The Life of Aristotle Onassis
The Man, the Myth, the Legend
by Eva Prionas, Christos Kiriazis, Mike Elisofon, Andy Roberts, and Andy Salter
2. The Escape from Smirne
3. The New World
4. The Penelope and the Socrates
5. The Liberty Fleet and the OPM Technique
6. Colombo's Egg
7. Whale Hunting
8. From the Sea to the Sky
9. The Decay
The life and character of Aristotle Onassis, in many ways, exhibited strong similarities to that of the Greek mythological figure Odysseus. Although never a passionate reader, Aristotle was fascinated by the story of Odysseus -- about his eternal journey in search of chimera and adventures and his ultimate return to his native country to reign in peace on his people. This character always attracted him as he felt the sense of a similar destiny and that he, as did Odysseus, knew how to exist above all will.
Ari was brought up in an environment consumed by the rigorous principles of the Orthodox Church. But inside him, there remained only a deep religious sense of man as he grew older, a sense that respects the strength of superior events while de-emphasizing the will of a god or the lords in determining most matters. Ari was one to never escape the fight and to spends all his energies consumed in an eternal struggle.
His stellar performance as a businessman was surely linked to this component of his character, to the aggressiveness of a man who was willing to win at any price. He was born in Smirne, from where we believe Homer has originated. After Smirne was occupied by the Turks, he ended up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here he succeeded in a few years to gain his fated first million. As he went down the path of success with the logic of narcissus, sure of always going the right way and often times feeling omnipotent, he faced rivals and courts of justice, democracies and colonels. Few people in their lives have come across such a crescendo of power.
He frequented exclusive night clubs and restaurants all over the world. Whether over the phone or on a cruise ship, he fostered a profitable business with his flair and vibrant personality. The particulars of his business negotiations, of course, were carried out in offices somewhere in Europe or the United States. But it was his personality that fascinated those around him. He always seemed to tread the fine line between self-egocentrism and vulnerability. This unique combination
formed the nucleus of his character and resulted in a remarkable mix of vitality and melancholy. He was a protagonist of the financial world, but fate was not to permit him to reap only happiness from life. That story by Odysseus that he truly loved, also depicted the punishment of the man who had challenged the omnipotence and authority of the lords. Similar to Prometheus who in life had reached the highest aims, Ari was ultimately akin to the son precipitated on the ground in the
legend of Icarus. Onassis did indeed spend the last two years of his life fighting without enthusiasm and devoid of hope.
2. The Escape from Smirne
Aristotle's father, Socrates, moved with his brothers to Anatolia, in Smirne, from inside the country. Although not the oldest of his brothers, Socrates was the most charismatic and effectively fulfilled the role as head of the family. They had moved to Smirne originally due to pure chance when a team of engineers and typographers had invaded the village of Moutalasski to concentrate on the new Berlin-Baghdad railway and spoke of the wonderful economic opportunities in Smirne.
Socrates Onassis and his brothers became inebriated by the city's atmosphere. They recognized the existence of the economic opportunities as they witnessed the carpets, tobacco, cotton, dried-fig, wood, raisins, and other goods that passed through the port. Socrates found commerce to be an extremely prosperous sector of business and, after an apprenticeship with a Jewish merchant near Bohar Benadava, he rented a small store at the port and opened an import-export business. He experienced extremely good business and, in a year, moved to a building in the Han del Gran Visir in the business center of the city. He also rented another store in a strategic location near the railway and the port in Daragaz.
Although his business activity eventually spanned many diverse trades, Socrates was essentially a dealer of tobacco. In the meantime, all his brothers, Alexander, Homer and Vasili, were engaged in their family affairs and their business reputations were also expanding. In fact, Homer and Alexander began to take a keen interest in politics as their reputation flourished. Soon thereafter, Socrates decided to get married, considering the social position he had already achieved, and to return to the village. He chose to marry Penelope Dologu, the daughter of a village notable. Not yet 17 years of age, the bride courageously and intelligently adapted herself to her duties and gave birth to two sons, Artemide and Aristotle. At this time, the year was 1900 and racially-spurred political strife with Turkey was rapidly fomenting.
In 1909, during a time of nationalist hostility at the hands of the Turks, a personal tragedy struck Socrates' family. Penelope died of kidney failure, leaving a sad void in the family. Socrates ultimately remarried, bringing a very good stepmother to Penelope's sons. But to Aristotle, no one would ever love him as his mother Penelope did. Surrounded by women including the stepmother, the grandmother Getsemani and the three sisters (two were born from the second marriage), Ari grew up in a world where religion was an important obligation; in fact, if it weren't for the presence of his uncle Alexandro, perhaps Ari would have set off towards an ecclesiastic career. However, his uncle inculcated in him the passion of life, that taste of struggle and the sense that challenge is highly respected in a Greek world. These passions dominated the rest of Ari's life.
As World War I progressed and the nations began to divide the spoils of war, the Greek reoccupation of Smirne was encouraged. However, on August 26th 1927, the troops of Kemal Pascia entered and conquered the region without meeting much Greek resistance. Only a few days before, Socrates had brought his son Ari into the office and together they wisely burned the documents recognizing the political activity of Alexander. However, his prudence did not keep him from being arrested and thrown into a concentration camp. The family was transported to another camp in the island of Lesbos and only Ari was saved from this travesty. After deceptively lying about his age and suggesting that he was only 16 years old, Ari convinced the military figures that he was to young to go to a camp. Ari somehow found the strength and the necessary inventiveness to organize an escape and successfully liberated his father from the concentration
3. The New World
Ari's grandmother Getsemani had always told him to remember that "men have to construct their destiny." After his father's liberation, Ari didn't see in his native country any bond strong enough to keep him there. With 250 dollars in his pocket and a valid permit for a journey into a country of new colonization, Ari set out for Argentina. He started so with a third-class ticket in the middle of thousands of emigrants, tight between the hold and the deck, the voyage towards life
and his destiny of man.
But Ari was different that all the other desperate fugitives who had lost their country and, with it, their identities. The main distinction between them was Ari's love for victory, his clearness of objectives, and his unfettered determination. He subsequently found work as a telephone operator with the help of some Greeks and, on this occasion, he once again falsified his date of birth, this time making himself six years older so that he could legally hold a job. His work gave him economic stability and a better business sense. When work was slow, Ari would read the financial pages for the London and New York stock exchanges and eventually he put his knowledge into a speculative investment which paid $700 in handsome returns. He bought a new wardrobe and began to frequent the night clubs in new fashion.
In his search for "perfection," Ari became tuned into the cultural aspects of the region and it was for this reason that he attended the opera in which Claudia Muzio was the soprano interpreter. It was by no means an easy courtship but Ari ultimately succeeded in becoming Claudia's lover. Claudia opened up the doors of Buenos Aires to Ari and his destiny started to change.
As he continued his work as a telephone operator, another brilliant idea came to him. He envisioned the tobacco of the orient spreading rapidly in Argentina and he wrote his father with a proposal to ship him tobacco for a contracted rate. He was convinced that Turkish tobacco, more so that Cuban tobacco, would appeal to the female public in Argentina. The deal was more complicated than Ari anticipated, however. Apparently, at this time, women smoked only in private and not in public, so his orders were initially limited. Ari decided to persist when no one bought his tobacco and he opted to open up a cigarette production line himself. He produced two types, "Osman" and "Primeros", and thousands of dollars in profits started to come in. With the help of his cousins Kosta and Niko Konialidis, he enlarged the business to that of import and export.
Unfortunately, Ari was soon informed by Kostas that taxes on goods of importation from countries that didn't have trade agreements with Greece would have a one thousand percent increase. Ari immediately understood the danger that such an increase would pose to the Greek government. Naturally the danger included all of Onassis' personal business. Ari painted the reality to the Greek government in a memorandum stressing how the new taxes would ruin the sea
trade. This memorandum for the Greek government didn't effect the increase towards Argentina. He was given the appointment to the Greek consulate in Argentina.
Home-sickness and sweet nostalgia was pervasive in Ari's mind afterwards. The memory of the sea and the port, the scent of mimosa and jasmine, the bread fresh out of the oven, the ship's siren sound, the steam engines and the orchestra music, the folk-songs and the smell of coffee that reminded him of his infancy and the love for his native city. This sense of nostalgia began to consume him. Ari wasn't a sailor and didn't have the instincts of a sailor, but was a native of a Greek sea-city and poured out all his feelings onto a project to obtain some whips containing his name, his flag, and his colors.
The ship offered Ari the opportunity to free himself from the ghosts of his dreams interrupted from his youth; it offered him a coherent symbol of his might and aims to embody the myth of Odysseus in his lifetime--the eternal traveler pushed to discover the limits of the world. As a ship owner, Ari started a seemingly endless adventure, awesome in dimension, to experience a continued mix of success and defeat and the strength of the human character.
4. The Penelope and the Socrates
Ari arrived at a crossroads in his life. The gains he earned with tobacco was still insufficient to satisfy his heavy aspirations. Ambitious and avidly aware of his own talent, he noted while carrying the function as Consul how fascinating the world of the sea is. As Consul, he enjoyed resolving ships' problems in port, and had the energy to grasp the situations behind sea-transportation and maximizing shipping profits.
Having decided to find ships at any cost, he started a voyage of Europe in order to find the "lost ship." He returned from Europe unconvinced of what he had seen, but Kostas, his inseparable friend and perpetual businessman, found a "possibility" in Canada.
Onassis left immediately. The ships were anchored on the Saint Lawrence River and belonged to the Canadian National Steamship Company, a subsidiary of the Canadian National Railways. The company was resolved to selling the various ships, weighing anywhere from 8.5 and 10 thousand tons, at scrap-metal prices. Onassis examined the ships, and made his own estimates. He offered to buy six ships each for 20 thousand dollars apiece. The company had wanted to sell only two ships, but relented; Onassis was finally a ship owner, and he promptly installed his cousin into a brand new office and designated Nikos Konialidis his curator for naval business.
The first two ships released from the yard after the acquisition were names after his parents Socrates Onassis and Penelope Onassis. With his soon-to-be legendary flair for business, Ari kept his ships in the yard until he judged market demand was right for their release. However, he had to make up the $120,000 that he had borrowed from various banks, and there was little room for error. When he thought that he had arrived at the right moment, his small armada sailed in low waters with a quantity of Canadian newspaper, the prestigious Daily Mirror of Lord Rothermer. The other transports followed one another and Onassis began to ameliorate his starting investment, but it was not easy.
Rotterdam was the sight of the new fleet's first troubles. The Onassis Penelope was stuck in port, blocked by the Port Authority because a Greek sailor was sick and had to be substituted with another Greek. The ship flew a Greek flag, and the crew needed to be completed in order to successfully transport the cargo. Ari went to Rotterdam, but his protests didn't yield many results. The ship had to unload the rest of its load in Copenhagen, which wasted valuable time. Ari
dismissed the Consul, his old friend from school, with the phrase "come and see me tomorrow on board." The phrase seemed sublime, but the Consul had underestimated Onassis' mighty power as a man and deep desire to avoid defeats and losses. This was a classic example of Onassis' firm desire to succeed.
Ari called his legal advisors and Kostas Gratsos. His agents took only until that night to register the ship under the Flag of Panama. The morning after, the Greek Consul received a bottle of champagne on board the Penelope. Accompanying the champagne was a note informing him to take the Greek flag with him, for he was now on board a Panamese ship, signed by Ari. The changing of the flag, an immediate resolution to a nagging problem, revealed itself as Ari's winning card. He started a practice which many ship owners soon followed. The advantages were undeniable, especially from a fiscal point of view. Taxes were nonexistent, the ship could now trade with any value, and was no longer subject to most exchange rules. The ship owner could now establish the number of the crew on the ground purely according to the ship's need, and these hirings were no longer carefully checked.
Onassis returned from his trip to Rotterdam, reassured that he had found the right solution. His joy was comparable to that of a great scientist that had just discovered a new formula and was busy preparing himself for greater successes.
5. The Liberty Fleet and the OPM Technique
"Ari's business," a nickname that originated in the United States and lasted for years, soon prospered. When the Second World War finished, Ari had lost neither a ship nor a man. He was proud of this result, for three of his ships were rented to the Naval Commission of the United States, which yielded him $250,000 a year. Meanwhile, his oil tankers, long sequestered in Scandinavia, were now free from their forced anchorage. Ari had planned to build the world's first oil tanker of tonnage greater than 9000 tons, and gave the project to a Norwegian firm. So was launched the Aristo and Aristofaneus of 15,000 tons each.
Unfortunately, the beginning of the war had caught these two ships in the neutral port of Goteborg, Norway, and the Norwegian government had sieged these ships as a symbol of its complete neutrality in the war. They were now free to carry their cargoes for Onassis.
Now he was being offered one of the greatest business opportunities of the post-war world. The United States Naval Commission put the Liberty Ships that were built during the war on sale. The price was established at $550,000, of which $125,000 could be used as a down payment, with the rest coming in 7 years at 3% interest.
Many ship owners were skeptical on the construction techniques used on these boats, but Ari's opinion was that they would be a good investment. His problem was that he didn't have the money for the 16 Liberty Ships he had intended to buy, so he applied for a bank loan. His technique was quite a bit risky; for, before actually receiving the money from the bank, he contracted transports of coal in South America, France, and Germany on ships that he didn't own. He then used these contracts as a guarantee to the banks, who gave him his money.
He used a different method to buy the T2 oil tankers that the navy put on sale for 1,500,000 each. As the principle clause of the sale, however, the tankers must be sold to an American citizen. Ari avoided this obstacle by creating an American company, United States Petroleum Carriers, with American shareholders. The government sold the new company four oil tankers. The next day, Onassis and his men anonymously took over the shares of the company that fell under the control of Ari.
Onassis' best invention, however, was the O.P.M. (Other People's Money). This idea wasn't originally created by Ari, even though he was a pioneer in the field. Credit for this innovation goes to Daniel Ludwig, a Michigan businessman. The bank refused a loan that would provide for the conversion of a transport ship into a tanker. However, Daniel had an idea; he could give a guarantee to the bank on an oil tanker that he already possessed, while he could use the profits from his transports as an identity to the bank.
The solution to this problem loan was actually simple and ingenious. Daniel Ludwig by now had perfected this technique, and defined it himself as the O.P.M. He asked the bank for a loan towards the construction of new ships but did not change the way he used the ships he already owned. The loan had to be deferred in different payments in order to permit the banks to be repaid before the new ships were actually built. The loan's guarantee came from the profits of the
ships already on the water.
The banks called the operation of O.P.M. "card at double-name," for they possessed a double guarantee on their loans. Ludwig grew rich, but he never became a big ship owner. He invested the money he obtained in different areas, with the notable exception of shipping, and although his fleet was bigger than that of Onassis or Niarhos, did not play an important role in the industry.
6. Colombo's Egg
To be a ship owner now came to mean that you must love a risk on your own trade while carefully watching the fluctuations of the market. Of utmost importance is the oil-tanker's market, where a ship owner had to be ready to play the market if the right situation arose. Onassis used 30% of his fleet on the demands of the market, allotting these ships to be ready if the market was right. The other 70% was reserved for charters, or long journeys, that lasted a minimum of three
Ari used the mechanism of his charter to maximize the loans he received from the bank. In his hands, the O.P.M. transformed into a valuable instrument with notable advantages. By using the breach in the accord between Onassis and the First National Bank, Ari financed an entire fleet of oil tankers that made him the most famous ship owner in the world. In 1946, Onassis married Tina Livanos, a Greek with American citizenship, and established a home in New York. He was
determined to gain respectability in the United States. In order to do this, he had to build his ships in the US. Ultimately, his plan was to bring millions of dollars into the American economy and to build super oil tankers in American yards.
Ari carefully sought out the right man to head up this task, and his search eventually led him to Harry Haggerty. Haggerty was Treasurer of Metropolitan Life Insurance, a huge company with capital exceeding 250 million. Haggerty was at first excited with the possibility, but in the end he could not agree to join an industry in which he understood little of the nuances. His negative answer did not discourage Ari, but encouraged him to try harder.
The principle obstacle lied in the fact that in agreements of charter, it was expected that if the ship would fail to complete its service, the charter would not be paid. The bank was not encouraged by the charter system, especially this particular lack of guaranty. Onassis fought this by changing his headquarters for the oil tanker company, which encouraged independent fleets to transport their product.
In effect, the oil tanker companies tried to keep the monopoly of the petroleum industry, from extraction to transportation. The transportation was wherein the problem was. In order to monopolize this facet of petroleum, the oil tanker companies had to put up huge amounts of collateral that would restrict their other activities, and subsequently added much risk to this
venture. Understanding the situation and playing his cards well, Ari talked with the owners of the Socony Oil Company. He explained to them the bank's apprehension to finance, which they new little about. He told them that it was right that the companies that knew the field well and had drawn up a contract while knowing their risk, in veritas minimum, could be supported by the company and not the bank.
Ari's strength of persuasion was strong, considering his ship's solid reputation and his charismatic personality. What made his persuasion even stronger was the fact that he had covered all possible damages of his ships for the next three months. Everything was going well, but Onassis was hungry for more. He soon got it. During the period of charter, usually five years, he accumulated day-by-day periods termed "dead," that at the end of the charter became several months. It was in this period that Onassis attained a formidable idea, that he could change the accords between ship owners, companies, and financiers. His proposal went like this: "The need of my ships is very urgent; I propose a contract of charter that assures the payment for a ton and a month, for 60 months, that includes in the payment the dead periods without reducing the costs."
Before raising an objection, Ari proposed his counter-item; he would himself undertake a financing of the company for each dead period a double service. Periods longer than three months were covered in his assurance. Onassis was in the habit of illustrating his arguments with examples of comparisons; the powerful oil tanker companies could respect his ships that loded where he lives and for whom he is engaged to pay the rent. If the lodger was Rockefeller, and the house had
a roof of gold or leaked was irrelevant. If the lodger accepted that he would have to pay the rent, that would be enough for anyone to lend money to the house. The ship situation was the same thing.
Socony accepted the proposal, which was an inevitable conclusion given the formula, and their assurance to pay with the low and the high tide, gave the financial society absolute security. This agreement established a new principal in marine financing. Wall Street could not avoid the financial sense of this accord; it opened a new field of investment, where banks' skepticism towards the market fell. In naval terms, one can say that after a long period of pitching, the naval
financiers took the sea and reached two billion dollars in a short period of time. Ari had found Colombo's egg, but he loved to say to himself that his role in the accord yielded 40 million dollars.
7. Whale Hunting
"He killed only blue whales today, it has to be a secret," Bruno Schilaghecke wrote in his diary. He was a German sailor on board the Olympic Challenger Whaler, the flag-ship of Lars Andersen's fleet, the best whalers in the world. The adventure of the whaler had been ordained to fail by both the captain and the ship owner. The project "whaler" was born under such circumstances, as the usual Colombo's egg that resolves all such difficult situations.
When it became difficult to build ships in the United States, Ari went to Hamburg, Germany, where before the war he had ordered his super oil tankers to examine the situation of the Hamburg shipyards. The German economy readily received the ordering of ships, but the Potsdam Accords limited ships built to 115 tons.
Ari was disappointed, but Kostas Gratsos came through with a loophole. In the Potsdam Accords, it was written that Germany could enlarge its fleet of whalers, which created an empty space in a profitable market. But there was something else; it was not prohibited in German shipyards to convert preexisting ships. The connection was obvious. The oil tanker T2 Herman Whiton quickly became the largest whaler in the world, while The Olympic Challenger passed through 17 Canadian and British corvettes that formed a convoy to cross the Atlantic. The corvettes were naturally designed for hunting.
This started a new challenge for Onassis, a challenge far different from others, for Ari now knew how to play with loaded dice. He knew he had chosen a captain who was a Norwegian that had collaborated with the Nazis. Through this man, he enlisted 14 Norwegian artillerymen, including Lars Andersen, experienced in whale butchering. With a crew that had these qualifications, there was no problem passing the ship off as a whaler.
Given the scruples of a team of this type relative to the respect for international rules, the safeguard for the survival of the species - limiting whale captures to 16 thousand a year - was pure illusion.
The Olympic Challenger began harpooning whales a month prior to the opening of the season and did not distinguish between little sperm-whales and whales that were still just forming. Pieces of meat from the 124 dead whales lay still on the ship's deck. No one was at all grown up about it. Without any sensibility, they killed everything under the gun. These are the words of Bruno Schlaghecke, from the international commission for the hunting of whales, which bring forth his
decisive evidence in the action against the Onassis fleet.
In Ari's opinion, the whales were there for the sole purpose of being captured. The only rule he knew in business was the prificts etic and that the price of whale's oil rises uncommonly fast. There surely existed another component to his fury, above the logic of gain. It is here that we find his instincts as a hunter, the enjoyment of capturing and destroying his prey. The first shipment produced 4,200.00 dollars and the massacre continued undisturbed for another 3 years until 1954.
That was a year of risk for the whalers. With the arctic zone now exhausted, the whalers moved along Peru's coast where an absurd limit was posed: In his territorial waters, where he exercised a fool military and administrative sovereignty, he moved within 200 miles of the coast. The actual limit was about 405 miles. The United States, United Kingdom, and Norway, the biggest producers of whale oil, protested and even without a written document, it seemed that Peru would not defend the imposed limit.
Onassis's fleet was navigating towards Peru, hardly exceeding the Panama canal, when the Peruvian newspaper organized an alarmist press campaign against his whalers. Acting with prudence this time, Onassis decided to stay out and ordered the captain to keep his ship to the limit of 200 miles. By now, he had already accumulated 60 thousand barrels of oil and captured 580 whales in the Arctic zone. On November 15, convinced by second-hand information that Onassis' ships had crossed the limit, sent an ambassador to intimidate the flag-ship and invited it to head for Lima. Instead, the ship continued on the sea and was fired upon by machine guns and bombed. The Captain Reichbert surrendered: the boarded ship was convoyed with 4 hunting ships in the port of Lima. The rest of the fleet was refuged in Panama. The result of the attack was discouraging - 400 sailors in prison and 5 ships sequestered.
The next day, the newspaper had a rich discussion of the matter. Nothing else helped Ari more than being attacked: the step was short from being "monster" that kills to victim of a conspiracy. The authoritative "The Times" of London, struck by a news conference held by Ari in "Claridge," wrote that the Panama's flag of Onassis' ships could be seen as that of freedom. So it seemed that the black flag of pirates depended on how you looked at it. This happened in the middle of
November. At the end of the month, the supreme court fined the Olympic whaling, the Panama society owner of the fleet, 57 million soles Peruvian which corresponded to about 2,800.00 American dollars for killing a great number of whales in their water - about three thousand. The payment had to happen within 5 days or his ships would be forfeited and sold.
Ari didn't leave himself vulnerable: All the business fell to his insurance company, the fabulous Lloyd's of London. Onassis took precautions against each possible risk in covering his ships, including that of sequestration and capture. He even had a clause which forewarned that an indemnity of 30 thousand dollars a day must be paid if his ships had to navigating between October 7 and November 20 for any reason. Still, the far sightedness of Ari was his winning card. The Lloyd's paid the fee, the ships got the sea, but the whaler's adventures were finished however.
Where the Peruvian government could not succeed, the anger of the gloomy sailors that were witness of slaughter too cruel to continue to be silent were able to do so. Their testimony to the international commission of whale hunting bound the clamist Lars Andersen and the captain Reichbert to their responsibility. The documents produced and the photos adduced were incontestable evidence. The accusation gained in strength on the table of the jury - blue whales killed illegally, megatherium, sperm-whales - every species was killed without regard.
At the same time, March 1956, Ari dismantled his fleet, selling it for 8,200.00 American dollars to the Japanese, and had to find another business. He found the Pelagic fund, an institution where the goal was the safeguard of marine fauna and Onassis paid the principal quota of 570 thousand US dollars.
So ended Ari's proclivity for whale hunting, like the defeat of David over Goliath.
8. From the Sea to the Sky
Onassis needed the dominion of the sky, another mythical element of the universe dear to the classic world. The waters were already furrowed in all the world with ships that brought his colors, but the skies were not violated. Even if Ari preferred the sea and considered his ships the roots of a tree, he then considered airplanes as the leaves. He let himself attempt the project of taking off the national Greek airline and made it his creature.
The Greek prime minister Constantine Karamanlis, member of the right party national union radical, who arrived in power with the election of 1957 had decided to derive a source of richness which remained unused to that point. He had quite decided to take back the Greek economy and the richness and financial ability of the great ship owners.
Onassis was the first target, and the TAE was the first business offered. In reality, The loss of the company stimulated Ari to start the only private national airline in the world. The air fleet was derisory, 12 DC-8, the famous Dakota, and one DC-4. The only international service that he could boast was a weekly flight to Paris and one to London.
What Karamanlis asked Ari was to give an international rest to the company by taking it away completely. It was in this way that Onassis, migrating bird, poised himself on Greek ground and assumed command of 13 airplanes, signing the agreement on July 30, 1956. 856 people worked at TAE and all of them were hired by the Olympic Airways at the same salary and working conditions. By baptizing the airline with the name symbol of his winnings, Onassis showed that the
airplanes would further his docket and money.
The negotiation with the government was meticulous and Onassis succeeded in gaining a series of important concessions. The government was anxious to encourage rich people to invest money in Greek enterprises and allotted the Olympic Airways special privileges: The monopoly on Greek aviation for 20 years, the reimbursement by the government for any unauthorized strike, reimbursement for loss in overseas flights, the right to bring their profits abroad, exemption from land taxation in Greece, the right to loan up to 3,500.00 US dollars from the government at a tax
rate of 2.5%, and the exclusive rights on overseas flights.
The concessions were very generous, but the company was still working at a loss for years, even though Ari called in the Frenchman Tom Fabre who had directed the French line UTA. Fabre accepted the job for two years and helped Olympic take off, but the company was never a lucky enterprise. Without a direct plan or investment strategy, the company passed from one crisis to another. Ari asked that his monopoly rights be extended, because he intended on seeing better
results in the long run. He obtained an extension until 2006 which included monopoly maintenance as well as the refueling of foreign airlines.
By June 1957, the Olympic had started its international activity with two weekly flights to London-Paros-Athens-Nicosia-Beirut and had added 3 DC-6's to the fleet. He had rented the airplanes from UTA with a renewing practice, even though the advantages were different, when Colone's regime asked him to potentiate the fleet with five Boeing 727's and two 707's for 54,100,000 US dollars. The company's problem was always that of acquisitions after seeing that
profits were scanty. Using "subordinate loans" through his abroad society, Ari had managed to buy two comet English jets and three Boeing 707's. Now, the problem was difficult to resolve: the sum invested was such that it involved an issue of action which Onassis wanted to avoid at any cost.
He also resolved this situation by creating a society in Panama - "The Aircraft Leasing company" - that worked as a financial association, comprised 70% of the first national city bank, 15% by Boeing, and 15% by another one of Ari's societies in Panama. In this way, the aircraft leasing company bought the airplanes from Boeing and rented them to Olympic for ten years. The income of the rent served to extinguish the debts through interest payments, first to the bank, then to Boeing, and finally to Onassis' society. Onassis saw his 8,200,000 US dollars which he had invested in the business all returned. The company continued along with much difficulty.
9. The Decay
In reality there existed a little association that actually furnished profits and not losses. The Olympic Aviation was able to do this by offering service for the island with the hire of airplanes and also taxi-airlines. The society was guided by Alexander Onassis, first son of Onassis, to whom Ari was not supposed to give up command of the society. Because of his myopia, Alexander could not achieve the bravado of airline pilot, but became a commercial pilot and guided taxi-airplanes.
He became famous for his urgent transports even when the weather tried to dissuade him from leaving. He controlled little airplanes and had a good knowledge of motors. In his store of vehicles were two Piaggio that Alexander wanted to substitute with two helicopters because he found them too dangerous. The Piaggio were also used for Ari's personal transport, one was on the deck of his yacht, the Christina. After about a year of insistence, Alexander finally gained enough funds to substitute the helicopters.
Ari wanted his yacht to be brought to Miami with the Piaggio for his movement, and Alexander was entrusted with educating the new pilot Donald McCusker who was replacing Donald McGregor because of an injured eye. When he began to teach the new pilot, McGregor sat behind for ulterior control. At about 30 meters off the ground, the plane had just started the takeoff from the runway of the Athens airport, the airplane was inclined dangerously on the right and spun
around in circles for 500 meters. It then smashed its nose, the tail and the other wing before finally stopping. When help arrived, Alexander was recognized only by the monogram on his handkerchief.
The next day, January 22, 1973 at 18:55, Alexander died. The death of a son can cause different reactions in different fathers, but we see how it affected Onassis from his future years. Immediately after the death, he decided to hibernate his son, and only after affectionate advice from his friend Georgakis did he give up the project.
Alexander was buried in Skorpios, the private island that Onassis bought in 1963 to make his own Ithaca. But the guilt of his father for not agreeing to the substitution of the Piaggios earlier still lingered. He couldn't accept the idea and spent the next few months trying to prove that the commands had been sabotaged.
The emptiness left by Alexander would not remove Ari from the taste of struggle that always supported him. The summer of 1973 was a moment of prosperity for the ship owners of oil tankers. The tariff on the market grew continuously and the VLcc and ULcc, big oil tankers obtained from a single voyage from Kuwait to Europe brought a profit of 4 million US dollars. With entries of 12 million dollars in a month derived from 100 ships, the price of oil increased by 8% for the year and Ari ordered his other 4 oil tankers to Japanese yards and 2 ULcc to France.
However, this was the obvious answer to the market's condition and so there wasn't a sense of victory or triumph. When his cousin Kostas congratulated him, he answered "I'm not happy, it's not always millions that resolve what a man needs." An epic was clearly finished. Ari always measures his success in mathematical terms and now that method had fallen short. Money no longer gave him the pleasure of life. He threw himself into a new project with renewed energies. It
was the construction of a refinery in New Hampshire. He presented the project to the locals in October of 1973 and waited. The refinery will never be built.
Onassis found himself in contrast to the public opinion, an assembly of trained citizens. The oil would pollute the water permanently. Onassis didn't care about the assembly of civils and succeeded in the liberty affair behind the law court. He had faced Aramco, the association dominated by the four big American oil tankers for the business in Saudi Arabia. On that occasion he lost, but he had been strong in his challenge. Now in front of an assembly of citizens reunited in a gymnasium, he was in trouble, not knowing how to use his strength of persuasion and charm.
He abandoned the conference and left for New York feeling beaten. The sentiment of danger in life did not excite him anymore. In flight from Acapulco to New York with his second wife Jackie Bouvier, widow of Kennedy, he drew up his will. He wrote pages after pages with tremendous mental effort. The giant had surrendered in front of the reality of death. He felt sick and was diagnosed with a serious form of myasthenia that would claim his life in less than a year. The scripture proceeded rapidly and the pages accumulated quickly.
"To my beloved daughter" were the words that began his last will. His empire would be separated into two financial districts, alpha and beta. Alfa would keep the capital of heritage together and beta would have the shares of alpha. Christina, his heir, received all the heritage of the first society, while the principal share of beta, 52%, went to the "Alexander Onassis Foundation." The intent of the Foundation was to perpetuate the Onassis spirit through charity,
art, and the development of Greece.
His daughter Christina had already begun her training and showed gifts similar to her father. On February 6, Onassis was hospitalized to have his gall-bladder operated on. The operation was successful, but he was very weak afterwards. The days passed in a continuing cycle of hope and disappointment until March 15, 1975. It was on this day that death, behind him for two years and ready to seize him at the first sign of surrender, finally found an opening large enough to win over
his resistance. He was buried in Skorpios near his son Alexander.