For Elina Papageorgiou (pictured right), recently appointed Marine and Offshore President for UK and Ireland at LR, success in maritime has been a daily diet of shipping talk and uninterrupted maritime exposure coupled with a fervent desire to work in the maritime industry.
For Papageorgiou, who has spent her entire 16-year career at LR, most recently as Area Sales & Marketing Manager, South Europe, there was never any question of working outside of maritime. “My family has always been in the maritime industry, I've lived half my life in in Asia – Korea, China, the Philippines – so I practically grew up next to one shipyard or another. It was a central part of my upbringing as a child and my whole life since has been very connected to the marine industry.”
However, Papageorgiou is quick to stress that when it came to career choices she was strictly in the driving seat. The eldest daughter of Vassilis Papageorgiou, Vice Chairman of the Tsakos Group, Elina admits she was encouraged to work the room at the numerous industry events that featured during her teenage years, and was inspired to follow her father’s path, seeking his guidance along her journey.
Both of her sisters have also landed significant shipping careers – one works as Associate Director of The London P&I Club and the other is a Deputy Designated Person Ashore (DPA) for a shipowner in Athens. So it is fair to assume that the strong and convivial ties that tend to exist between the industry’s leading families, as well as maritime’s many attractions, must have been evident throughout Papageorgiou’s childhood.
She considers herself to be an international citizen, having rarely lived in the same country for an extended period. “As a child, I was changing school and meeting new people every two to three years. For example, when I'm in Greece, I don't feel like I'm Greek and when I'm in the UK I don't feel like I'm English. Many people who have had the same upbringing feel the same way. It is like we don't belong anywhere, but we feel like we belong everywhere.”
The transient nature of her childhood has fostered an open-mindedness about change. “I like change. One should never be too comfortable and sometimes you just need to push yourself to do something different,” says Papageorgiou, who appreciates that careers are built on hard work and making strategic choices when opportunities emerge.
For her, a key career decision was taking a role in Copenhagen in the Nordics Business Development team in 2010, a move that offered her a “completely different perspective” of the LR business. “This was one of those situations where I thought ok – I am going to go for it. I got offered the job and a month later I got married, then I left for Denmark a month after the wedding,” she explains, admitting that “I was lucky because I had the support from my husband and my family to be able to do something like that.”
Recognising that few enjoy the seamless introduction to shipping that she has had, Papageorgiou emphasises that securing future talent is a key industry challenge. “We need to communicate what the industry stands for. It's not just a means of transportation – it’s about bringing the globe closer together and breaking down boundaries between countries and economies.
"As the industry is being disrupted and transformed by digitalisation and the global challenge of sustainability, this is becoming more important. This is our mission and we need our future leaders to understand that” Papageorgiou explains.
So, what does she make of decarbonisation and digitalisation – the two main drivers in maritime right now – and their impact on the industry in the decade ahead? “Many people are talking around these topics,” she says, “with every conversation spurring further talks as the industry tries to map the challenges ahead and the likely impact on regulation. But in my view, as an industry, we still haven’t been able to visualise what it all really means and will look like in the end. There won’t be quick decisions – people will wait and see how the landscape evolves – although there is no question that the decade ahead will be transformational with calls for more leadership in the industry.”
For Papageorgiou, the key to achieving the sustainability challenge is digitalisation. It is leading to market breakthroughs such as innovative propulsion systems and new digital design solutions where ship performance can be predicted and optimised early in the design process, enabling better, safer and greener ships.
When it comes to leadership, Papageorgiou sees a leader as “someone who can see what the next day is going to look like and take you along for the journey”. As well as having occupied several leadership roles in her time at LR, she has benefited from the mentoring and support of others – most notedly South Europe Marine & Offshore President Theodosis Stamatellos. His leadership approach is focused on bringing out the best in people and recognising that we all respond differently to situations, and this requires an element of flexibility.
While there are more women in senior positions in shipping than a decade ago, it’s still not unusual for Papageorgiou to find herself the sole woman around the negotiating table. “[Maritime] is very much a man's world, yet we are seeing more women coming into roles across the industry,” she says.
“But we definitely need more as I think being a woman is very powerful in this industry. You command a different kind of respect from clients and the more female role models and opportunities we have, the more likely we are to encourage others to join our ranks.”
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