Group Stepping Up Investments in Greece

Investors are warily eying a return to Greece and confidence is beginning to grow again, George Logothetis, Chairman and CEO of the international conglomerate Libra says. 

In an interview with the news agency Reuters, Lotothetis said that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ implementation of harsh austerity measures, the trigger to bringing in more bailout monies, has steadied market nerves.

“The most important subject the Samaras government has confronted is (that) they have reduced the uncertainty of Greece leaving the euro,” he said in an interview this week.

”You don’t hear about that anymore. That needed to always predicate investment coming into the country.”

“We do see movement in Greece today … money is coming back,” New-York based Logothetis said on a visit to London.

The company, which is based on both cities, has purchased around $5 billion of assets globally since a worldwide recession in 2008, and is stepping up investments in Greece, especially in the hotel and renewable energy sectors, he said.

Libra recently launched the Hellenic Entrepreneurship Award, which offers entrepreneurs in Greece the chance to receive funding of up to €500,000 plus comprehensive mentoring and consultancy for a new business venture. (Read the full story)

Logothetis said Greeks are eager to overcome a crushing economic crisis in which pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions have pushed 20 percent of the people into poverty.

“There is a lot of pent-up ambition from Greeks to fight for a better life,” Logothetis said. “Greek laziness and incompetence is a fallacy,” he added, trying to dispel commonly-held beliefs about the lack of a Greek work ethic.

Libra, which is privately owned by the Greek Logothetis family, owns the luxury Grace Hotels global brand, which began in Greece.

“One of the most important lead indicators in our businesses globally is advanced bookings on hotels. From what I understand, it is shaping up to be a much better (Greek) tourist season this year,” Logothetis told Reuters.

Logothetis said Libra aimed to expand its energy business in Greece after making acquisitions in wind parks and the solar energy sector. They were also looking at investments in the retail market and developing their real estate business there.

Libra Group, created in 2003, has 30 operating subsidiaries and 25 offices with five core divisions comprising hospitality, aviation, shipping, real estate and renewable energy with other interests including media, construction and services companies and an equity brokerage.

The group grew from a shipping business started in 1976 by Michael Logothetis. His son George, 38, took over the running of the shipping business in 1993 and between 2004 and 2007 they sold their fleet of 70 ships at the height of a shipping market boom before a sector slump in 2008.

Logothetis said they made “a substantial amount of money” from the sale. He declined to say how much, but a single, five-year old supertanker was valued at $120 million at the time, Baltic Exchange data showed, while vessel earnings during the boom years added to the company’s wealth.

“The idea behind Libra was to diversify away from shipping to create a global group, using the top lieutenants we had worked with in the preceding years,” he said. “We feel safe that whatever comes, we confront it. We have a growing group and we bought a lot of cheap assets in the last five years. During this depression, recession, call it what you want, not all markets move in tandem,” he said.

Logothetis said investment funds and private equity companies were starting to look at Greek firms and banks were starting to look at lending again. His company has managed to acutely gauge markets and know when to buy and when to sell. Its aviation branch bought 25 planes between 2004 and 2007 and sold them in 2007 before the global downturn. They resumed making aviation investments in 2009, including a move into the helicopter leasing sector after signing a $400 million order to buy aircraft from AgustaWestland.

Logothetis said the company, through its subsidiary Lomar, planned to expand into shipping after returning in 2009 with the acquisition of Australia’s Allocean group and its fleet.

“We have 40 ships on the water right now. We have bought a few in the last month and we have up to 18 ships on order,” he said.

Logothetis said the shipping market would recover. “Quite when is the magic word – it’s a cycle. No crisis lasts forever, no boom lasts forever and ships are in our blood.”

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