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When Andreas Shiamishis, the CEO of what was then known as Hellenic Petroleum Group, unveiled its new corporate identity last September, it marked the climax of a lengthy period of change for the company.
Its new name, HELLENiQ ENERGY, reflects its growing shift into the sphere of renewable energy, with HELLENIC PETROLEUM now referring only to its refineries. Under the rebrand, the firm will primarily invest in new energy projects and greener fuels, as well as the circular economy and mobility.
Shiamishis himself has been with the company for most of its relatively short corporate history in its current form. While some of the Group companies have roots back to the 1970s or earlier, under government ownership and control, it underwent a corporate reorganization in 1998 as part of an initial public offering and he came on board in 2003 during a transaction that saw Paneuropean Oil and Industrial Holdings buying into the company and integrating with Petrola Hellas.
Shiamishis says HELLENiQ ENERGY is young by corporate life cycle standards, but in that time, it has grown from independent, standalone refineries to become one of the largest energy companies in Greece and South-East Europe. It has grown into vertically integrated sectors such as petrochemicals, gas-fired energy production and gas trading as well as expanding its geological presence.
“We currently have in market operating companies in six countries, while our trading portfolio extends to more than 20 different markets,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “We aspire to grow even more.”
When Shiamishis joined the business, it was an entirely different setup to the one he leads today. “The merger was very recent at the time, and even my previous position as CFO did not exist,” he says.
“We had to re-design the whole thing, turn it into an integrated Group, define business units and reporting lines, establish visibility, report by each business into Group management and determine the most appropriate strategy per sector.”
He describes it as a “challenging period” from both a technical and transformational perspective, as the company sought to merge different cultures and different identities. Once that had been achieved, attention turned to expansion – another tough ask.
“Back in 2006, we put together a strategic expansion project with six initiatives, and it took us more than five years to implement,” Shiamishis recounts.
“I think that’s the secret – making sure that you evolve by doing something different every day.”
“We were embarking on growth projects that were actually much bigger than the size of the company. For a company with little over a US$1.5 billion market cap, investing in growth projects totaling twice its size was a tough call. You can always plan and finance an expansion plan, but it’s always a question of having the delivery capacity as well to see them through.”
Following this integration and expansion, the company faced a long period of sustained market and financial challenges, which tested the Group’s crisis management skills.
“Whether it was the commodity crisis coupled with geopolitical supply side shocks for our region, the financial crisis and the European crisis, or the Greek sovereign debt crisis, it was about making sure that we kept the lights on,” Shiamishis explains.
While still wearing the CFO hat as early as 2012, he assumed responsibility for international business and expansion, leading to his appointment as Deputy CEO in 2014.
“During this prolonged crisis period, a lot of effort went into maintaining normal flows of crude oil and products into our core markets, completing strategic projects and managing international counterparties’ reservations and perceptions about Greece,” he says.
“Had we not reacted with flexibility and proactiveness, we wouldn’t have been able to make it,” he adds. “It all seems like a distant memory now, but everyone had to play their role in a carefully orchestrated and executed business continuity program.”
When Shiamishis formally assumed the role of CEO at HELLENiQ ENERGY, the industry was already moving in a new direction. “I had the benefit of knowing the company very well and having a clear view of which direction we should be taking,” he says. But plans were put on ice as the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Priorities shifted during the ensuing turmoil, but by 2021 those plans started to thaw, Shiamishis explains. “We had the support of the shareholders, who also realized that changing the direction and way of running the Group was critical to maintaining and increasing its value and future relevance. Changes in governance, organization and business direction were all at the top of the agenda, at the expense of risk aversion and a ‘business as usual’ approach,” he says.
“It was about recognizing that oil is going to be with us for a number of years, but also that, at the end of that cycle, we had to have a solution as to what we’re going to do as an energy company. If we were to start addressing the question in 15 years’ time, that’s too late.”
All agreed that the time was right to move into the new energy space, and so it did exactly that – in a big way. But it wasn’t the only major shift.
According to Shiamishis, HELLENiQ ENERGY was challenged by its historic governance model as it went on to compete against agile, similarly-sized competitors and enter new markets.
“A big part of the challenge related to the changes we had to undertake at our governance and organization models as well as performance management culture. What had served us well in the past 25 years was not necessarily what we needed going forward,” he says.
That was, in fact, greater entrepreneurial skills, extroversion and speed of implementation to make it happen.
While this would be a deterrent for many, the changing demands of the job are what keep Shiamishis engaged after more than 20 years with HELLENiQ ENERGY. The same is true for the rest of the senior management team, he says, which rose to the challenge, combining years of experience with a will to change.
“I think that’s the secret,” he explains. “Making sure that you evolve by doing something different every day.”
All of these big changes were part of the launch of HELLENiQ ENERGY’s Vision 2025 plan, which Shiamishis describes as an “umbrella” plan overarching the need for change.
“Vision 2025 came about when we put together a projection of what the world would look like using an unfiltered view – not what we wanted it to look like,” he explains.
“It’s like an emblem, something which people can relate to, and they have their own change effectively embedded into this transformational project.”
That world has greater demand for clean energy, more regulation, especially within Europe, and it revolves firmly around the end consumer – the individual.
“We will soon no longer be just a commodity business,” he reflects. “So we needed to move from, ‘refine and sell hydrocarbon molecules’ to ‘we create value by servicing the needs of customers and society’.”
It’s a customer-centricity that has been “paramount and critical” to HELLENiQ ENERGY’s change in culture, Shiamishis says.
The first of Vision 2025’s five pillars was to set a specific goal for its carbon footprint, a discussion he admits the team had not been tackling head-on for a long time. “Even though we were trying to manage our CO2 footprint, it was not part of our strategic decision-making process,” he says.
“We needed to move from, ‘refining and selling hydrocarbon molecules’ to ‘we create value by servicing the needs of customers and society’.”
“So by coming out and saying, ‘We have to halve our carbon footprint by 2030’, it was the first time that people actually heard that message. And it’s a very small sentence, but it changes the whole approach.”
The setting of the goal meant that HELLENiQ ENERGY had to fundamentally change its entire business model. Shiamishis and his team split the portfolio in two – separating its core business and its new energy and building a second material and future compatible pillar. From refining and selling hydrocarbon molecules to creating value by servicing the needs of customers and society.
“In our core business, we’re not going to invest in more carbon intensive growth. By definition, we process carbon products that provide much needed energy security and this will not fundamentally change soon, as things stand. But you can actually improve your Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions immediately, and that’s what we are trying,” he says.
In addition, biofuels, green hydrogen, carbon capture technologies and energy efficiency will help to bring the company’s emissions down and tackle Scope 3 as well.
“The halving of our footprint is about 30 percent coming from actual reduction of emissions, and there’s another 20 percent which is offset.”
On the renewables side, HELLENiQ ENERGY has rapidly expanded. “We are one of the fastest-growing new renewables portfolio companies in the region,” Shiamishis says. The company has committed to investing around 60 percent of its new capital expenditure into delivering new energy to market projects, he confirms.
“We are not just talking about it, we’re actually doing something about it,” he insists. “The world is pointing to a new, greener energy mix in the future. We’re not there yet, but we’re moving in that direction.”
The third pillar is around governance, and how the company is managed. Under the new strategy, board election is now in the hands of the shareholders through a best practice nominations process and the implementation of fit and proper criteria. Similar improvements have been introduced across the Group. It also saw an upgrading and formalization of the company’s risk management practices and introduced a holistic sustainability and ESG agenda into HELLENiQ ENERGY’s strategy.
“That is something I feel very strongly about and I will continue to push as far as possible,” he says.
With HELLENIC PETROLEUM the holding company for the rest of the Group, the structure had also become unfit for purpose and to future growth. It was investing in renewables but doing so through an oil company. Restructuring and realigning business units and legal entities with strategy therefore became the fourth pillar of the plan.
“It didn’t make sense,” Shiamishis admits. “So we spun the refining business into a different subsidiary with a holding company at the top, which has 100 percent control of the business portfolios in refining, retail, new energy, upstream, and that gives us a lot of flexibility.”
The final part of Vision 2025 was the rebranding, achieved through a collaboration with German-based brands agency Mutabor, who Shiamishis describes as HELLENiQ ENERGY’s valuable partner in this journey who helped embrace change with a corporate identity that empowers our future.
With the world of big business increasingly placed under scrutiny for greenwashing, Shiamishis is adamant that HELLENiQ ENERGY has earned the right to promote its new diversified approach.
“If a company invests 60 percent of its capital expenditure into renewables and new greener energy projects, if we are the fastest-growing new renewables company in the region, then I think we’re entitled to rename ourselves to something more than just petroleum,” he declares.
Shareholders, banks and creditors and employees are all on board with the ambitious Vision 2025 plan. “It went down very well, without a single hiccup,” he recalls.
“If you want to move forward, you don’t want to have your internal battles. You want to be fighting with the market.”
“We took a lot of time to explain, educate and on-board stakeholders, and at the end of the day, it was a change with almost unanimous acceptance and support. And that’s important because if you want to move forward, you don’t want to have your internal battles. You want to be fighting with the market.”
Communication was key to the implementation of the plan, with Shiamishis spending a lot of time in the refineries talking people through its finer details. His long history with the company served him well in winning people over.
“Change is always difficult to accept and usually people and organizations build defenses around their current world, not realizing that this will inevitably change in any case by events outside our control,” he says.
“Having a clearly communicated corporate agenda and a long common history of tackling difficult challenges helped change minds, address concerns and get all of us to own and control this transformation process.
“Once you get that out of the way, you’re halfway home.”
With sustainability now officially high on HELLENiQ ENERGY’s agenda, the company already has a number of innovative projects under its belt. In April 2022, amid the energy crisis, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis inaugurated its solar power plant in Kozani, Western Macedonia.
The plant was heralded as a ‘landmark project’ in Greece’s energy transformation, but also signaled HELLENiQ ENERGY’s own shift into greener form of energy in larger numbers.
It is now the largest operating Renewable Energy Source project in Greece and in the wider south-east Mediterranean, as well as one of the largest photovoltaic parks in Europe.
It has a total installed capacity amounting to 204 megawatts and is estimated to generate 350 gigawatt hours of energy per year, supplying enough zero emission energy for 75,000 households.
“There is a lot of talk across Europe, but a lot less action and commitment.”
“It’s an example of how we leveraged our core skills in delivering a project of material impact and doing so without any European or government support schemes,” Shiamishis points out. “There is a lot of talk across Europe, but a lot less action and commitment.”
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked an energy crisis, the park helped to reduce dependency on imported gas for energy, addressing environmental profile, energy security and cost accessibility in the process. “We’re actually planning to invest in another two sizeable, not equal but similar-sized parks by the end of 2024,” Shaimishis reveals.
“These are in addition to our first green investment taking place outside of Greece.”
HELLENiQ ENERGY is also designing a mega hybrid project offering a combination of technologies including battery storage – a solution to one of the major problems presented by renewable forms of energy, hydrogen and potentially even ammonia as part of the energy supply chain. “Unless you have storage, you have a lot of energy when the sun is up, but you have the sundown effect so overnight you don’t have energy and you have to turn to something else,” he expands.
The new facility is being designed to not only offer energy during the day, but to offer a supply of energy into the night as well, helping to balance the system and potentially further capitalize on HELLENiQ ENERGY’s strong oil and chemical processing industrial base.
Finally, HELLENiQ ENERGY is exploring the possibilities of green hydrogen, which is going to be a pilot investment in one of its refineries, according to Shiamishis.
Generated through electrolysis, the light and highly reactive fuel is produced without emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as long as the electricity required for the process is obtained from renewable sources.
“That’s something which is as green as current technology allows,” Shiamishis says with excitement. “So the sustainability profile and actual footprint of the Group is going to be significantly improved.”
Digital transformations may have been accelerated by the pandemic, but HELLENiQ ENERGY’s has been unfolding over a number of years, according to Shiamishis. The latest injection of US$50 million to enhance the company’s digital capabilities, through its Information Technology Roadmap, is just part of what it has spent on this area over time.
“Contrary to what a lot of people think, digital transformation is not about tools, it’s not about software, it’s not about hardware. It’s about changing the way people approach their daily routines, making them more open to technology, more open to change,” he says.
“Process simplification is something which can take place on a piece of paper, and it can also take place on a hyper computer as well. It’s the logic that needs to be there, and the ability to leave behind practices of the past. That’s the biggest problem with digital transformation. Tools just make this a more visible and accessible process.”
For this reason, HELLENiQ ENERGY enlisted the help of a number of reputable international consultants to help it through the process by identifying the areas where it had room to improve.
Longtime partner Accenture was entrusted to support the transition with its delivery capabilities, while BCG, a partner of HELLENiQ ENERGY’s for more than 15 years, has been “instrumental” in its digital transformation vision realization, according to Shiamishis.
“Process simplification is something which can take place on a piece of paper, and it can also take place on a hyper computer as well.”
Meanwhile, the digital optimization of its refineries was bolstered by Aveva, with safety taking center stage. For Shiamishis, it wasn’t about making more money, it was about ensuring all of HELLENiQ ENERGY’s people could go about their daily work with the highest security standards in place.
This objective saw the company introduce drone technology and ‘man down’ technology, which makes it possible to locate employees in difficult to reach areas within the refinery – important in the event of an incident.
“As always, at first you encounter certain reactions to technology such as drones and location tags, and one has to be sensitive and careful with these and build trust,” he admits. “But when the first case of good use comes through, then everybody praises the new system – ‘Oh, it’s good that we have it’.”
In terms of crude supply, HELLENiQ ENERGY has applied AI along with more advanced technology to the selection process. “Crude optionality and proper blending has been key in managing supply side shocks over the last few years. Getting crudes from non-traditional sources such as the United States, South America and West Africa helped security of supply and saved us a few million,” Shiamishis reveals.
“So people started thinking, OK, maybe if I can let technology help me in that, then I can do my work much faster and open up more opportunities.”
Its loyalty scheme, a partnership with loyalty management firm Comarch, is also harnessing the power of technology to drive growth. “Leveraging Comarch’s expertise and skills, we improved the customer loyalty program for our fuel retail networks in all the countries we are present,” he says.
International expansion is also on the cards for HELLENiQ ENERGY. The company already has a presence in five international markets, which generate more than US$100 million of EBITDA each year.
“It’s not insignificant,” Shiamishis says. Growing this portfolio and making it greener is firmly on the agenda with HELLENiQ ENERGY already involved in three smaller but important renewable projects outside Greece with a combined capacity of around 100 megawatts.
The company is also in the process of setting up a trading office in Europe that will ensure it reaches the markets it hasn’t addressed yet, whether that means Asia, Africa or the Americas. “More than 50 percent of our production is actually exported outside of Greece. By definition, we have a much wider international profile than our name suggests.”
Both Shiamishis’ own extensive experience working for multinationals around the world, and HELLENiQ ENERGY’s own success in surviving the variety of crises the world has thrown at it, well equip the company for international expansion.
“Greek companies are much stronger than they were 10 years ago, and there is a lot of good stuff that is taking place in Greece nowadays.”
“Greek companies, HELLENiQ ENERGY included, have been through a very long period of crisis,” he notes. “Between 2010 and 2018, it’s been an ongoing crisis for a number of reasons. For us who have lived through this process, we have the advantage of having a much more battle proven and can do corporate culture here in Greece.
“The companies that made it through are much more mature and a lot more resilient than our European or international counterparts.”
An example of this is the use of HELLENiQ ENERGY’s COVID-19 response plan, developed with an international consulting firm and as a role model by refineries outside of Greece. The company was one of the early movers, implementing response plans as early as February 2020, before many others had realized the scale of the situation.
“This prolonged crisis, it has troubled us, but it has matured us as well,” he says. “Greek companies are much stronger than they were 10 years ago, and there is a lot of good stuff that is taking place in Greece nowadays.”