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Tsakos: A life in shipping

Dr Nikolas Tsakos recorded his first ever podcast with Capital Link in October. Maritime CEO tuned in.

As far as this year goes, the tanker sector will definitely be one to forget. Nevertheless, the charismatic Tsakos, founder, CEO and president of Tsakos Energy Navigation (TEN), is certain of its comeback and hopes it will mimic what other shipping sectors are experiencing.

Tsakos comes from a long line of shipowners. The Tsakos family traces its shipping roots back to 1854, when his ancestors sailed to the Black Sea to trade citrus fruits from the island of Chios, bringing back grain from Romania.

The initial seed for the Tsakos Group was founded in the late 1960s by Captain Panagiotis Tsakos, father of TEN’s boss who also made his first fortune in oil trading.

Tsakos started visiting ships at a very young age, following in his father’s footsteps, who had a very good way of introducing him into the shipping business, without ever forcing him into it. His mother was also a successful doctor.

After serving in the Greek Navy and then heading to college, he came up with an idea to combine his academic knowledge and his passion for shipping.

“If you are not the captain or an engineer or a seafarer, you are considered a failure in life,” Tsakos said in conversation with Capital Link.

He was educated in the US and, looking back, he said, smiling, that had he gone to the west coast, he’d be a high-tech trillionaire by now rather than a hard-working seafarer. “I still believe I should have moved to the west coast,” he mentioned a few times.

The foundation of TEN was inspired in New York in the mid-‘80s when a fashionable model for real estate was limited partnerships. “Since we’re always looking at shipping as floating real estate, I felt that could be a model that could work for our industry,” Tsakos relayed.

He was 24 when he listed his company on the New York Stock Exchange. His father was not enthusiastically supportive but said “if this can be done and you think you can do it – go ahead and do it.” He referred to his father as a genius in psychology, actually guiding him towards something he’d like him to do without ever feeling he had to do it. “I don’t care what you do, but be the best or one of the best,” Panagiotis Tsakos used to say to his son.

As a former chairman of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO), Tsakos sees the tanker industry as very fragmented and is a big supporter of owners communicating. “We are looking at so many pressing issues for shipowners, such as decarbonisation, new technologies and we have to at least be able to exchange ideas.” He is also a big supporter of pools, which accordingly exclude the need to merge or carry the baggage or skeletons in the closet of another public company.

TEN is doing its part to reach the 2030 and 2050 targets set out by the International Maritime Organization with dual-fuelled newbuilds and the company making the decision not to order any more conventional ships. For Tsakos, LNG is a very good step forward, despite the current technology limitations. He believes the infrastructure for existing fuels can be improved to slash carbon emissions with a fraction of the disruption and the investment of those of potential future fuels such as hydrogen, nuclear energy, or something else.

“I think that one of the things which is missing, and I don’t know if we’re going to talk about it in Scotland, is the actual damage to our planet to achieve the new infrastructure that will move what would be supposedly much greener energy,” he said, discussing COP26, an upcoming major climate summit. He believes that if we want to mimic the current energy infrastructure, the environmental impact would be huge. “No one is looking at how electricity is produced,” he pointed out.

This article first appeared in Maritime CEO magazine, published this week. Splash readers can access the full magazine for free by clicking here.

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