When Grigoris Stergioulis was appointed to lead Hellenic Petroleum as CEO in May 2015 he was presented with a devastating scenario from day one—the oil company had just experienced a fatal accident in the Aspropyrgos Industrial Installation, the worst in its history, and Grigoris had the task of dealing with the aftermath.

“This was a very difficult and delicate issue to be handled, in terms of having a personal involvement in supporting the families of the people whose lives were lost. But life, unfortunately, has to move forward, even under the worst possible circumstances,” he says. “It was absolutely devastating. After such a horrible accident, we had to bring our courageous people back to their daily activities. People were refusing to come back to the refineries and they were afraid to go back to the area where the accident happened. It took us about two-to-three weeks to revive people’s morale so that they were able to start working again.

“We had to prove to them that through well planned actions, the refineries were operating safely. We went back to the principles of our organisation and back to the leaders of the market; the big petroleum companies that had proven they were the best regarding safety issues. From the top management to the lowest level we started creating a new approach to safety.”

“This accident brought issues to the surface that had not been addressed in the past. We now take a holistic approach because safety is absolutely critical to what we do.”

By the end of June the company was able to start up its oil refineries again but, Grigoris notes, that wasn’t the end of the challenges to come its way. “The capital controls came and for an international company like us, which was getting crude oil from all over the world and selling 60 per cent of our products abroad, it meant that if the banks stopped lending overnight, it could be a catastrophe,” he explains. “We had to find cash to buy the feedstock.”

In addition to both of these elements, Greece was in the middle of an economic crisis. This meant that operations on any day could be the polar opposite of those of the next day. “The market instability did not allow us to plan ahead any further than just a few weeks,” says Grigoris. “But fortunately the complexity of the refineries and our company gave us some real opportunities. We were able to come out of these tribulations stronger than we ever expected.”