Even if you know nothing else about Aristotle Onassis, you probably recognise his name in connection with Jackie Kennedy.
Onassis, known as “Ari” by most, was born in 1906 in Smyrna, a town in present-day Turkey. He wasn’t a very good student, despite his father’s hopes that he would take over the family cigarette business.
Onassis left Turkey for Buenos Aires, Argentina, after his town was invaded by Turks in 1923, where he got a job as a telephone engineer. It was there that his business smarts began to take form.
According to Biography, poor but clever, he eavesdropped on business calls and used the information to set up deals of his own.
Onassis’s fortunes soon turned favorable and he began a life of good living with expensive clothes. His ability to reinvent himself as an “important businessman” during the day, yet continuing to work the phone lines in coveralls at night, was an early indication of his shrewd social and business skills.
In the mid-1920’s Onassis overheard a phone call about a new “talkie” (film) in which the main character would smoke a cigarette on screen. Onassis decided to start his own brand of cigarettes aimed at the female market.
He chose famous opera singer, Claudia Muzio, as the perfect model. To get her to smoke his brand in public, he showed up at her dressing room with a giant bouquet of flowers.
He seduced her and convinced her to smoke his brand of cigarettes in public.
The relationship proved to be very lucrative for Onassis and by the age of 25, his tobacco business made him a millionaire. Building on his wealth, he realized that the shipping magnates who hauled the tobacco made more than the cigarette manufacturer. This realization came to him at the height of the Great Depression. Just when everyone was getting out of the shipping business, Onassis was able to buy six ships for less than half of what they would normally cost.
At the outbreak of WWII, Onassis registered his fleet of ships to Panama, which ensured tax-free status and reduced his overhead costs. He struck a deal with the US Government, offering them reduced prices in exchange for very favourable prices on war surplus cargo ships.
By the end of the war, Onassis was a shipping tycoon worth a fortune.
Early in his business career, Aristotle Onassis began dating a string of famous women, including Greta Garbo. In 1946, he met the daughter of the richest shipping magnate in the world, Athina Livanos, a woman almost half his age. They married and had two children.
Soon, however, both of them were having affairs. In 1957, Onassis met Maria Callas (above), one of the most famous opera singers in the world. Onassis was so proud of his relationship with Callas that he began to flaunt it. Athina was wrecked by embarrassment and divorced him in 1960.
A few months before John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Onassis befriended Jackie Kennedy. After JFK’s death, Jackie turned to Onassis for support. In 1968, the two married on Onassis’ privately owned island.
Generally, the American public reacted very negatively to the news. One newspaper’s headline implored, “Jackie, How Could You?”
Onassis died in 1975, having lived a pretty legendary life. He’s also proof that the shipping industry can be a lot more glamorous than you’d think. His success was due in large part to his business acumen – despite the turmoil of WWII, he didn’t lose a single ship.
If you want the modern-day version of that stellar business acumen, look no further than Berry & Donaldson. They’ve been helping importers and exporters navigate the labyrinth that is international freighting for over half a century, and they’ve dealt with everything that the business can throw at them.
Handling everything from airlines, shipping companies, and customs-related processes, as well as warehousing, insurance and cargo deliveries, Berry & Donaldson take care of each step of the complicated process of getting your cargo to and from the required destinations.
All it took was a bit of foresight, and the ability to know a good thing when he saw it, to make Aristotle Onassis one of the richest men in the world.
Make like Onassis, and know a good thing when you see it, especially when it comes to shipping.
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