How I Work: Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou

With shipping facing a future of digital information and data solutions, there is increasing need for integration and realising economic efficiencies and, according to Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, this year will see big changes in the digital data and information flows that impact decision-making.

The CEO of Cyprus-based Tototheo Maritime believes they could even cause shipping to be seen less as a single industry and more as the waterborne sector of other industries’ supply, logistics and transport chains.

“We will see the need for this waterborne leg linked closely with other parts of a transport chain to create best efficiencies, such as in ports,” she said. “The link has to be digital and near – or real-time – and, of course, with common standards – a common digital language across the chain.

“We must all learn to function and strive in the new transparent shipping environment and be ready to listen and share our knowledge and experiences.”

Indeed, it is this digital age that she says is not only changing the landscape of the maritime industry but the people who work within it. As a new area of growth, it is hoped it will attract many more younger people – and more women – something which Ms Theodosiou is striving to achieve as President of WISTA (Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association) International.

“The interlacing between digital technologies and shipping is where WISTA can play an active role. With the shipping industry already facing difficulties in attracting young people to it, WISTA can have a key role in promoting the benefits of having more women in the industry, and in different roles,” she told SMI.

Since taking over as President in October 2017, Ms Theodosiou says she has seen some great advances in the Association. Last year seven new national WISTA associations were formed, bringing the total to 46 worldwide, and new collaborations have also been formed, most notably achieving Consultative Status at the IMO, becoming founding partners of the European Commission’s Platform for Change and a new collaboration with the Organisation of American States.

She is also delighted that the International Maritime Organization has made the theme for this year’s World Maritime Day on 26th September ‘Empowering Women in the Maritime Community’.

“This is a great opportunity for us to showcase the position and influence of women and what can be achieved with greater equality and diversity in the industry; how diversity is really about diversity of thought which brings innovation and better economic results; particularly in an industry where technology and the environment are big themes for the future.”

However, despite more opportunities being created for women, she believes more can be done, though appreciates the social attitudes and traditions in some countries can make it difficult.

Along with success within WISTA, her ‘day job’ as CEO of Tototheo Maritime is also creating new business opportunities for the future.

The family firm, based steeply in the Cypriot shipping industry, started in the marine radiotelephony business of the 1970s when modern satellite communications were just beginning. Today it offers the latest technologies in satellite communications and is just as much a part of the island’s proud maritime heritage as it used to be.

Ms Theodosiou grew up in the industry – her father was a Captain before coming ashore and most of her family and friends were involved in maritime – though she admits she didn’t realise she wanted to be part of it until embarking on economics studies. Last year she again made the Lloyd’s List Top 100 of most influential people in the industry.

“It has been an exciting journey for me – with its ups and downs, of course – and I would not change it,” she said.

As her career has grown to now heading up Tototheo Maritime, so too is Cyprus branching out as a maritime cluster.

The appointment of a Deputy Minister, Natasa Pilides, last March has been very positive, says Ms Theodosiou, as the island sees other maritime clusters stepping up their competition.

“Even countries like the UK, struggling as it is with Brexit, has launched a Maritime 2050 strategy that aims to retain a position in international shipping and trade at a time that it struggles to settle its place in Europe,” she said.

“The new Deputy Shipping Ministry was a clear sign of support by the Government to the Cypriot shipping industry and an extra step taken to increase our competitiveness, offering flexibility that allows growth strategies to be implemented that correspond to the needs and the international character of our industry.”

She said the Cypriot close-knit shipping community had supported the application of new technologies, the creation of maritime academies, and promotion of services by Cyprus-based companies.

“We have been independent as an industry and very resilient – even following our country’s past financial woes. There is solid support and representation on a national and international level by the Cyprus Shipping Chamber. We have the ability and the disposition to have a targeted presence, achieve our goals as an industry and become even more competitive on the international stage.”

And with Ms Theodosiou’s  clear focus, tenacity and determination, you would not argue with that.