Stavros Spyros Niarchos, the shadowy Greek shipping magnate who spent much of his life battling his archrival Aristotle Onassis for supremacy on the high seas was born in Athens, on July 3, 1909.
Stavros was born in Greece’s capital city to a wealthy family, the son of Spyros Niarchos and his wife, Eugenie Koumantaros, a rich heiress. His great great grandfather, Philippos Niarchos, a Greek shipping agent in Valetta, had married a daughter from a noble family in Malta, whose younger offspring had moved to Greece to base themselves in a merchant business from Malta.
Niarchos was a naval officer in WWII, during which time part of the trade fleet he had developed with his uncle was destroyed. He used about two million dollars in insurance settlement to build a new fleet. His most famous asset was the yacht Atlantis, currently known as Issham Al Baher after having been gifted to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.
He then founded Niarchos Ltd, an international shipping company that at one time operated more than 80 tankers worldwide. He and Aristotle Onassis were great shipping rivals. In 1952 high capacity oil supertankers were built for the competing Niarchos and Onassis fleets who were, at the time, both claiming to own the largest tanker in the world.
So although he was known as a mystery man, there was little mystery in the way Stavros S. Niarchos built a personal fortune.
Niarchos, whose name means “master of ships,” was quite simply a master at seizing the moment and turning it to his advantage, especially if it involved the complex world of shipping and what others perceived as a disaster, he recognized as an opportunity. in 1956 the Suez Canal Crisis considerably increased the demand for the type of large tonnage ships that Niarchos owned. Business flourished and he became a billionaire.
The secret of his shipping success was very simple: buy cheap and buy big.
Niarchos was married 5 times and had two daughters and three sons. Niarchos died on April 16, 1996, in Zurich aged 87. At the time of his death, his fortune was estimated to be worth in excess of $22 billion. When Niarchos died, he left half his fortune to a charitable trust to be established in his name and the other half to his three sons and daughter Maria by his marriage to Greek shipping heiress Eugenia Livanos, a nephew, and a great-nephew.
Money from his trust has been given to many charities around Greece, including millions of dollars that went towards The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which is an amazing complex in the bay of Faliro in Athens, featuring new facilities for the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera, as well as the 210,000 m² Stavros Niarchos Park.