Kathimerini owner Aristides Alafouzos, who died in the early hours of of Wednesday at the age of 93, was endowed with an entrepreneurial spirit which made him a worthy role model. He entered the challenging businesses of construction, shipping and publishing, and emerged a champion in all three. Ambitious, industrious and goal-oriented from a young age, he never stopped working toward something better, aiming higher, right on the front line.
He was born in Oia on Santorini on March 9, 1924. His family moved to Piraeus a year later after a volcanic eruption on the southeastern Aegean island, and Aristides went on to study at the Second Piraeus Middle School for Boys, where he excelled in mathematics.
The family moved to Athens in September 1940, where he continued his high school education. The teenager had his eye on the Hellenic Navy Academy, but the school was closed down during the German occupation in World War II, prompting him to set his sights on the capital’s polytechnic.
His father, Ioannis Alafouzos, died on December 14, 1941, and the still-young Aristides had to start making his own way in the world, beginning with a job at a timber company in Malakasa, north of Athens. He stopped working in the spring of 1943 to prepare for the entrance exams for the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), which he passed with top marks, earning a scholarship for the full course of his studies. His reputation as a top-mark scholar paved the way for him to offer private tutorials to his fellow students.
Aristides Alafouzos graduated with a degree in civil engineering one year later than the customary five in 1949, as the university was shut down for a year during the war. Recognizing Greece’s need for radical reconstruction in the aftermath of the devastating occupation and the civil war that ensued, he specialized in hydraulic technology in road building and the construction of railroads, ports and industries. He also worked at a civil engineering firm during the last two years of his studies.
Aristides Alafouzos did his mandatory military service from 1949 to 1951. He stood out for his leadership skills and scientific and organizational abilities, being assigned the supervision of construction work at the port of Piraeus, and by late 1953 he had undertaken the task of building a nickel plant at Larymna on the Gulf of Evia.
Careful with his finances and creative in his outlook, by August 1954 he had managed to save enough capital to enter the residential construction business, and in 1956 had amassed enough experience to receive the special license that would allow him to bid for major public works.
In 1956 he founded the Aristides Alafouzos firm, which would later be renamed Ergon. The company played an important role in Greece’s postwar reconstruction, taking on projects such as the first electricity production unit in Ptolemaida, northern Greece.
Other significant projects from that period include the Mont Parnes hotel on Mount Parnitha, the Asteras resort in Vouliagmeni and the basic infrastructure of the Nestos and Axios valley roads.
The company operated until the late 1960s, when Aristides Alafouzos stopped working as a civil engineer, as he left Greece during the 1967-74 military dictatorship. In the meantime, however, he had already set a course on his new career path in 1964, realizing his childhood dream of carrying on the family tradition in shipping, and this at a time when the sector was in deep crisis. Undaunted by the challenge, he bought his first secondhand vessel in 1965, and by 1967 he had a fleet of five secondhand cargo ships. He opened an office in London, where he lived until April 1988. He also had an office in Tokyo, having established strong ties in the Japanese market, and another in Moscow.
By the mid-1980s, Alafouzos had 42 new cargo ships, most built in Japan. He had also founded the Glafki (Hellas) Maritime Company and the Kyklades Maritime Corporation, both among the biggest Greek shipping firms since 1980. He entered the oil-tanker market in 1985 by taking advantage of the crisis in the shipping sector to buy 16 tankers aged between three and 10 years at a very good price. He started ordering new ships at the end of the 80s, acquiring 17 oil tankers.
Alafouzos bought Kathimerini newspaper in 1988, pulling it out of a spiral of decline to turn it into one of the country’s leading dailies, both in terms of circulation and its influence on economic developments, with an international reputation.
In 1998, Kathimerini and the International Herald Tribune formed a joint venture to publish Kathimerini English Edition in Greece, Cyprus and Albania.
Alafouzos was married to Eleni (or Lena) Alafouzou, who died in 2012, and is survived by his sons Yiannis and Themistocles, and seven grandchildren.
Despite his successful international career, Aristides Alafouzos never turned his back on Santorini, cherishing his birthplace with unwavering intensity throughout his long life. His bond with Oia was also particularly strong. He visited the island frequently and contributed to its development with initiatives such as his 1992 donation of a desalination plant to produce drinking water, among others.
He was also active in the island’s cultural development, lending his support to excavations at the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri. He also contributed toward the construction of a modern hospital on the island and the creation of an outpatient cancer clinic at Athens’s Sotiria Hospital.