Ari Onassis was a business partner but above all a very good friend of mine for many years until his death in 1975. It was great to know him and fantastic to be involved in his odyssey and contributes to build his empire. There are so many things that are said about Ari and by creating this blog I want to reflect the reality about him to make sure his memory is not stained by gossiping people that don't know anything about him. You can also view my website:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Onassis Empire

Aristotle Onassis, founder of the immense Onassis empire, was one of the most remarkable businessmen of the 20th century.

He showed his aptitude for challenge at an early age when he succeeded in helping his father escape from a concentration camp during WWI.

The 16-year-old Aristotle lied about his age to avoid detention and then devised a plan to liberate his parent.

The Onassis legacy begins when, as a teenager, he famously arrived on the docks of Buenos Aires with only $60 in his pocket. In the years that followed the Turkish-born entrepreneur built up a successful tobacco business in Argentina, marking the beginning of one of the 20th century's greatest rags-to-riches stories.

After purchasing his first ships in the early 1930s Ari moved into the tanker business and went on to marry, in 1946, the daughter of Greek shipowner Stavros Livanos. The two men joined forces with fellow countrymen Stavros Niarchos to form the most powerful shipping cartel in the world.

The world's first oil super-tankers, The Aristo and The Aristofaneus, each capable of carrying a 15,000-ton cargo, exemplified the scale and ambition that characterised the man. But business wasn't all about simply making a profit.

"After a certain point money is meaningless," he once said. "It ceases to be the goal - the game is what counts."The opportunity that was to make him one of the world's richest men was yet to come, however. When World War II ended and the United States decided to sell off 16 of the ships it had built during the conflict, Aristotle - taking a risk that shocked the business world - agreed contracts to transport coal in South America, France and Germany using vessels he did not yet own. He then used the contracts to secure a bank loan in order to purchase the ships.

Determined and aggressive business practices such as this continued to attract attention, and his reputation was badly damaged when the Peruvian government jailed 400 of his sailors and seized five of his ships for illegal whaling. He then moved into the air transport business, founding Greece's Olympic Airways in 1957.

But the spectacular successes of the past were behind him, and in 1973 his life was struck by a tragedy from which he would never fully recover when his only son Alexander was killed in a plane crash. Aristotle died two years later.

Aristotle's drive to make money was matched only by his desire for the opposite sex, and his philandering was to wreak havoc on the emotional lives of all those close to him.

"If women didn't exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning," the shipping magnate once said. His marriage to Tina Livanos, the mother of his children Christina and Alexander, was brought to a bitter end by his affair with opera singer Maria Callas. When Tina discovered the two together on the Onassis yacht she told Callas' husband, but he simply laughed it off and so she filed for divorce. The affair is said to have had a devastating impact on Christina and her brother, who deeply resented the singer.

It was Aristotle himself who finally put an end to the relationship, however, before turning his attentions to the iconic widow of US President John F Kennedy.

Ari's marriage to Jackie in 1969 left Callas deeply wounded, just like Tina before her. "The worst thing is that he didn't say anything to me about the marriage.

After nine years at his side, I think he was obliged to do that;" she told a friend. "It's cruel… both should pay."His children were likewise unimpressed by his new partner. "My father loves names and Jackie loves money," Alexander declared, while Christina's take was even less sympathetic: "I don't dislike her, you know.

I hate her," she is quoted as saying. Any hopes of a happy family environment developing were dashed by Aristotle's own harsh line on his new wife's role. "She's got to learn to reconcile herself to being Mrs Aristotle Onassis," he said.It was against this troubled backdrop that Christina grew up, feeling estranged from both her parents. Aristotle, constantly busy with work and women, is said to have preferred Alexander, and the vulnerable child was shown little affection by her mother. Friends say that Tina would make hurtful remarks in front of Christina, complaining that she had inherited her father's dark features and heavy body rather than her own sleek, blonde elegance.

When his son Alexander was killed in a plane crash in 1973, Aristotle seemed to lose his lust for the pursuit of profit. "I'm not happy. It's not always millions that resolve what a man needs," he told an associate who congratulated him on the continuing success of his tanker fleet. He died two years later, leaving his vast estate to be divided between his daughter Christina and The Onassis Foundation, which promotes charity, art, and development in Greece. The fortune afforded Christina a lavish lifestyle, with homes in Athens, Paris, Acapulco and New York along with the island of Skorpios and her father's huge art collection.

The money did not bring her happiness, however, and she died alone and in despair in 1988. And so the legacy was passed to her daughter Athina. Her father, Thierry, spent a decade fighting to wrest control of the money from the Greek businessmen Christina left in charge. He persuaded the trustees to allow him $13 million a year to raise little Athina, along with an annual allowance of $1.4 million to top off his $20-million divorce settlement.

"He always wants more," complained the chief trustee Stelios Papadimitrou of Thierry. "The man has certain ambitions, that is to handle the inheritance… but there is a will we operate within, and that is Christina's." "I want to ensure that at least some of the Onassis fortune is conserved," countered Thierry, accusing the trustees of mismanagement.

The rows came to an end in 1999 when a Swiss court transferred control to KPMG of Lausanne, cutting both Thierry and the managers out of the loop. As of January 28, Athina herself takes unilateral control, and the financial world and society at large will be watching closely to see what choices she makes. Some reports suggest she would rather be free of the money, which she blames for her mother's unhappiness. "If I burn the money there will be no problem," she once told her stepmother. "No money, no problem."She has expressed an interest in transferring the bulk of the fortune to good causes, and is known to have consulted the advisers that helped Bill Gates channel his billions into charities. For the moment, however, nothing is certain.

As Christina moved into adulthood she embarked on a series of failed marriages and her fragile self-esteem was further damaged by cruel newspaper reports referring to her as "thunder thighs" and "the Greek tanker".

Her brother's death in 1973 was another terrible blow, and though Aristotle finally began to appreciate her, Christina had lost not just her sibling, but her closest friend. Her father's newfound paternal interest was a welcome development, no doubt, but it came late in his life and he too passed away just two years later.In 1983, lonely and desperate to have children, Christina met Athina's father, Thierry Roussel. When Athina was born in 1985 it seemed the happiness she longed for was finally hers, but problems soon developed in her relationship with Thierry and rumours abounded that she was handing over huge sums of cash to persuade him stay with her.

Her weight fluctuated wildly and Thierry cheated on her publicly. It seemed to be a tragic case of history repeating itself as the man on whom she had banked her happiness turned out, like her father, to be a philanderer. When the heiress discovered he had fathered two children with ex-flame Gaby Landhage she finally gave up on the relationship.

A despairing Christina wrote her will, leaving the entire Onassis estate to Athina, and left for Buenos Aires. A few weeks later she was found dead at a friend's home, her untimely passing attributed to a heart attack. She was 37 years old.Since that fateful day on November 19, 1988, Athina has lived with her father and step-family in Switzerland. While views may differ about his qualities as a husband, it is widely accepted that Thierry is a kind and devoted father.

Young Athina, who inherits the £5-billion family fortune as she turns 18 on January 28, lost her mother when she was just three and suddenly became the richest little girl in the world. Christina Onassis, whose life had also been marked by tragedy, had determined to create a secure and loving environment for Athina, but unfortunately her own emotional difficulties made this an impossible goal.

While she doted on her baby daughter, Christina's relationship with Athina's father Thierry Roussel was troubled, and when they eventually divorced, her struggles with depression deepened. Desperately trying to be a good mother, Christina lavished gifts on little Athina but Thierry objected, insisting that was not what she needed.

"I want her to know that money is not everything," he said. "I want her to know that it is not a gold statue which you must venerate."

Some might feel his concerns were valid, considering the baby's first pram was a £6,000 miniature Ferrari and her toybox was full of her mother's jewellery, according to sources close to the family.

"Thierry was never really trusted by any of Christina's Greek family or friends but, to be fair, he used to be quite serious about making sure Athina wasn't spoiled," commented one friend.The protective father is said to have confiscated the Ferrari and strongly objected to the private zoo which Christina had built for her daughter's second birthday.The conflict between her parents was shortlived as Christina's personal difficulties worsened and in 1988 she was found dead at a friend's home in Argentina. The tragedy was attributed to a heart attack, thought to have been brought on by years of drug abuse.

"I will move heaven and earth to stop my unhappiness continuing with Athina," she once said. "I don't believe it is always waiting in the darkness for her, as it always seemed to be waiting for me. I will always be there for her."

While Christina's relationship with Thierry was difficult, he seems to have honoured her wishes. In the wake of her death, he immediately set about providing as secure and nurturing an environment as possible for their daughter, bringing her up on the shores of Lake Geneva with the help of his new wife Gaby.

Athina is known to be deeply devoted to her father, stepmother and three half-siblings, with whom she lives in a modest five-bedroom villa. As a child the heiress received no more pocket money than her siblings, and what she did get, say family friends, was generally spent on her horse. A passionate equestrian, Athina has been offered a place on the Greek Olympic team for 2004.She attended a regular state school, but kidnap threats meant that a heavy security presence was always necessary. A team of former SAS guards drove her to and from home in a bullet-proof limousine and kept watch over her at all times.

The young billionaire is uninterested in the trappings of wealth, and despite references to what has been called the "curse" of the Onassis fortune, Athina's upbringing has given her a very different start in life to her mother. Hopefully one which will enable her to avoid the mistakes which so plagued Christina.
Rarely photographed or interviewed, she has shunned the bright lights and partying in favour of concentrating upon her education and seems to have led a relatively sheltered social life. In recent months, however, she has been linked with 29-year-old Brazilian showjumper Alvaro 'Doda' Alfonso de Miranda, a divorcé with a two-year-old daughter. Apparently unperturbed by the gap in their ages, Athina's father is understood to have given his blessing to the couple. Although she has grown up with tragedy and constant media attention, Athina has a reputation for being a kind-natured and mature young woman. She is a "straightforward, uncomplicated, unspoiled teenager," says her father.

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