To us, the sky and the sea are one.
No fewer than 3,054 islands are all part of Greece. That is equivalent to 82 percent of all islands in the Mediterranean. The vast majority of the islands can only be reached by sea. Without regular ferry services, they would be cut off from the outside world. Airfreight is indispensable if supplies to the people and the livelihoods of all islanders are not to grind to a halt. This was the message Alexis von Hoensbroech, Member of the Executive Board and Chief Commercial Officer at Lufthansa Cargo, took away from his most recent visit to Greece.
His host during his stay was Kostis Achladitis, Managing Director of Golden Cargo, one of the leading ship parts logistics companies in Greece, based in Piraeus. Achladitis ended up in the logistics business almost by chance. After completing his studies in London, he worked for the procurement department of Golden Union Shipping, a shipping company that operates a fleet of several bulk carriers around the world.
“One day a spare part from Japan was urgently needed for a vessel in Greece,” recalls Achladitis. “The cost of shipping was as much as the price of the spare part itself. That’s when it occurred to me that spare parts logistics could be quite a lucrative business. I wondered whether we would be able to organize it ourselves, and at a lower cost.”
That was the beginning of Golden Cargo, almost 30 years ago now. At first Kostis Achladitis only took care of the shipping of spare parts that were needed by the company that employed him. Over the years, he also acquired other customers in the maritime shipping sector. Today, the logistics specialist serves more than 2,500 ships worldwide and is also a contract logistics provider for major producers of ship spare parts. Golden Cargo ships 70 percent of all consignments by airfreight.
Planning is virtually impossible.
“Providing logistics services to the maritime industry is a challenging business. To succeed, you have to know just how the sector operates. We know exactly what the requirements of the shipping companies are. Having our roots in this industry gives us a competitive edge,” says Achladitis. “That, in combination with the diligence and perseverance, the flexibility and sense of responsibility of our staff.”
What is particularly challenging is the lack of predictability. Ships are constantly on the move and shipping companies operate their vessels on the basis of charter contracts. It often happens that they won’t know until the last moment which will be the next port of call of any given ship in one or two weeks time. That makes things complicated – not only in the event of an unforeseen breakdown, but even for routine maintenance. To compound matters, the spare parts needed come from various manufacturers located around the globe. The best ropes are made in Greece, engine parts frequently come from Korea, Japan, China or Europe, digital maps and control elements are often sourced from somewhere in Europe.
Yet the ships that depend on them may be waiting tens of thousands of kilometers away, perhaps at sea or docked in a harbor.
“Operating under these conditions, the shipping companies need to work with a flexible and reliable partner,” says Kostis Achladitis. “Together with Lufthansa Cargo, we have developed a contingency plan that allows us to decide very quickly from where, and how, we can best fly in case a spare part is needed.”
“Everyone here is engaged in distribution”
“Our network services the key hotspots for maritime shipping throughout the world,” explains Alexis von Hoensbroech. “As a rule, major ports double as locations where spare parts are manufactured and traded. We provide the links between the manufacturers of spare parts and the shipping companies, based on the close relationship with the experts from Golden Cargo.”
The specialized crew of Golden Cargo has meanwhile grown to reach 120 employees. The company hires only few recruits originally from other professions. They prefer to train new employees starting at the very bottom. Staff fluctuation is minimal. Their relationships with customers are also particularly close. “We don’t have a dedicated sales department. Everyone here does distribution. As a result, we all have close relationships with customers, and with the cargo that we happen to be moving. It’s a very special way of working,” says Kostis Achladitis.
The same also applies to the partners: “Our aim is to support maritime logistics companies like Golden Cargo in their global operations as best as we can,” is how Alexis von Hoensbroech defines the role of his airline. “Accordingly, Lufthansa Cargo has a number of products that make for a perfect fit for these customers, and we have a team that is thoroughly familiar with the needs of maritime shipping.” Kostis Achladitis adds: “We have a close relationship with the local Lufthansa Cargo team in Athens. At Lufthansa Cargo, we know we’ll always get an appropriate response. There is always someone on hand around the clock, which means there is always a way to find a solution on behalf of our customer.”
It is thanks to this capacity for finding solutions that Golden Cargo is growing at rates between 15 and 20 percent annually – and doing so despite the Greek crisis, which is yet to be overcome. “We’ve remained virtually unaffected by the crisis because we run a global business operation, and because we are one of only a few sectors of the Greek economy that is competitive on an international scale,” explains Achladitis. “I very much hope that other industry sectors in Greece will soon be able to catch up with the international competition. There are plenty of highly motivated people in this country who want to do just that – and we are a perfect example of this!”
While his working life is global in nature, Achladitis’s roots are right here. He originally comes from one of the many Greek islands: from Chios, in the eastern Aegean Sea. “Whenever I go home, I travel by ferry, of course!” An islander himself, he is very much aware just how vital dependable maritime links can be. “The ships bring tourists to the islands, they bring goods, and they bring us everything we need for everyday life. When the ferry arrives in port, that’s when life begins. It’s a good thing that we at Golden Cargo are also able to contribute to that.”
You can watch the interview with Kostis Achladitis in the iPad edition, free in the App Store, and on the YouTube channel.