Encouraging foreign investment and the oil trading business

George Papanastasiou is (at the time of this interview) the Managing Director of VTT Vasiliko Ltd (VTTV) and a thought leader who inspires his team to be passionate and creative.
In my interview with George, he talked about the potential of Cyprus as an oil trading hub, the important traits we can develop in our workplaces, and his advice for a successful career in the Oil and Gas industry.

Muriel: “You are a firm believer that the tourism industry can be linked to a heavy industry, such as an oil terminal. What is your message to reinforce this connection and create initiatives accordingly?”

George: “Tourism had always been the main income of Cyprus. And at some point, rightly so, we realised there is much more than tourism which can bring investment to the island.

An oil terminal next to beaches and hotels is an example. VTTI has successfully invested in an oil storage and handling terminal which can co-exist with tourism facilities.

Our goals are as follows:

- We aim to minimise emissions to the atmosphere;
- We aim to prevent ground and ground-water pollution;
- We aim to prevent any damage to the environment whatsoever.

We, therefore, invested heavily in environmental protection equipment and materials. For example, we have internal floating roofs in our storage tanks to minimise oil evaporation to the atmosphere, we have an underground impermeable membrane covering all the area of the terminal to prevent any contact of oil with the ground,  and have water treatment plants which treat water, even rain water that is collected from tank roofs, before it is released to the sea.

As an example of post active measure, we invested in oil spill response knowledge, people training and equipment and have resources ready to implement the ERP (Emergency Response Plan) when activated.

The VTTI Group always applies standards higher than the standards required by local legislations or in line with local legislations if the Group standards are lower. The choice is always towards whichever holds the higher standards. We believe every company which plans to be in this business in a sustainable way, needs to invest in higher standards than what the legislation requires.”

Muriel: “Cyprus’ geographical position gives access to deep sea water close to the shore, and thus can accommodate the large oil vessels. VTTV has created in Cyprus a platform for potential large-scale energy infrastructure projects, and one of them is the proposed LNG terminal. How do you see Cyprus’ role in encouraging and hosting such projects and progressively becoming an oil / gas trading hub?”

George: “Deep sea water is one of the advantages that an oil trading hub requires to accommodate big vessels. But we also need the environment to be accommodating for such a business, and that’s the challenge. We are not yet exposed enough to businesses other than tourism. That’s why the oil trading business is not seen as friendly.

It took VTTI four years to get permits to construct the VTTV terminal.

Physical advantages and the traffic around a certain place are important for a trading hub. It is equally important to create a friendly business environment in terms of legislation and culture, an easy implementation of regulations and quick decision making. The authorities related to this business need to be competitive in terms of applying port fees and charges, for example.

When investors consider investing in Cyprus, they expect simplicity. Complexity and delays do not interest them. They need to be able to knock on one door and get all the answers. We should be able to provide a one-stop shop and this concept needs to be actively promoted, not just advertised. We need to start operating with practicality.

Cyprus needs foreign investment and the creation of employment opportunities. This should be our objective as a country, and there should be lessons learned following the collapse of the Cyprus’ economy in 2013.”

Muriel: “The VTTI Way is built around 5 core and people related qualities, which apply to the various functional areas of your business. How would you describe your workplace culture based on those qualities?”

George: “The five core qualities of VTTI, DS, RS, CL, PP and CO are all people related. They refer to Dynamic Strategists, Risk Savvy, Collective Leaders, Productive People and Creative Owners.

In VTTI generally, we consider people as our principal asset. We are strong believers in people and we hire those eager to learn, irrespective of their experience or background.

When joining our Company, people learn to apply all these core qualities of VTTI.

As Dynamic Strategists, our people need to always have a vision and a process to reach this vision.
As Risk Savvy, we take calculated risks and we understand the process to mitigate those risks.
As Collective Leaders, we promote empathy and relationships between people.
As Productive People, we hire in key positions those who are first developed as managers then they become leaders.
As Creative Owners, we encourage people to think outside the box, because that’s how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors and this is how we add value for our customers.”

Muriel: “How do you engage your team and inspire your people to be creative?”

George: “We have a way to do it in VTTI. First, we give our people the space to take decisions and be accountable. This way they can be creative.
And second, we never implement the blame and shame process. We learn from our mistakes and avoid doing the same mistake again.

We ask our people to talk to us about everything, even if they wish to share thoughts or give feedback related to sensitive aspects of the business. Our people have the safety and the space to address any topic and express their opinion. This is how we stimulate creativity, because our people feel they are in a safe environment.”

Muriel: “You value empathy in the workplace. Why do you think we need more empathetic people in our organisations?”

George: “In VTTI, we place more emphasis on the Emotional Quotient rather than the Intelligence Quotient, when we are looking for people. Because we get the best relationships when someone understands the other party - his colleague, manager, subordinate or customer. The more people share empathy, the more they understand each other and do the right thing.

Customers appreciate it when you are proactive in doing something which is their expectation but never expressed. You surprise them and that’s empathy. You take actions which people never expected. This is how we differentiate ourselves from competitors.

In an organisation, the highest contribution we can feel is commitment. Loyalty is not predominant. Commitment is when people meet their job requirements. Loyalty is when people love what they do, they stand for their Employer and are proud of their Company.

With millennials, we have less and less loyalty. Creativity is met outside of the position boundaries. Sticking to a job description does not allow our millennials to be creative. It’s an area to be worked on!”

Muriel: “In a world that is constantly changing and adapting to technological developments, what do you consider to be the attributes of a Leader?”

George: “A leader is connected to people more than to tanks and pipelines. A leader will empower his people, see them as being part of a team and will involve them in all the decision making which relates to the team. He will very rarely instruct, most often suggest and let the people lead. Empowering and trusting people is the sustainable way of getting to the long-term vision. Furthermore, a leader must always lead by example.”

Muriel: “VTTV supports the protection of the environment, as we discussed above. According to you, how can our citizens be more involved in safeguarding the environment through their daily activities and initiatives?”

George: “We need to invest in educating people. We are not giving enough education to our children to respect the environment they live in. We need to develop our children, teach them to respect other people and the environment, in order to respect themselves.

That’s how we can create a sustainable eco-system in our country.

We need to invest more in education at schools, at the early stages of the children’s upbringing.”

Muriel: “You are passionate in what you do and enthusiastic about the industry. What is your advice to people who are interested in a career in Oil and Gas?”

George: “In order to be successful in any area, you need to be passionate. Otherwise, you meet a certain level and you never exceed it.
When you are passionate about what you do, there are no limits. When seeing the passion in you, an Organization will pick you up and develop you.

However, if you are looking for something easy, don’t go for oil and gas. The industry can be tough, keeping you away from your family and isolated, on an oil rig for example.

Furthermore, the Oil and Gas industry is a place where technology counts. It’s a continuous learning on how to develop new ways of reaching the oil. Thanks to passionate people in our industry, we can now do the deep-sea drilling. We created robots which can perform many activities at sea depths of many kilometres and that’s the result of people’s passion reaching beyond human physical capabilities.

Even a simple platform these days has the shape of a ship. It also has its own power; it is no longer pulled by boats. We have robots which operate from a vessel. And by developing such technology, things are done more efficiently, and we do not expose people to high risks.

The fast growing and developing industry of oil and gas needs creative and passionate people; it is a necessity when you are aiming for solutions that will excel.”


(Update: George Papanastasiou is the Minister of Energy, Commerce, and Industry of the Republic of Cyprus, since March 2023).
George Papanastasiou worked 26 years for BP in Cyprus, United Kingdom, and other countries, having held various managerial positions within the company including the position of the Head of Country in Cyprus.
He is a mechanical engineer by profession with a HND in Mechanical Engineering from the Higher Technical Institute of Cyprus, a BSc in Mechanical Engineering from the City University London and an MSc in Refrigeration & Air Conditioning from Kings College London.
During his career he gained a wide breadth of experience in the oil industry and specifically in the fields of Supply & Logistics, Health, Safety, Security & Environment, Operations & Engineering, Sales & Marketing, Company Governance and Compliance.
Mr. Papanastasiou was appointed as Managing Director and General Manager of VTT Vasiliko Ltd, a subsidiary of VTTI B.V., on the 1st of October 2011. He leads a versatile team of professionals with the aim of constructing and operating the oil storage terminal of the company at Vasilikos area, the biggest foreign investment currently in Cyprus.

© Muriel Matta 2018 

Muriel Matta (BSc, MSc, MPhil, Cert CTT Practitioner) is an HR Advisor, Coach, Trainer and Facilitator. 
She is a multilingual Human Resources Management expert, with extensive cross-cultural experience. 

In line with her Vision, she launched Maravilhosa in 2014 to help organizations build high-performing teams. 

For more information: Profile 
Muriel can be contacted via email: Muriel@maravilhosa.net

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