It’s a big week for awards on the shipping front in New York, and if you didn’t know better, you might think the people handing them out have a wicked sense of humour.

Genco Shipping & Trading chief executive John Wobensmith is on Wednesday night to be inducted into the International Maritime Hall of Fame at Chelsea Piers during the annual awards dinner of the maritime association of the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Two nights later, it’s Greek shipowner George Economou stepping up to be honoured by the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce as “man of the year” some 3 miles (4 km) away on the Manhattan waterfront.

Now there’s nothing funny about either industry veteran receiving an honour. It’s just the combination.

Economou and Wobensmith are in a fight. A proxy fight, to be precise, as the Greek magnate proceeds with his newfound pastime as an activist investor taking stakes in other shipping companies and then making demands.

The twin honours come only a week before Genco shareholders decide who wins that fight at the 23 May annual shareholders meeting.

Streetwise doesn’t expect either man to attend the other’s ceremony, given that one detail of the tit-for-tat public correspondence between the camps is that Economou has been unable to sit face-to-face with Genco’s board/management since disclosing his stake of 2.3m shares on 27 December.

First a word about Wobensmith.

A public company CEO has increasing headaches ladled upon his plate these days.

And in the past six months, Wobensmith has had to deal not only with the out-of-the-blue proxy attack from Economou but also a potentially more lethal assault on one of his ships from Houthi rebels in the Gulf of Aden.

As he told us during an on-stage interview during TradeWinds’ New York Shipowners Forum in April, Wobensmith has seen a thing or two since helping lead Genco public in 2005.

There have been more bad markets than good ones since, and Wobensmith has had to steer Genco through a financial storm more than once before finally arriving at a sustained recovery in the dry bulk market in late 2020.

The former banker has been a relentless advocate for a low-debt, high-dividend strategy he says will allow Genco to reward investors in almost any market.

Granted, it has taken investors some time to buy into his vision, as Genco in recent years has trailed dry bulk peers in share price correlation to net asset value.

That seems to be one of the factors that provided Economou with an opening when he quietly started buying up Genco shares last November, and he’s pushed the price-to-NAV narrative in his appeal for reforms.

But things have changed. Genco revealed this week that Economou has sold more than half his stake in the company since early April. And by Streetwise’s calculations, Economou has made at least $7.3m in profits on an initial $18.2m investment as Genco’s stock rises.

Maybe it’s not another proxy “fight letter” Economou should be sending Wobensmith, but rather a “thank you” card.

Genco Shipping CEO John Wobensmith has faced challenges both in the boardroom and at sea this year. Image shows damage after Genco’s 55,300-dwt bulker Genco Picardy (built 2005) was attacked by a Houthi drone in the Gulf of Aden on 17 January 2024. Photo: Indian Navy via X

That’s not likely. But it’s also not likely, in our view, that Economou will win the proxy battle next week and gains a seat on the Genco board, let alone removing incumbent chairman James Dolphin as he wants.

Of course, that’s perhaps the most important thing to understand about Economou.

Even when he loses, he wins.

It’s been true in our experience at least since 1999 when Economou defaulted on $175m in junk bonds issued by his Alpha Shipping within 12 months.

He quickly pivoted to buying back his ships from bondholders at pennies on the dollar — a great deal for him if not for his par investors.

Years later, Economou was one of the first dry bulk owners to tap the US IPO market. He had both early success and then later heavy investor losses with his DryShips, culminating in equity sales through financier Kalani Investments that destroyed 99.9% of share value.

When even notoriously slow-to-learn US investors held their noses at DryShips stock after that, Economou simply bought his company back in 2019 at below NAV. Winning. Again.

To be clear, there’s been a lot more to Economou lately than his new act as an activist investor.

He’s been active, period. Remarkably active in ordering tankers, bulkers, and gas ships. He even poached the panamax chartering staff of dry bulk operator Norden.

TradeWinds recently wrote about the impressive vitality of Norwegian tycoon John Fredriksen as he hits the age of 80.

Well, Economou at 70 isn’t showing any signs of slowing down either.

“He seems to be everywhere,” one public company executive told us recently.

We know where he’ll be this week, and that’s downtown Manhattan.

So will Wobensmith.

Man of the year versus hall of famer: Sounds like a hell of a fight.