Dec 2019 Interview with Mr. Nicolaou Perikles, CEO of GAIAOSE
Prisma Reports: GAIAOSE was created in 2002 in order to manage the land and real estate assets of OSE. Since then the company evolved and diversified into several different branches. Can you tell us more about GAIAOSE’s strategic projects at the moment, such as the Thriasio Pedio and Thessaloniki Freight centers? What can you tell us about the status of these logistics hubs?
Nicolaou Perikles: Gaiaose has three main activities: the management and exploitation of real estate assets; the leasing and the extended maintenance of the rolling stock that belong to the Greek state; and the production of electricity through photovoltaic parks.
Developping freight logistics centres is quite important in Greece because we have an important shipping industry, busy ports and a strategic geographic location. At the moment, we still need to enhance our infrastructure – mainly rail – in order to support the large amount of freight that is coming into or transiting though Greece.
GAIAOSE is developing logistic centres at the moment, with projects running around Athens, as well as in Thessaloniki and Alexandroupolis. One of them is in its latest stage: we have the agreement of design between GAISOSE and the Thriasio Logistics Center, and we are waiting for the approval from DG Comp in Brussels in order to finalize and proceed to the next stages. It is a big piece of land with good infrastructure such as railways connections and highways that add value to these assets. In Thessaloniki we are working on a similar project. Our Prime Minister recently announced the creation of a trade free zone there, and so we are awaiting more information on how we can proceed with this piece of land in Thessaloniki. We also have some big pieces of land in other regions, like in Alexandroupolis in the North-Eastern part of Greece, which can be developed depending on the business of the ports there.
Prisma Reports: GAIAOSE manages one of the largest real estate portfolios in Greece, with over 500 different locations, 4.500 buildings and 100.000 hectares of cadastral parcels. Currently, how much of the real estate is leased? What are some of the most attractive locations that are up for investment and redevelopment?
Nicolaou Perikles: GAIAOSE manages larger os smaller pieces of land and a big number of buildings. At the moment only about 10% of these are leased, however we have very attractive assets in good locations, that could easily catch the attention of businesses and visitors. Our assets can be split in two categories: unique assets and conventional assets. Unique assets include for example big pieces of land in Athens, Thessaloniki and Alexandroupolis that can be turned into logistics centres, in addition to railway stations which can host a number of commercial uses. These railway stations are, usually, centrally located in the middle of cities.
Prisma Reports: Some of GAIAOSE’s real estate assets – particularly in the larger towns like Piraeus and Thessaloniki – are very apt to be turned into shopping malls. How could that modernize the urban landscape?
Nicolaou Perikles: Our plan is not necessarily to turn all of these assets into shopping malls, but to develop these areas into something more functional in general. We want to develop the areas around the railway stations by constructing new buildings including shopping malls, but also office spaces, playgrounds, cinemas and more. We develop these sites in conjunction with our various stakeholders – not only the developing companies but also the local community – in order to achieve an optimum solution. This idea is to optimize the system and make everybody happy. Aside from concrete buildings, we also plan for green areas, to create green surroundings and cater for the environment. We are prioritizing that in Thessaloniki and Piraeus, for example.
This a lengthy process, with two phases: the first one is to develop existing stations and modernize them to give passengers a better experience; the second one is to develop the areas around it.
Prisma Reports: Another of GAIAOSE’s key projects is to manage the rolling stock in Greece, which is mostly leased to TrainOSE. What are your plans for the purchase and overhaul of rolling stock to make it competitive and equal in standards to your European counterparts?
Nicolaou Perikles: GAIAOSE is managing the rolling stock of Greece, and has started what we call an extended maintenance program to refurbish our vehicles, including locomotives and passenger wagons. TRAINOSE is our biggest customers, and we have started the exterded maintenance. Our aim is to offer great products (rolling stock) and services to our customers, which at the end creates an attractive environment/experience for the (rail) passengers. This will create a win-win situation for the whole «system»: rail activity will be enhanced, we will lease more vehicles and transport companies will be able to offer more high-qualitiy itineraries with more frequent departures and arrivals.
Our main priority is to offer our customers the best services. As the market liberalizes and opens up to competition, we also want to satisfy the demand from other companies.
Prisma Reports: The company is also committed to Greece’s sustainability and works to reduce the country’s carbon emissions. GAIAOSE has invested in solar and wind parks. What is the mission behind this segment of business for the company?
Nicolaou Perikles: GAIAOSE is contributing a lot in terms of carbon emissions reduction: not only through the production of electricity though wind and photovoltaics, but through the promotion of railway as a means of transportation for goods. Indeed, train emits about 3.5 times less carbon than trucks (per ton-km transport), and so the overall strategy of carbon emissions is not confined to the photovoltaic but also to the overall approach.
Another way we are trying to reduce our footprint is through the upgrade of our buildings to energy-efficient, which also reduces carbon emissions, as opposed to old buidings. We have several buildings and we try to lease these buildings to different categories of customers.
GAISOSE produces 1.1 kW of photovoltaic, green electricity. We are proud of that and we expect to produce even more in the future. We contribute to lower carbon emissions in every possible way, starting with the transport of goods and people through rail.
Prisma Reports: In the field of logistics and freight, how do you think US investors could partner more? What type of US companies do you think Greece could attract?
Nicolaou Perikles: We already have very big collaborations with foreign and US companies in the energy sector. Yet, we could definitely welcome more foreign companies in the energy or logistics sectors – for example to install assembly lines in our logistics parks. US investors could leverage such installations to move their goods all over Europe. Thessaloniki for example is strategically located, , near countries like North Macedonia and Bulgaria, (countries that will only grow) while also has an “easy” path to reach Central Europe. People can benefit from the strategic position of Greece and use its assets to transport goods to different locations. Evidently, such investments are always dictated by market and cost dynamics.
Prisma Reports: You were appointed as CEO of GAIAOSE in February 2019. How has your background in engineering and business prepared you for the challenges of this job? What top priorities did you identify in your new leadership position at GAIAOSE?
Nicolaou Perikles: My goal is to deliver results and profitability, and to have an efficient organization, with the implementation of simple rules of governance, to have proper decision-making processes and transparency. Another of my priorities is to increase our sustainability: that includes our CSR and environmental approach approach, as well as implementing innovation and new technologies. We are constantly introducing new technologies within the company and are in fact considering blockchain activities. Last but not least I also want to attract investments for our various logistics-related as well as the other development projects.
Prisma Reports: What would be your concluding remarks and final message to the readers?
Nicolaou Perikles: The combination of managing both the unique (real estate) assets and the rolling stock, along with the liberalization of the market, GAIAOSE S.A. is playing a significant role in the development and growth of the railway flow of people and products in and through the country.
What’s more, we are operating in an environment that is recovering, from a big crisis and many difficulties. The fundamentals for the recovery, growth and acceleration, are here. We have good human capital, we have the will to change, and we are outward-looking. Several of our economic sectors offer a lot of hidden potential, which can be unlocked easily. And last but not least, we now have better investor and business confidence. There is still a lot of work ahead, but unless something extraordinary happens on a global scale, I foresee an accelerated improvement and growth in Greece.
GAIAOSE S.A.Website: www.gaiaose.com