Hellenic Petroleum (Helpe) has recently posted record profits for the first half of 2017. According to Grigoris Stergioulis, Helpe’s charismatic CEO, the best is yet to come.
‘Our nine-month figures are even more impressive, in fact, the best in the company’s history, but this means nothing; they are already in the past’ he admits candidly. ‘It is now all about how we go about the future.’
Hellenic Petroleum can trace its roots back to the early 70’s, when as the Public Petroleum Corporation (DEP), they acquired the Aspropyrgos Refinery.
The Greek state finally relinquished control of the industry with the deregulation of the domestic oil market in 1991, and free to expand, this signaled the beginning of DEP’s acquisition and expansion program.
Merging with its subsidiaries, DEP became Hellenic Petroleum (Helpe) in 1998, resulting in its listing on the Athens and London Stock Exchange. Substantial domestic investment and expansion and diversification into foreign projects, have made Helpe one of the biggest companies in Greece.
‘As hard as it is to get to the top,’ says Mr. Stergioulis, ‘it’s even harder to stay there.’ He does, however, know precisely how the company achieved its record-breaking status, which he attributes to their five-year plan strategy.
‘This is the secret to growth,’ he says, ‘you must decide on a strategy to implement, predict what direction the market will take in five years time and start acting on them now.’ It is precisely this method, together with the implementation of six key production factors, that are responsible for their current success.
Forward planning is one thing, but reacting quickly to market forces is key. ‘This sector changes quickly, and if oil companies don’t change as fast as possible they will stagnate,’ he maintains.
Furthermore, you ignore the nuts and bolts of the business at your peril. ‘We have a continuous policy of improvement that focuses on everything from high asset utilization to energy efficiency, he continues. ‘All of these play an important part in the company’s overall success.’
In a recent interview with South EU Summit magazine, Alexis Charitsis, Alternate Minister of Economy & Development, asserted that there are two key elements to the regeneration of Greece. These are to address the country’s antiquated ‘business plan’ and to reverse the ‘brain drain’ that is robbing the country of skilled workers. Two subjects that Helpe believe they have addressed head-on.
‘Reorientation of the business plan focusing on exports was hardly a choice, given the collapse of the Greek domestic market and the economic recession,’ says Mr. Stergioulis pragmatically. ‘But we focused on the problem and managed to turn our export levels from a feeble 15% in 2008 to a whopping 56% in just eight years.’
As for the nationwide erosion of skilled workers, Helpe firmly believes that the competence and skillfulness of their people is the best way to prepare themselves for the challenges ahead. To this end, the company embraces continued education, personnel training, and an ongoing postgraduate scholarship program.
The increasing global need for energy is the key driver for Helpe’s current exploration plans, and many hope that the company’s knowledge of Greek geology will pay off in the Patraikos Gulf. Western Greece and Crete are also under the spotlight.
If gas and oil are present in this area, the change will be dramatic, as energy security is a very serious matter for Europe. The difficulty is an obvious one, as the North Sea dries up, the importance of the southern corridor through the Balkans as a pipeline route, increases exponentially.
The Balkans however, is not the only area of potential in the Mediterranean. According to the US Geological Survey report of 2010, the triangulation between Cyprus, Lebanon, and Egypt could potentially yield 122 trillion cubic feet of gas and 1.7bn barrels of oil.
‘Everyone talks about the potential of the East Med,’ says Mr. Stergioulis, ‘but no one wants to talk about the money. The cost for developing these areas runs into the multi-billions, and no company or country is big enough to handle these projects alone.’
Although the find would be a game changer for the energy sector, natural gas brings its own unique problems as it can’t be stored in the same way as gasoline. ‘It has to be made into a liquid, transported and used straight away,’ explains
Mr. Stergioulis. ‘Without cooperation between IOC’s, the various regions involved, and many national and international companies, the project cannot succeed.’
For countries like Greece, this multi-company, multi-country cooperation is a tantalizing prospect. Not only would it go a long way towards energy security for the region, but would also mean much needed inward investment, which is an essential part of their redevelopment strategy.
The most significant danger is that the scope of the project and the antagonism over disputed maritime boundaries, will leave the reserves unexplored.
Mr. Stergioulis remains optimistic stating that cooperation between Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, and Greece is on the right track.
Throughout Europe, the battle to meet increasingly stringent environmental compliance is hitting refineries hard. The added financial responsibility has served to focus Helpe’s attention on its green credentials.
Grigoris Stergioulis believes that reducing the company’s carbon footprint is not only an ecological responsibility, but also part of their social responsibility. ‘Our renewable energy output is limited at the moment, but by 2020 we will aim for 200mW through wind, solar and biomass,’ he adds.
Currently, Greek RESs’ accounts for around 25% of their electrical energy but, says Stergioulis, the country’s energy requirements are not atypical.
‘We have a lot of unconnected islands here that are completely reliant on diesel to generate their power. It is therefore very important to develop environmentally-friendly, renewable energy for these places and make them self-sufficient. These are ideas we will be pursuing with the government,’ he adds.
‘The other important issue is one of technology,’ he continues. ‘Producing energy from renewables doesn’t actually solve any problems as you may produce it at a time when you may not need it, so the issue is one of storage. We are waiting for a technological breakthrough before it can be fully utilized.’
Until that happens, he believes that there are still challenges that need addressing. These concern a cohesive energy policy for the EU. ‘The EU may have a common energy policy on paper,’ he says, ‘but its implementation is problematic.’
Lack of political cohesion and solidarity, and a patchwork of mini-markets, are all factors that undermine it; to become a true energy union, he believes that certain issues need addressing.
These include the coordination of national energy policies, the support, and development of energy infrastructure, and supply corridors and investment in energy research and innovation.
Bring these elements into play, along with changes in the legislation that currently hamper the competitiveness of the EU energy sector, and a true European energy union could become a reality.