She has drawn her own personal route, she feels very confident about the choices she has made, she knows what she wants and especially how to conquer it. What is further impressive apart of her composed and determined personality, is her low profile character. Discreet and quiet, she prefers to talk through her work, trying to do new innovative things in the different areas she has selected either this is Tototheo Maritime or WISTA. Despina is already successful, a person who loves life, her family, but remains modest and down to earth.
Despina many thanks for finding the time for this interview just before Christmas at the Tototheo Xmas Brunch day. Let us start with a rather personal question. I have read somewhere that your father is a Captain, so shipping was in your veins from the day you were born. And still you decided to continue with a job in a shipping related industry?
That is true; my father was a captain, who came ashore when he had his first child, and remained in the industry until his retirement. I grew up thinking that shipping was an industry like any other and did not understand why other people were so unaware of it. Initially, I did not want to go into shipping – to work at all times of the day and during weekends and holidays, as my father did. In Greek, we have a saying that roughly translates to “there is nothing more permanent than a temporary solution”, and that was what happened in my case. I took an interim job in shipping, and the rest is history. After 15 years in this industry and with the benefit of hindsight, I would not change a thing.
You don’t need to be a sailor to be in shipping, correct? What are the characteristics for someone to work in the shipping industry?
Any person involved in shipping has to be dynamic, persistent and assertive. It is a rewarding career to have but also very challenging in so many ways. Now, if you have to be a sailor to be in shipping – I think with the advancement in technology, things are changing. For many positions, seafaring experience is required, but we see many new roles being created and even new functions. Going forward, I believe that people in shipping will need to have the characteristics mentioned before, but they will also need to be agile and open to quick change.
Give and take is needed for balance: Women need to claim space, men need to give it; how does this work in the shipping industry?
Shipping has historically been a male-dominated field, but that tradition is slowly changing. The discussion is about enhancing the roles of women in general and the roles of women in leadership, but this needs to be seen in the larger picture of strengthening the workforce in an evolving industry.
However, we should be careful, not to define this pursued balance, as a battle. It is not about men giving up space or power, it is about creating diversity in ideas and leadership, about fueling creativity and innovation. It is about positive growth.
In 2011, you founded WISTA Cyprus and now you are the president of the WISTA International, how do you feel about being the person that developed WISTA to such an extent?
I remain proud and honoured to be a member of WISTA and its international president at this time. We have seen the association grow and strengthen its voice. Particularly in the last two years, we grew by 11 National WISTA Associations bringing us to a total of 50 around the world (with close to 3500 individual members) and we lead many initiatives for the promotion of Diversity and Inclusion. We also created new collaborations with other organisations; most notably, achieving Consultative Status at the IMO, becoming founding partners of the European Commission’s Platform for Change, a collaboration with the Organisation of American States – Committee on Ports and a recently signed MOU with the World Ocean Council.
For 2019, the IMO has made the theme for its World Maritime Day “Empowering Women in the Maritime Community”. It was a great opportunity for us to showcase the position and influence of women and what can be achieved with greater equality and diversity in the industry. How diversity is really about diversity of thought which brings innovation and better economic results, particularly in an industry where technology and the environment are such big themes for the future.
You are traveling a lot, how do you balance this with a home life? How important is it to have support from your husband and family?
I do not have a conventionally defined balance in my life. Travelling is a big part of my job, and I have to organise my work and my family responsibilities while on the road. But my family’s life is balanced according to our definition of it, and while it can seem strange to other people, it works for us. The support of my husband, my family and the love I have for my job motivates and empowers me.
Can you think how your life could have been if you have not made the choice to work in shipping? What you love most in your job apart being a boss? ?
One of my faults, if it can be called that, is that I am in constant motion– when I fulfil my goals, whatever they are, I immediately move on, I cannot sit still. That is my character, so If it weren’t shipping, it would probably be another industry that is exciting and challenging. For example, due to my involvement with maritime satcoms for many years, a sector that is very appealing to me is the space sector. What I love most about my job is that there is never a dull day. On the contrary, it’s a job that allows me to set goals, be creative, travel the world and meet interesting places and people.
What’s the profile of a woman in shipping?
The profile of any person in shipping is what I described before – assertive, determined, agile. Shipping is definitely not for the faint-hearted! I do not believe it has to do with gender, but whether you are built for this industry or not.
What’s your greatest strength as a person?
I am very disciplined. I will always put in the hours, do my work and go the extra mile when I have a task to complete or a goal to achieve.
What are the greatest milestones of your life?
Without a doubt, the birth of our son Ektoras. He is almost six and already tells me that one day he will have my job. What I hope is that when the time comes, he will make the right decision and will do whatever makes him happy.
Professionally, I would say my involvement in the expansion of our company’s reach, from a regional to an international one. It meant that I was entrusted in building and implementing an ambitious strategy for an organization that was already successful and long – standing. There was a considerable level of risk involved. Also, my election as President of WISTA International because it has allowed me to spearhead the issue of diversity and inclusion in shipping, which I feel is closely linked to the long-term sustainability of our industry. However, I am 38 years old, so I hope that the greatest milestones are ahead!
What does private Despina look like at home or in a group of friends?
Quite ordinary. I like spending time with my family and close friends, just having a nice dinner, or catching up over coffee. I am also rather introverted, so having some time alone, reflecting and recharging is important to me.
How does it feel when you receive the award for the International Personality of the Year at the Lloyd’s List Greek Shipping Awards 2019?
It was unexpected so it feels amazing to receive this kind of recognition. To be nominated for such an award is one thing, as it shows that the efforts of our teams at both Tototheo and WISTA, have been noticed. But to have won the award tells us that the work we are doing – the changes we are trying to inspire our industry to make, are the right ones. It is definitely a source of inspiration to continue pushing forward.