John S. Latsis was born in 1910 in Katakolo in the Prefecture of Ileia, in the Peloponnese, the son of Spiros Latsis and Aphrodite Efthimiou. Coming from a large poor family, he was forced to work hard from an early age, and at the same time succeeded in graduating from the Pyrgos School of Commerce. In 1938, he married Henrietta Tsoukala in Pyrgos, Ileia. They had three children, Spiro, Marianna and Margarita. His first entrepreneurial ventures centred on trade. Soon afterwards, he also became involved in shipping. Through a series of swift and astute moves, the scope of his activities expanded to include such diverse undertakings as the transportation of pilgrims from Libya to Mecca and ocean-going commercial shipping.
The latter, along with the trade in petroleum products, inspired him to establish in the beginning of the 1970ís, Petrola Hellas at Elefsis near Athens, the first export refinery in Greece.
Amongst the most important milestones in John S. Latsisí career were his activities in Saudi Arabia in the mid-1970ís, where he initially undertook infrastructure projects and later, at the end of the 1970ís, built and operated an export refinery in Rabigh.
He first turned his attention to the finance and credit sector in 1980, when he purchased the Banque de Depots, based in Geneva, Switzerland, an event that signalled the beginning of yet another successful venture for the Latsis Group, this time in the banking sector.
John S. Latsis passed away on April 17th 2003, at the age of 93, at his home in Ekali, Athens, Greece.
Public Benefit Work
The entrepreneurial activities of John S. Latsis were accompanied by notable pubic benefit activities, which were from the beginning inspired by moral principles, social values and humanist priorities.
The decisive factor in his philanthropic activities was his own personal experience of poverty and suffering, which was never erased from his memory, but served as a reference point in his life. Childrenís welfare, the right to education, the provision of universally accessible high level health care services, solidarity with all those who accidentally found themselves in great need, the right to work and to a pension, the sea and the people involved in shipping, religious worship, the great importance of family and the special role of the mother, combating poverty, promoting and advertising Greece and its civilisation, were the mainstays of his social and humanitarian work.
His public benefit initiatives were performed differently each time. In the case of activities where the needs were incessant and coordination and oversight were necessary conditions, he proceeded to create Foundations to administer the funds he bestowed. The first was the John S. Latsis Ileiansí Scholarships Foundation, which was set up in 1968 and operates to this day. It has funded the studies of 1,700 undergraduate and postgraduate students. A few years later, in 1975, John S. Latsis founded the Fondation Latsis Internationale, a non-profit public benefit foundation based in Geneva Switzerland, which annually awards prizes to scientists or research groups in recognition of their outstanding and innovative contributions in selected scientific fields. This was followed by the Foundation for the Rehabilitation of Albanians of Greek Descent which, since its establishment in 1991 until today, has lodged and educated more than 1,000 Albanians of Greek descent, and contributed decisively to improving their living conditions and to their entry into the job market. Since 1991, through the Child Care Foundation, he has provided assistance to children from poor families that are facing health problems.
Similarly, he has sponsored the activities of other important Foundations, both in and outside of Greece, such as the Zolotas Foundation (1989), the Childrenís Research Foundation (Doxiadis Foundation, 1987-1991), the Fulbright Foundation (1990-1994), the S. B. Vryonis Centre for the Study of Hellenism, in Sacramento, California (1992), two Islamic Institutes in Egypt, etc.
John S. Latsisí sense of social responsibility was triggered whenever Greece was in a state of emergency. He provided substantial financial support during the earthquakes that struck the Kalamata area in 1986, lodging over 1,000 earthquake victims on his cruise ship for two years and donating to the Greek Government a factory manufacturing pre-fabricated houses. He also offered his assistance during the earthquakes that struck his homeland of Pyrgos, Ileia in 1988 and 1993, Grevena in 1995 and Athens in 1999.
On many occasions, the public benefit work of John S. Latsis was expressed through donations to cover certain specific needs, whether of Greece or of other countries. The most important, on a long list of similar activities, are the following contributions: a donation to the Greek State for the purchase of fire-fighting aircraft in 1983, a donation of 100 motorcycles and 50 automobiles to the Greek Police in 1984, a donation to the Hellenic Ministry of Public Order for the purchase of computers in 1985, a donation in support of the Seamenís Retirement Fund in 1986, a donation to the Chinese government for the purchase of agricultural machinery to be used in the very poor regions of the country and for reconstruction work on the Great Wall of China, a donation in support of the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Seamen in 1989 and a donation in 1998 in support of the goals of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games bidding committee.
The public benefit activities of John S. Latsis were linked to some important works that bear his name. Specifically, in 1995, the administration of the Athens College was granted the Latsion School building complex, which covers a total of 10,000 m2 and was fully financed by John S. Latsis. In 1999, a donation contract was signed, granting the Greek State the Latsion Burn Centre, a hospital specialising in the care of burn victims, constructed in Elefsina. This unit was handed over to the Greek State, fully equipped, in 2005, two years after the death of John S. Latsis. Among the important buildings bearing his name, one should also mention the Latsion City Hall Building, which he gave as a gift to his homeland of Pyrgos, Ileia.
The humanitarian contribution of John S. Latsis extends beyond the above to a multitude of spontaneous gestures of solidarity to fellow human beings in need. He received many honours for his philanthropic activities, amongst them the Mount Athos Millennial Gold Cross awarded by The Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1963, the Grand Cross of the Order of the Phoenix by King Paul in 1965, the Order of the Grand Commander by the Patriarch of Antioch in 1976, the Academy of Athens Award in 1989 and the Gold Cross from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 1995.