinia Corporation.
So after all these initial events there is little doubt in my mind that luck beats brains every time however I need to also add here that being consistently lucky for four decades requires a lot more than pure luck – for starters some hard work always helps – some brain functions are necessary too, such as selecting good partners , controlling risk , ability to delegate authority and tasks and certainly hiring keeping and remunerating key executives is absolutely essential too. In closing this first part of my message I would like to add that in my case I have always advocated and in fact adopted a rather tolerant and calm approach on day to day senior management decision making processes , unlike many of my friends in the shipping world , who seem to feel that every tiny dispute is worth fighting to the end , and I have also found that commercial progress comes to those who save valuable time and energy by going quietly about their affairs in a modest in inconspicuous manner.
Lavinia Corporation , which my brother and I took full control off in 1982 by buying out our original Indian partners , progressed well and expanded substantially its activities initially only in the refrigerated transportation trades – by the late 1980’s and early 1990’s we had more than one hundred reefer ships in ownership and controlled substantially more ships by chartering in tonnage to service large Contracts of Affreightment – we certainly had great fun and big financial rewards from this activity. Over the last ten years , given the change of mode from break bulk to containers, we have substantially reduced our presence in reefers and have invested considerable sums in dry bulk, building a significant and diversified fleet of mostly new buildings that hopefully soon now will bring some returns as well – if not to us then to our children…. A small fleet of chemical tankers supplements our shipping and bunkering business as do our two repair yards in Spain , Astican and Astander and our state of the art logistics operations in Uruguay.
Turning away from shipping , my brother and I are very happy to have been able to navigating the roughest waters on the planet , by investing in Greece in many diverse sectors over the last 25 years. We have been involved with Hotels including the Gaming Industry , Real Estate , Aviation , Passenger Ferries the Retail Business and some others that I can not even recall. There are two facts that give me great pleasure in having been active in Greece , firstly without really expecting it, some of the above have been great businesses and secondly it allowed us to contribute substantially to the creation of several thousand of new jobs all of which are still in place and in fact growing rather than declining.
It would be fair to say that after WW2 almost every significant investment in Greece was the product of shipping money being repatriated. The detailed list is too long for a short speech and for me, amazingly , not enough study or publicity has gone into informing our fellow Countrymen of this fact – Hotels, refineries, shipyards, airlines , industrial facilities of substance all were the product of such inward investments not to speak of the unknown but huge sums of private real estate that we Greek shipowners have amassed , God knows for what purpose as it is more real estate than we can ever handle or enjoy….but this is good for the Country and this is also a good point for me to urge my colleagues to become bolder when considering investments in Greece – after all we might lose some money here and there but will help our Country in the process and help reduce unemployment too….
My take from our Greek investment experience , and this is the last part of my message , is that regretfully the biggest competitor of the Greek entrepreneur is the Greek Political elite – the latter view political power as a ticket to consider themselves equity partners and co beneficiaries of successful local businesses – this system needs to stop here and now and we are all co - responsible for having tolerated it for far too long – it is not a political or partisan issue , it is a National one and is a deep rooted one – From my side , with six children , two girls and four boys, I can only hope that they will take due note and seek to improve our Nation’s situation in this respect bringing economic prosperity and happiness in our home Country.
Finally, I feel personally that we, Greek Shipowners, as a wealthy community are not doing enough to help those in need and our own Country – with very few notable exceptions we tend to be stingy and intolerant and seek to preserve our wealth for the next generation in sizes and amounts of money that befit the Egyptian Pharos rather than developed Europeans – this will change and the sooner the better – taking a large fortune to one’s grave is a silly idea – providing for the family but also caring for those in need must be the norm , not the exception.
Not to speak of what we could contribute for our National Defense at a time when the Greek Navy has acute budgetary needs impairing its operational capabilities. And NO I don’t not mean sending money to anyone to spend further, I mean paying for work done or for spares and equipment or for new equipment acquired pursuant to transparent purchasing procedures.
Thank you for your patience and best Greetings to all.”
Watch the video here.