Greek Business File, September-October 2020, No 127

by Themistocles Vokos

The birth of an idea

An emblematic event for the shipping community, Posidonia, proved to be a victim of the Covid-19 pandemic. Originally planned for June, Posidonia 2020 were postponed to October and then cancelled, for the first time in their long history that tried to recreate the atmosphere of the ancient Greek ‘agora’. Business File asked Themistocles Vokos, a person that actually shaped Posidonia exhibition, to describe the birth of the idea

The story of Posidonia begins in 1963 when my father, Theodore Vokos together with Stavros Biris, Minister of Shipping at that time, organised the first ever gathering of the Greek shipping community with a conference held at the Athens Hilton.

It was an innovative initiative that brought together Greek shipowners from around the world. Many were initially sceptical as they felt that a high profile event could draw attention and challenge their flexible international status and arrangements.

But there were also those, with John C. Carras as their leader, who held the conviction that Greek shipping was a great national industry, not just a collection of individual entrepreneurs scattered between London, New York and Monaco. Greek shipping, with a history going back thousands of years, was a unique asset to Greece and its economy that had to be protected and promoted.

The conference was addressed by the then Prime Minister, George Papandreou, with young King Constantine by his side and in the presence of senior members of the Greek Government and representatives of financial institutions, business leaders and others.

On the day of the opening, I had the good fortune and privilege of working at the registration desk handing out delegates badges and conference kits. A memorable experience on how to ensure the steady and seamless flow of important people at such events!

The conference was a great success and it was not long before the idea of repeating it came up.

Internationally, there was only one other event, an exhibition and conference called Europort organised annually in the Port of Rotterdam.

In 1965 and 1966 I participated as an exhibitor with a small stand at Europort, promoting my father’s weekly maritime newspaper NAFTILIAKI and so had a chance to see first hand the characteristics and dynamics of a successful exhibition and what made it work. I brought back to Greece my stories from Rotterdam on how an exhibition could create the buzzing atmosphere of an ancient Greek “agora”.

My father was quick to realise that the success of the 1964 Conference could be repeated and enhanced as a regular event in the form of an exhibition and conference, repeated every two years, that would bring together Greek shipowners and the global industries working with them, from shipyards in Japan to equipment manufacturers in Europe and from bankers to insurance brokers in London. Such an event would certainly make a valuable contribution to the shipping industry, creating a platform for building closer relations but also, more importantly, would promote Greece as a leading maritime nation with its rightful place at the top table.

This is how Posidonia was born. The idea was developed by my father and his close friend and partner Richard Stubbs, an Englishman who had lived in Greece for many years and who was a master public relations professional, internationally recognised.

The first Posidonia took place at the Zappeion Palace at the centre of Athens in June 1969 and was attended by the leaders of the Greek shipping community who came to Greece from around the world.

I was the junior partner of the team, based in London at that time with the job of promoting and selling Posidonia to the international market. I recall how proud I was to have sold the first two stands to the first Posidonia, namely to the Japan Ship Export Association, representing the Japanese shipbuilding industry and to the British shipyard Austin and Pickersgill, builders of the SD14 liberty replacement design, owned by Greek shipowner Basil Mavroleon and run by his son-in-law Charles Longbottom, who also chaired the first Posidonia Forum at the Eugenides Foundation.

Posidonia 69 was followed by Posidonia 70 to bring it in line with Norshipping, so that one event would be in an even year and the other in an odd year, thus avoiding conflict of dates.

The two even-year cycle of Posidonia was established and has continued without interruption since then, with the participation today of more than 90 nations. The rest is history.