One of Greece’s most successful men, Dimitris Melissanidis, nick-named “Tiger,” and sometimes described as the largest supplier of fuel oil on the planet, was born in Nikaia (Piraeus), the son of a refugee from the Caucasus, Zoras Melissanidis, active in Pontian affairs, and a deeply respected local political figure prior to his forced move to a suburb of Athens. His son began as a businessman in 1975 who owned a small driving school in Korydallo and one used car, and who ultimately achieved tremendous business success at nearly light speed.
Over the past 35 years, Melissanidis became one of the most successful fuel traders in the history of Greece, as chairman of Aegean Marine Petroleum, the second largest oil company in Greece. He was also a leader in the development of Greek sports teams, especially AEK and Nikaia Ionikos. In 2009, Forbes listed him as number 211 in its list of the world's 500 richest people.
The Tiger’s Businesses and Assets
Aegean Marine Petroleum is a firm with an annual turnover of over $4.5 billion. The company is based in private facilities in Piraeus, on Hadjikyriakou street. By 2007, the company had the largest resupply fleet with 64 tankers, and owned a total of 90 double hulled tankers (the largest and newest such fleet globally). In November 2007, the Tiger sold 7.5 million shares of Aegean Marine Petroleum, retaining 37% of the company, and making a profit of $300 million.
Melissanidis’ Aegean group now includes Aegean Marine Petroleum, traded on the NYSE, with 14 global fuel oil stations (Ellada, Gibraltar, Kingston, Caribbean, Portland, Ghana, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Kanadas, Maroko, Trinitant, Panama, Antwerp/Rotterdam and Houston) and 60 modern tankers, of which 37 were built in five years. Aegean Shipping has 11 tankers; Aegean Oil has 550 stations; Aegean Lubs ships lubricants marketed in 480 major ports, and the Aegean Agency provides a range of services. In addition, the Tiger bought the Belgian firm Bunkers at Sea that caters to ships crossing the Irish Sea, the North Sea, English Channel, and the Bay of Biscay. Altogether the firm controls 18 bunkering stations in 17 countries.
In 2006, Melissanidis bought the Chevron Texaco storage facilities at Aspropyrgos with 21 tanks of 32 million liter capacity. The facility has a pipeline connection to the nearby ELPE refineries and has bottom loading facilities to load four tanker trucks and sea loading facilities for to load two tankers simultaneously. There is also a lubricant production plant producing 40,000 per annum. Aegean also bought 10 hectares in Alexabdroupolis to expand his operations in the port in that region. His aim since 2008 has been to expand his sales of fuel to the Aegean islands.
In Greece, Melissanidis owns over 600 gas stations that supply around 10% of motor fuel in the country. Currently, Melissanidis is reported to be planning the expansion of activities in the north Aegean and for ships traversing the Dardanelles.
In 2008, Melissanidis founded an affiliated company, Aegean Power, which has become the second largest power player in Greece after PPC DEH. Aegean is listed on NYSE and has offices in Miami. In mid-August 2011, Melissanidis sold his 50% stake in Aegean Power to his partner Vasilis Milionis.
In 2009 he bought the villa of Doda Voridi Goulandris in Porto Rafti for a rumored €15 million.
Melissanidis explains the amazing growth of his companies as the result of being in the right place at the right time and hard work.
Questions About Tiger’s Rise
As StatBank.Gr wrote in its profile of the Tiger, there are recurring questions about how Melissanidis accomplished so much, so quickly. How he could begin with “a vacant lot and no money…to controlling a group of companies with an annual turnover of about $4.5 billion . . .with operations in the area of construction, environmental protection and real estate ...”
StatBank.Gr traces his history, and then concludes that Melissanidis and his Aegean Group, “amid global and national economic crisis, are living proof of the theorem that…crisis creates opportunities for the forward-thinking and the daring.”
Questions About Black-Market Fuel
As is true with many prominent men, the Tiger has from time to time been implicated by others in alleged wrong-doing in connection with his many successes. For Melissanidis, one such difficult encounter was his jailing in 1996 for alleged trade in illicit black market fuel, relating to claims that he had both diverted marine fuel and adulterated fuel.
The Tiger was eventually cleared on these charges. Despite efforts by enemies to suggest that the claims have merit, his empire has grown and he has become one of the key players in the global bunkering trade.
Some have questioned the speed of growth of his companies, suggesting that it was facilitated by black market activity involving diversions of fuel, mislabeling of fuel and adulteration of it, citing the testimony of former parliament deputy president Dimitris Sioufas in his deposition before the Ethics and Transparency Committee of the Hellenic Parliament.
Shareholder Litigation in New York
One recent battle involves a class action suit (http://www.izardnobel.com/admin/uploads/17849316834d54627f4586b.pdf) brought against Melissanidis’ company, Aegean Marine Petroleum Network Inc. and its senior officials Nikolas E. Tavlarios, Peter Georgiopoulos and Spyros Gianniotis, at the US District Court of the Southern District of New York (Filed 02/09/11), by purchasers of the common stock of Aegean Marine between January 4, 2010 and February 3, 2011 seeking to pursue remedies under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 . The plaintiffs maintain they purchased the common stock of Aegean Marine during the time that the defendants knew or recklessly disregarded adverse facts and concealed them from the investing public. Notably, Melissanidis himself is not named in the lawsuit.
An Unlimited Future?
While others have been hurt by Greece’s current crisis, Melissanidis has seemed to find opportunities in it to grow. At the beginning of the crisis Melissanidis aggressively bought Verbeke Bunkering, considered the second largest operation in the ARA region. He also bought Shell facilities at Las Palmas. Currently, the Tiger is building a terminal in the UAE with a 600,000 MT capacity, with an investment of more than €100 million. In 2010, Aegean Marine Petroleum increased share capital by more than €100 million. Aegean is considered the largest importer of foreign capital to Greece, a total of €6 billion planned for 2011.
The question so many are asking is, how does the Tiger do it? When others in Greece are overwhelmed by the crisis, he continues to expand. When questions arise about black market oil fuel, even by a senior member of Parliament and its former President, and he is the largest of all oil suppliers, the Tiger still stands above the fray, secure and confident in his own business, and business ethics.