Paris Passias is the Legal Director of the Navarone shipping company. Prior to joining the company in June 2015, he was briefly the General Counsel of Vivartia, preceded by three years as a Partner with the Kitsaras Passias Sfikas Tsantitis Law Firm (he served double duty from 2012-2014, during which time he also acted as in-house counsel for Navarone). Before that, Passias was the General Counsel of the telecom operator OTE for 4 years after working as the Head of the Foreign Investments Legal Department and General Counsel of OTE International Investments. His experience also includes working as an in-house counsel for the International Reefer Services Shipping Company and as an Associate with Rokas and Partners.
You’ve been in a variety of roles and industries throughout your career but somehow always returned to the shipping sector – what do you find particularly attractive about it?
P.P.: I believe it was always the international focus that drew me in and made sure it stuck with me. Early in my career I worked in Germany, and that was probably the first such exposure, but especially once I came back to Greece and worked with OTE, I acquired a real taste for such an exposure, with the telecom group expanding considerably throughout SEE, as you know [referring to OTE’s recent acquisition of shares in the Romanian telephone operator Romtelecom].
Shipping is one of those industries that is, by definition, internationally oriented so it was inevitable to become attracted.
Speaking of the industry, according to some records, the Greek merchant navy is the 3rd largest in the world. What do you believe has contributed to its current position?
P.P.: Geographical position aside, I think it’s simply a matter of a natural talent. Greeks have historically been merchants – at least considerably more so than manufacturers – and I think that’s just been a tradition that has stuck with us.
Does the Greek government promote the sector more than others? Did that play a part?
P.P.: That’s actually a common misconception. I wouldn’t say the industry received any special support to be honest. The one example towards this that I can think of is the state insurance promises provided to the shipping industry after World War II, when the sector took a hit with the global decline in trade.
In recent days, in fact, it is going in the opposite direction, with budgetary pressures being reflected in the taxing regime that we need to operate under. With the shipping industry being so big, it was bound for it to get on that radar.
At the same time, it is estimated that it employs 7% of the workforce in the country. What specific challenges does an in-house counsel working for such a large employer face?
P.P.: I am not 100% sure about that number, but, indeed, the industry is one of the largest employers in Greece. I would say that, for the most part, the same employment regulations are applicable to us as to any other type of company. As a result, I would not say we face any specific challenges on that end, especially since labor unions in Greece are not as strong as they would be in other places, and that could be an area where one would imagine the volume of employees would play a big part.
Of course, that number probably accounts for Greek nationals employed within the shipping industry. Here you need to differentiate between onshore and offshore staff. Onshore, most of our employees tend, indeed, to be Greeks, and they usually represent highly-skilled and well-paid technicians, engineers, etc., meaning that the “usual” labor concerns rarely pop up. In terms of the offshore employees, many are foreign nationals, and that complicates things a bit, but nothing insurmountable.
Working in this industry means requires that the company, and implicitly its legal function, needs to be very international in mindset. How is that reflected in your legal function?
P.P.: Indeed, one of the main aspects about our legal function is the variety of having to deal with an issue in Argentina one day, then with a port issue on the other side of the world the next. One thing that simplifies everything greatly, however, is the fact that almost all legal aspects that have to do with our industry tend to operate under common law. How is that reflected within our organization? Firstly I am qualified as a solicitor as well and I do tend to work a great deal of the time with UK-based law firms. As for issues coming up that require specific local legal knowledge, we simply outsource them to local firms.
I’m assuming it wouldn’t make much sense to build up those capabilities in-house.
P.P.: No, definitely not. It’d simply be way too expensive to have one specialist on call for each of the immensely diverse jurisdictions we deal with on a regular basis.
Since you mentioned it, there are a number of international firms in Greece that are present in the country primarily because they were drawn in by their shipping practice. Do you find the market saturated with such practices, or can we expect more to join?
P.P.: I think that pretty much all of the ‘big boys’ are already in Greece to be honest, so even if there would be room in the market, I don’t really see many contenders left who might be targeting the market and are not on the ground already. The few who have not yet ticked a presence were probably scared off by the current economic climate, but to be honest, at the end of the day, so much of the work would happen out from London that I am not sure it’d be needed for them to open up an office here. Maybe it made a lot more sense in the past, but thanks to technology these days, I simply don’t see a logistical need anymore.
On the lighter side, for anyone not having had the pleasure of visiting Greece, what’s the first place in the country you’d recommend they visit?
P.P.: Athens should be the first stop. The Greek capital is “small Greece” itself! Visit the new Acropolis Museum, built by the New York-based architect Bernard Tschumi with its 4,000 beautiful objects and the stunning view over the Parthenon Temple. Stroll in the old city of Plaka, have lunch at a seaside tavern in the picturesque harbor “Mikrolimano” (little harbor) in Piraeus, drive southwards on the cliff-fringed route to catch up with the most awesome sunset from the Poseidon Temple in Cape Sounion. Enjoy your goodbye drink at the Galaxy bar in the Hilton Hotel with the amazing panoramic view over the city of Athens and the glittering Saronic Sea.
This Article was originally published in Issue 2.5. of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.
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