Visit Date: October 7, 2003
Center for Private Equity and Entrepreneurship (CPEE): Generally when we think of an entrepreneur we don't think of industries like the oil tanker industry, which has often been a family business and entails large up-front capital costs. How did you decide to start a company in this industry?
Georgiopoulos: I had previously worked at a shipping company after graduating from college. I observed there was a lot of fat in the organization, and I thought that there had to be a better way to do things. I felt there was an opportunity but I wasn't sure whether I could capitalize on it at that point. I got my degree from Tuck and worked on Wall Street, with the goal of learning better management and financing methods that I could later bring to the shipping industry.
CPEE: So you had the idea in your mind before going to Tuck but decided to go to Wall Street after business school. Why did you decide to work on Wall Street? And how did you determine when it was time to go off on your own?
Georgiopoulos: Before Tuck, I worked in an industry and learned a lot about how the industry operated. Then I came to Tuck to get a set of tools. Afterwards, I decided to go to Wall Street to learn how to change businesses. While working for a few years, I made a few contacts and learned how to do deals. I had come up with an idea at Tuck, and working at another firm helped me refine my idea. However, I didn't want to be at a bank forever. When I saw an opportunity to pursue General Maritime full time, I did it. As George Washington Plunkett would say, "I seen my opportunities, and I took 'em."
CPEE: When you started the company there were three employees: you, your sister, and a friend. Now the company has hundreds of millions in revenues and many more employees. How did the environment within the company change as the company grew?
Georgiopoulos: When the company first started, I was everything from chairman to messenger. Now, a lot of the traits I had then still hold true-I still make my own copies and get my own coffee. But a lot of pressure has been taken off as a bigger firm with respect to individual deals. In the early days, there was a lot of excitement about getting a deal done, but now it is more professional, almost workmanlike. People expect us to execute the deal well.
CPEE: Any advice to would-be entrepreneurs at Tuck about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and the role Tuck has in that development?
Georgiopoulos: Tuck is a place where you can really refine your thoughts and develop your ideas. In terms of general traits, an entrepreneur needs perseverance-you go through some tough times. Also, you really have to know yourself. I had a partner early on who had a wife and kids and who decided to leave the company. He couldn't bear the risk in his situation. You can't fool yourself-you have to know if you have what it takes. In addition, I'd stress that a business plan should be concise. I've seen people come in with stacks of paper for a business plan. I feel that while you have to have the back-up data (so the audience dig down in any area they might be interested in), you should be able to present a strong business proposition in a much smaller number of pages.