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Onassis vs. Niarchos: The Battle of the Legendary Greek Tycoons

Aristotle Onassis
Aristotle Onassis. Credit: Public Domain

Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos, the two Greek tycoons, had two completely different personalities, but one common destiny—to shape the 20th century in Greece.

Aristotle Onassis was born in 1906 in Smyrna at a time when the city was still under Ottoman rule. Three years later, in 1909, Stavros Niarchos was born on the other side of the Aegean, in the city of Athens.

In 1922, following the Great Fire of Smyrna and the disastrous war between Greece and Turkey, Onassis left Smyrna and went to Greece, only to decide a few months later that he would emigrate to Argentina, where he established himself as a tobacco trader, and later, as a shipping owner.

During the same years, Niarchos was studying at the Law School of Athens. He began working for his maternal relatives, the Koumantaroses, in their family business. During his time there, Niarchos managed to convince his uncles that their firm would be more profitable if it owned its own ships.

But it wasn’t just Niarchos who was succeeding with his businesses, as Onassis had already started growing his fortune, as well. After making several successful high-stakes deals, he was becoming one of the richest men on the planet, and his personal life was beginning to attract the attention of the media.

Onassis and Niarchos married seven times combined

Greta Garbo, Maria Callas, and Jackie Kennedy were the most notorious relationships Onassis had with women in his life.

Onassis was married twice while Stavros Niarchos had five marriages.

Onassis’ first marriage was with Athina Livanos, the second daughter of the Greek shipping magnate, Stavros Livanos.

Athina would later become Niarchos’ wife, as well, after her divorce from Onassis.

In the meantime, while their personal lives were becoming increasingly complicated, both Onassis and Niarchos were becoming hugely successful in business.

Onassis was making Greece proud with his Olympic Airways, the flagship of Greek aviation since 1957.

Niarchos, on the other hand, took advantage of the Suez canal crisis, and became a billionaire in his already well-established shipping business.

After ending his marriage with Livanos and his long relationship with Callas, Onassis married the former first lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy, making his private island Skorpios famous around the globe.

Only five years after the wedding, Onassis lost his son, Alexander, in a plane crash. He never fully recovered from the devastating news, and just two years after his son’s death, Aristotelis Onassis passed away at the age of 69, creating a myth around the family and himself.

He was buried on his beloved island, Skorpios, alongside his son, Alexander.

Niarchos, the leading thoroughbred owner

Niarchos was lucky enough to live for two more decades and see his businesses continue to flourish during these years. After having left the thoroughbred horse racing business for roughly two decades, he returned to it in the 1970s. He became the leading thoroughbred owner in France twice, and he topped the Breeders’ List three times.

After a life full of passion, many experiences and business successes, he died in 1996 in Zürich, and was buried in the family tomb in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Niarchos foundation
Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Credit: wikimedia commons / strange traveler CC BY 2.0

Both Greek tycoons, Stavros Niarchos and Aristotle Onassis, left enormous fortunes to the foundations that were established after their deaths, foundations which have made grants in the areas of arts, culture, education, shipping, and health, as well as in countless other areas in Greece and in communities around the world.

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