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Interview with Andreas Ioannou, the humble gentleman and owner behind the success of EPSCO

His wide knowledge and expertise in the shipping industry has led the company to success and grow internationally, and it now operates three offices in Limassol, Hamburg and Singapore. The group services approximately 2500-3000 vessels annually at all major ports. With the safety service network in excess of 350 class & manufacturer approved service stations, the company can provide services in virtually any port worldwide and presently have around 1000 vessels under full safety contract.

Next year EPSCO will complete 25 years of life. Describe the greatest milestones of your company from 1995 to date.

I guess it must be the design and implementation of our Global Fleet Safety Service Agreements and the opening of our Hamburg and Singapore offices.

What has been the Cyprus response to the services offered by your organisation?

Our diversified services have received a warm welcome not only from our Cyprus national customers and global contractors, but clients worldwide based on the high quality, cost efficiency and proactive approach we adopt to meet our clients demands.  Our Fleet Safety Services Agreements replace complexity with flexibility and reduction in administrative and operational risk – freeing up onboard and shore based resources to boost core business and subsequently deviation from loss of life / cargo / vessel and environmental damage.

Do you consider your progress in the Cyprus market to be successful?

Definitely.  We are proud to have under our umbrella a huge percentage of the Shipowners and Shipmanagers on the island and even noted the increase in requests for the full range of our services.

A statement that is indicative that we are doing something right.

What is your position regarding new technology on ships especially regarding Cybersecurity?

The changing landscape and rapidly advancing technology onboard and ship-specific technology is warranted in targeting a reduction in environmental, maritime casualties and efficiency in shipping.  We need to be flexible in accommodating it and yes, cautious.  Connectivity ship to shore, ship to ship, shore to shore are networked thus bringing greater risk of unauthorised access or malicious attacks to shipboard systems and networks.  As the increase in automation trends are evidenced so is the demand for cyber security as further elevation of threat also appears.  It is increasingly critical that organisations truly understand the risk associated with sharing data albeit few organisations take this step.  In fact, only 20% of organisations really evaluate and identify security of third parties with whom they share data or network access more than once a year.

EPSCO is well known a primarily services and safety company. After the Maersk cyber attack, do you think that the Cyprus based ship owners / ship managers pay more attention and spend on safety today than before the incident?

From our experience, whilst owners and managers appear to have implemented Cyber Security policies and practices, the development and proper implementation of effective Cyber Security is not a case of Firewalls being the solution.  Full processes and controls to rigorous examination and testing to certify policies and procedures, risk assessments, governance, consultancy monitoring and the trend of ignoring real risk posed or lack of prudent actions continues.  Caution and protection without proper implementation are like putting the cart before the horse.

The introduction of new regulations that are affecting the renewal of the world fleet, does this facilitates or impairs your work?

Rules, regulations and referees shape the playing field.  As far as the general definition of safety is concerned, we see it as a science; anticipation, recognition, evaluation and control that could potentially impart safety, health and indeed wellbeing onboard.   Our responsibility is to ensure ship safety, security and operation as always being first. We deem new regulations as a necessity for the protection of all these elements and as they are implemented or adopted, we too must accept to comply.  A parody of the bestseller “Who Moved My Cheese, Who Stole My Cheese? Is a lift in an otherwise challenging situation.  A tale of profound truth and inspiration by characters trapped in a maze looking for their share of the “cheese” for sustainability and bringing happiness.  Thus, our share of the cheese is not impaired but facilitated.

The Cyprus Shipping Deputy Ministry and the Cyprus Shipping Chamber are trying their best to promote Cyprus to become an international hub for shipping. As a shipping related service provider what else do you think is needed to really make Cyprus the number one shipping hub worldwide?

The marriage of these two is a force to be reckoned with.  Cyprus has a tremendously top-class reputation for ease of business, an ethical business environment with sustainable blue growth.  The work of both the Cyprus Shipping Deputy Ministry and Cyprus Shipping Chamber is hard, tireless and yet evidently rewarding whilst achieving competitiveness in an ever more challenging domain.

Cyprus exuberates a healthy maritime cluster and globally validates opportunities.  Privatisation has yielded demonstrable results, hydrocarbon discoveries, inauguration of R&D facilities, educational institutions ensuring growth and development and clearly identifying so many other further opportunities in strengthening Cyprus position as a key regional transport hub.  The lifting of the restrictive measures originally introduced by Turkey in 1987 is undoubtedly an objective to elevate Cyprus as a number one shipping hub.

What benefits does your organisation offer as incentives to join?

When it comes to achieving employee happiness, we offer the basics that we believe everyone responds well to; praise, better salaries, more time off, positive corporate culture and other benefits for the teams. Basically, making each individual feel appreciated and important that we care and that we want them for the long run.   We try to offer what we believe most of our team would enjoy having irrespective of age, experience or gender.  Education and development are equally important as is greater work independence.

Have you invested in social responsibility activities to promote the image of your company in Cyprus?

CSR is a must in every organisation whether it is used to promote the image of our company not only in Cyprus but overseas too is another matter.   We demonstrate our commitment to ensuring our teams feel they work for a company with a conscience.   Outside the usual policies of targeting a paperless environment and funding several worthwhile causes, allowing our staff paid time off for voluntary activities for our 25th Anniversary year, 2020 we shall also be sponsoring a less fortunate young lady, not in the best of health with her expenses to obtain her Masters in Clinical Psychology.

What is the approach of your company regarding the training and welfare of your staff?

Staff development and employee welfare has a direct effect on productivity.  “Our people are our heart!”  We encourage ongoing mentorship and coaching for our newer members, coordination of one to one meeting to keep communication open and honest.

As an example, one of our newcomers, a mechanical engineer was sent for overseas to our Principal’s facilities for hands on practical experience having only been with us a few months.  If you invest in people, they will invest in you.  Simple.

As a rule of thumb, a hope that our corporate culture to invest in training and welfare trusting what our teams have to say cascades from the top right down to our cleaning lady.  Everyone’s contribution is respected in a meaningful way.

We cover and offer an ex-gratis number of days outside the vacation days our teams are entitled.   We offer remote working when a colleague is unable to physically be present in the office to ensure their family obligations are also met.

Regular team building, impromptu events, several motivation avenues and incentive packages are offered to ensure staff welfare is catered for to boost their morale.

Maria, how is it working next to your father and do you plan on taking over EPSCO at some point, maybe just not so soon?

My father and I are very much alike in many respects. That being said, we of course have our own personalities.   We have been working together for almost ten years now and it has been a “fruitful” experience. Yes, a few ups and downs as do any employee / manager relationship.   During the start of my career in the family business, I received no privileges and started from the bottom, even made his coffees.  I was fortunate to have experienced mentoring from two wonderful gentlemen who are no longer with us, Mr. George Ramage and Mr. John Lappins from within the industry.  I am grateful to both of them having set me on the right path.  I do wish that the admiration I have for my father’s stamina, knowledge and persistence is evident in my own right.  Despite the generation difference, we compliment each other in our daily work and yes, if I have a problem I do still seek his advice.

As far as taking over Epsco is concerned.  That’s the plan.   When, that’s another question.  For sure, my father is not ready to step down just yet, he is very much needed and the business would not be the same without him anyway.  He is well respected not only by me but all the team.  When he feels the time is right, it is important that a smooth transition be implemented.   Of course, his opinion and guidance together with that of my co-Directors, Ms. Yvonne Tsanos and Mr. David Wilson, this is a recipe for success.

Being a Millenia generation, Maria do you believe the generation gap really exists either in the workplace or at home?

I think that the generation gap exists only if you allow it.  Admittedly, I am learning from the Gen Z-ers as I believe they too are learning from me as a millennial.  In my opinion, both can benefit from each others abilities, experience and know-how.

From a personal and professional perspective, yes, I have experienced the gap, fortunately, only a couple of times and they could well have been my own doing.  Being young sometimes makes you feel somewhat misunderstood when trying to portray confidence.

With experience, faith and being spoon fed technology as a young person, this gap diminishes.  I am thankful that in the companies I have worked and gained experience in the maritime industry, people treated me as their equal and respected my opinion when called upon.

Gen Z-ers and millennials, i.e. myself have been called lazy and entitled. However, this in my case simply just isnt’ true.  I work alongside my father and had two great mentors.  I worked long hours, weekends, worked remotely and felt I had to prove myself even more as the boss’s daughter.  I never asked for preferential treatment and I still don’t.  I would like to believe my successes are through sheer hard work and determination and I would be worthy of taking over from my father in the future.

I feel that my generation could and should potentially be the first to understand an alternative role of work in life, despite the 24/7/365 industry in which we provide our products and services.  I see myself as a new generation of employees and leaders with a new set of engagement policies albeit having worked those long hours as did my father’s generation.  I learned and took the negative with the positive to identify strengths, optimism and willingness.

As a “millennial”, I am educated, more technologically minded and confident with multi-tasking abilities with the energy going in hand.  Don’t forget I am also a woman.  We do tend to have more of a multitasking ability than our male counterparts and I even prefer to work with a team, seek challenge and it is important for me to secure a work/life balance.  I would say the difference from my co-millennials and myself is that I am not seeking a drastic speedy advancement which is often seen as a weakness by older colleagues, but I have done the time and still doing it.

Thankfully, my father may have been stern, then again, he was fair and exercised patience in understanding because of our difference in social characteristics.  He engaged me in being satisfied with my work to make sure my engagement was sustainable through recognising not only our generational differences but those of the management and staff.

At home, well, I do feel there is a generation gap since I still need my mother and she too supports my goals and aspirations particularly as she encountered difficulties in her career as a female computer scientist.

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