ATHENS – When you think entrepreneurs, it’s likely super-smart people in garages developing the next Google or inventors creating the next best thing, not shipping tycoons and wedding dresses, but a Greek couple have paired their endeavors to illustrate the country’s slow recovery from an economic crisis that lasted almost a decade.
Nikolas Tsakos comes from one of the country’s line of traditional seafaring shipping families and told The Wall Street Journal in a feature about him and his wife, Celia Kritharioti, that all is more than well with them, which could augur well for Greece too.
“Thank God all our tankers are employed at very good rates,” he said as he looked out the window of his office at the ships and seas that are dominated by Greek owners, who nevertheless have fought ferociously to avoid paying taxes during the crisis to help their homeland.
His wife’s business is traditional too, the kind that withstands even the severe recession that came with the economic crisis, rocked by austerity, and shrinking the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by some 25 percent, hammering workers, pensioners and the poor while couples like Tsakos and his wife were above it.
She told the paper as she undertook a final fitting of a wedding dress adorned with handmade lace and precious stones for a beaming young bride that, “when the zipper goes up, so does my confidence.” With good reason, because they are prospering, flourishing even.
Their businesses could hardly be more unalike but together they are showing one part of the slow comeback even though it hasn’t trickled down fully to the people who were hardest hit while the rich, the oligarchs, politicians, Parliament workers and tax cheats largely escaped the crisis.
Tsakos, who studied economics at the Ivy League school Columbia University in New York, is from a family which bought its first ship in 1854 and now runs Tsakos Energy Navigation, a New-York listed tanker operator – one of the Greek shipping tycoons with offices outside Athens – with a fleet of 70 ships worth more than $2.5 billion, according to maritime data provider VesselsValue TEN, as it is called, moves crude and refined oil products for customers including ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell, key players in the world oil and energy market where the super-rich and plutocrats commingle.
Kritharioti studied business administration at Athens University of Economics and Business, “but fashion won me over in my early teens,” she said. Her family has been in the fashion industry for a century and she entered the global high-end fashion scene in 2013 with her dresses worn on the red carpet by celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Kate Beckinsale, and Kim Kardashian.
At the same time, her work is prized by brides both in Greece and abroad, with wedding dresses making up half of Kritharioti’s business, the report added. “If you want to shine, you wear Celia,” said Iliana Eleftheriou at the final fitting of her wedding dress in August. “When you are in her dresses, you feel beautiful and empowered.”
Tsakos’ tankers are in a business without such allure but very, very profitable for those who own the ships that carry the oil and energy, and his company has been on the New York Stock Exchange since 2002, withstanding some winds of change but rising with the tides more often.
TEN provides long-term charters ranging up to 15 years that give his fleet a buffer against volatile pricing changes, said the report written by Costas Paris, the paper’s senior covering global shipping and trade finance based in London.
“During 9/11, we were doing our roadshow in the U.S.,” Tsakos said of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the United States. “It was like the sky fell upon all of us, but we came back, listed six months later and since then, we haven’t missed a single dividend payment.”
His business changed dramatically in September when President Donald Trump sanctioned tankers run by a unit of Chinese shipping behemoth COSCO – which operates the port of Piraeus – for alleged illicit Iran oil shipments. The move rattled oil transport markets and sent tanker rates soaring overnight.
Kritharioti was featured in the July edition of British Vogue magazine among the world’s best couture houses, alongside Chanel, Christian Dior, and Valentino. She and her 25 seamstresses on average put together no more than 30 dresses a month that sell from $5,500 to tens of thousands of dollars, not exactly the kind of off-the-rack gowns many Greek women must settle for.
“We are up against giants with thousands of employees and boutiques across the world. Their budget is very big, but we survive and thrive because we offer something unique: handmade and heart-made,” Kritharioti said.
She said she wants to open her first retail shop in London, but uncertainty over the United Kingdom leaving the European Union has put that on hold. “We will import dresses from Greece, and until now, there were no customs (levies) or any other taxes. If the UK imposes import duties, then it doesn’t make much sense,” she said.
“She’s been to dozens of ship launches at yards around the world and I go to her fashion shows. Don’t ask me what is more fun,” Tsakos said.