Stavros Niarchos: The Life Shipping Magnate

On this day, July 3 in the year 1909, the lawyer who built a shipping empire was born in Athens, Greece. His name is Stavros Spyros Niarchos, the chief rival of fellow Greek magnate Aristotle Onassis in business and in social prominence.

Stavros Niarchos
Stavros Niarchos (Credit: snf.org)

Stavros was born to a wealthy couple who briefly immigrated to the United States but returned to Greece in 1909. After finishing law from the University of Athens, he went to work for his uncles who owned a trading and flour milling business. Eventually, he convinced his uncles to invest in ships to cut transportation cost.

During World War II, Stavros became a naval officer of the Greek Navy. He profited immensely from leasing his ships for the Allied Countries’ war campaign. Though some of his ships were destroyed during the war, he used the insurance proceeds to buy more and bigger vessels at rock bottom prices after the war. Not content on just buying and owning ships, he became a shipbuilder himself by putting up the first post-war shipbuilding plant in Greece.

Niarchos shipping company became the owner of some of the largest supertankers in the world. Obviously, his business philosophy was based on the principle of economies of scale. However, his penchant for owning a ship that is bigger than the previous ones was fueled by the fierce rivalry with Aristotle Onassis, a fellow Greek shipping mogul. Their highly publicized competition extended from business to personal life, each one trying to outdo the other in many areas such as owning an island or palatial home.

In his later life after the death of his rival, Stavros devoted more of his time in his horseracing habit which he developed into a business. Although he became a leading breeder of race horses in France, his horses competed in other countries like Great Britain and the United States.

Stavros died in 1996 at a hospital in Switzerland where he owned several palatial homes. He married five times and had 5 children. At the time of his death, a report from New York Times estimated his net worth at $4 billion, half of it went to his charitable foundation.

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