Having six children of his own, George Tsavliris finds it easy to connect with the younger generation — sometimes even easier than with his peers.
That’s one of the things that encouraged the Greek owner to distil his maritime wisdom into Winning Shipping Strategies, a book for students he co-authored with Paul Emmanuelides, a professor who teaches shipping strategy in Athens.
It all boils down to the simple motto “defy logic ... go by your gut feeling”, the co-principal of the Tsavliris Salvage Group said in a presentation of the book during Posidonia on Thursday.
“At the end of the day, people who achieved an amazing amount of success got there by gut feeling, endurance, stamina and hard work,” he said.
Tsavliris has acquired a well-deserved reputation on the international conference circuit as a gifted storyteller.
Still, he never thought about writing a book.
But then Emmanuelides invited him to some of his shipping classes at the American College of Greece.
Tsavliris turned out to be quite the crowd puller.
“I was invited to make a presentation at eight o’clock in the evening with the expectation to finish at about nine, 9:30 the latest, but we’d be still sitting there discussing after midnight,” he recalled.
Working on the book took about a year-and-a-half. In the process, Tsavliris said he learned more than he taught.
That is probably due to the input of Emmanuelides, a trained engineer and management expert, who was careful to temper Tsavliris’ romantic outbursts with large doses of methodic rigour.
“I’m sorry, George, what you call gut feeling I’m calling brain feeling. Nobody’s thinking with their guts,” Emmanuelides said.
Luck indeed plays a big role in shipping, but “chance favours the prepared mind” only, the professor added.
The structure of the book reflects this dichotomy.
Using “Papadopoulos Shipping” as a fictional example of a small Greek company run by siblings who inherited it from their late father, the book’s first, theoretical, part analyses basic concepts of maritime decision-making.
The second part supplements case studies of successful Greek companies like the Angelicoussis Shipping Group, Tsakos Energy Navigation, Top Ships and StealthGas.
Teaching them a lesson
StealthGas founder Harry Vafias, whom Tsavliris said he has known since he was a baby, attended the presentation to offer his own experience.
Vafias said people doubted him when he decided to break into LPG carriers — a market in which Greeks were barely present at the time.
“When we started doing it, our competitors were laughing at us,” he said.
“They were saying I would spend away my father’s money and that we can’t enter this closed club of mainly Norwegian players in it. I think we taught them a good lesson”.
Emmanuelides admitted that the second part of the book is by far the more interesting.
“This book tries to combine economic and management theory with shipping practice ... there’s not much in the literature that combines them,” he said.
“We need to give a framework to our students, we need to tell them how it’s done.”
Winning Shipping Strategies was first published in English. It was so sought after that a Greek edition followed.