Interview

Navigating the financial seas


Professor Costas Grammenos, CBE, founded the International Centre for Shipping, Trade and Finance in 1983 at Cass (then the City University Business School) and, over the past 30 years, it has supported a vast amount of original research, which in turn has shaped an industry and established a new academic discipline.
Professor Grammenos's office helps to tell the story. It is packed with academic tomes, photographs of the great and the good in the world of finance, maritime paintings, antiques and souvenirs. Like his father and grandfather he served in the Greek navy, but he was the first family member to become an academic. A pattern seems to have been set: his wife is an archaeologist who teaches at Athens University, and there is also a historian son.

It was more than four decades ago when Costas Grammenos started burrowing in the files of the National Bank of Greece, picking over unpublished data to try and grasp how shipping finance worked in practice. He had more than 400 loan files to look at. This was virgin territory for a would-be academic: and in these files the young Grammenos found his vocation.

In the mid 1970s he enrolled at the University of Wales, Bangor (now Bangor University) and took an MSc in Financial Economics. It was here that his work began to attract attention and he started to build an international reputation.

Nonetheless, he initially resisted his Professor's urging to publish his work, insisting on taking another year before starting on the path to a new approach to the study of shipping finance with Bank Finance for Ship Purchase in 1979*. In the late 1990s he was awarded the DSc by City University for establishing, through his published research, Shipping Finance as a new academic subject. "In the early 1980s the banks were suffering," Professor Grammenos says, "but raising finance from the capital markets was something new."
The shipping industry, and the analysis of it, had concentrated on the supply side, that is to say shipbuilding. In the late 1970s, and later with his students and dedicated colleagues, Professor Grammenos helped to refocus attention on the demand side as well. This led to profound changes in the industry and how it was financed. "This was a revolution in thinking", he says. "Shipping has always been global - it is the most international business of all. But although shipping by definition takes you beyond national frontiers, the financing had not so much." The big players had relied on domestic (and international) bank lending but, as capital markets opened up and developed in the 1980s, the shipping industry, prompted by Professor Grammenos's analysis and presentations, woke up to the new financing possibilities.

The Centre at Cass has pioneered the study of shipping finance. Its MSc in Shipping, Trade & Finance was introduced in 1984. It was the first self-financed course in the UK, a model which set a trend in the School and country. An MSc in Transport, Trade & Finance was offered in September 1997. An MSc in Energy, Trade & Finance was introduced in 2003. More than 2,600 students from 100 countries have graduated during the Centre's lifetime. Many now hold leading positions in international banking, shipping and trading and manufacturing sectors. In addition to shipping finance the Centre carries out research in maritime risk management, logistics and commodity trade and finance. It has also created a forum for international dialogue and debate, hosting significant (and sometimes off-the-record) conferences between senior executives, government officials and academics.

Sharing ideas
"For 15 years we had no imitators," Professor Grammenos says. "But gradually other universities started to introduce shipping finance courses or modules. And this is a good thing - ideas should spread. I don't believe in the private ownership of ideas. We should be passing them on. It is the role of the academic to create new ideas and to disseminate them."

Professor Grammenos has undoubtedly done this, turning Cass into a global hub of thinking in his field. He has also helped to oversee the Onassis Prize in Shipping, a $200,000 "Nobel" for the industry, as well as the Onassis Prizes in International Trade; and in Finance, sponsored by the Onassis Foundation.
Professor Grammenos's pride in the Centre's achievements is both palpable and justified. The flow of students, academic colleagues and business people studying at the Centre and coming back to share experiences has never ebbed. Theory and practice are united to powerful effect. "I tell my students there are three things they need to do: work hard, work hard and work hard," he says. "Lots of people are intelligent: the difference is in how you apply it." In this he is remaining true to the lessons his mother taught him as he was leaving Athens to come to the UK four decades ago. "Look high, look forwards," she told him. "Work hard and use what you have in your head." Professor Grammenos has carried out these instructions to the letter. In 2007, the Centre that he established in 1983 was renamed after him - the Costas Grammenos Centre for Shipping, Trade and Finance.

*University of Wales Press


Stefan Stern is Director of Strategy at Edelman and also Visiting Professor of Management Practice at Cass. He can be contacted at stefan.stern@edelman.com