Minister Spirtzis spoke to us about Greece’s €25 billion euro national infrastructure plan aimed to create an efficient network of intermodal transport within Greece and connected to its neighbours. Mr Mitzalis – What do you consider to be the significance of investments in infrastructure in the context of Greece’s economic recovery?
Mr. Konstantinos Mitzalis: It is quite well known that the investments and infrastructure projects are very crucial for the development and for the exit from a crisis for a country like Greece that is in such a crisis. Even the largest countries, when they are in a situation like Greece and they want to get out of/exit a situation like this – they focus and invest mainly on infrastructure projects that can very quickly show an improvement economically and we have seen this happen, more than once, in the United States. When we are talking about a country that is not in the European Union, (the United States does not have the financing regulations that exists in the European Union), but a country that, can on its own, find funding and financing for these kinds of projects. So, we believe that this kind of focus on infrastructure projects can quickly improve our economic situation.
J&P Avax has participated and deployed its advanced engineering and construction techniques to many key infrastructure projects in Greece, including most modern motor ways, Attiko metro and TAP Pipeline project. Mr Mitzalis – share with the readers of The Times the highlights of this years construction achievements in Greece? What Targets have you set for the upcoming 2-3 years?
Mr. Konstantinos Mitzalis: Not only these projects – but railways as well (big railway projects are under construction such as those from Athens to Patra and from Athens to Thessaloniki). As you know, regarding the motorways some are finished and some are unfinished because we had problems on these projects with the financing and problems with projects that should have lasted around 2-3 years have lasted almost 10 years. Within especially the last year, we have made strong efforts to finish projects and we have accelerated the projects.
Are there any particular projects that you are working on?
Mr. Konstantinos Mitzalis: We are involved in Olympia, Patra and the Aegean Motorway. These are very important projects and will have a social impact. In these first years since these motorways have been used, we can see from the motorists that use these roads that their lives have been improved. Also, the TransAdriatic Pipeline is a very important project not only for the country but also for our company and it is on a good path so far.
How many kilometers is the pipeline?
Mr. Konstantinos Mitzalis: 878 kilometers for the whole TAP pipeline (Greece 550 km; Albania 215 km; Adriatic Sea 105 km; Italy 8 km) and is 2/3 of the pipeline is in Greece. Until now, 50% of it has been constructed.
We understand that Greek companies have developed very specific expertise in construction in areas with high-risk for seismic activity, and because of this might stand out among its competitors abroad. Sir – has this expertise opened doors to new opportunities abroad? Are there other highly technical skills that give your company an edge over the competition?
Mr. Konstantinos Mitzalis: Concerning the know-how and expertise we tried to be a little bit more risky so went to create a power plant in Iraq, near Baghdad (which is a very risky area regarding seismic activity) and security which is the main problem and this translates to being risky when you are talking about money.
Under your leadership, you have transformed J&P Avax to become an outward looking entity, leveraging its know-how and taking its expertise to key projects in the Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans, Central Europe and as far as Northern Ireland or Ethiopia. Mr Mitzalis – Tell us more about the success of J&P Avax in international concessions and where are you now locking targets?
Mr. Konstantinos Mitzalis: After the Olympic Games, we had a lot of projects and we had to go overseas to find some new projects due to the lack of projects here in Greece. Now, concerning the projects in the region of the Middle East and North Africa – the main reason that we went there is because the mother company - the major shareholder of J&P Avax is J&P overseas and has been there for the last 50-60 years. But we are a different company, we are another company and are publicly listed since 1994 here in Greece – but we still have ties with them and we go on joint ventures with them in that region. In parallel, during these years we were also involved in some projects in Poland (1 billion Euro projects) of roads and motorways and we also renovated one old factory, a university in southern Poland. Also, in Malta we are specialists in these projects for J&P and the airport of Aman (Jordan) we constructed this – we were in the concession.
How did the project in northern Ireland come to be?
Mr. Konstantinos Mitzalis: We have a good relationship with Hellenic Coca Cola and Hellenic Bottling Company (HBC). Coca Cola Hellenic made this decision to construct a new factory.
Do you have your sights locked on any new targets in the international arena?
Mr. Konstantinos Mitzalis: Yes. This is a very tough and difficult period now for construction companies and the construction sector but our eyes are open for every/any region and project.
You mentioned the Aman airport being a PPP, what can you tell us about the company’s success in participating in these types of projects both in Greece and abroad?
Mr. Konstantinos Mitzalis: We are one of the first construction companies involved in concession projects in Greece and we have now participated in 14 concession projects. Our first project was Attiki Odos and after that we had the Greek motorways and some other projects involved in schools. When the project of the Aman airport project came about we believed that we had a strong team here for this kind of project we then decided to bid for this contract. We were the only shareholder that was a construction company and all the other companies were funds and we were the only ones who had the expertise to construct. Our involvement in this kind of project was a kind of diversification because we were mainly/and purely a construction company and in order to be able to participate in these kinds of projects we had to diversify. By diversifying I mean that we created a team with the know-how and now we can say that we are ready to participate in these kinds of projects.
What are some of this new expertise that the company has been developing internally?
Mr. Konstantinos Mitzalis: We now have the expertise to participate in projects from the inception, to construction, to the operation, maintenance and transfer. We have people that know how to read these contracts and how to make contacts regarding the financing. The operation is very important. Now, we believe that we have the people and the expertise to feel safe in order to participate in these kind of contracts.
What lessons could you share with the younger generation, especially those aspiring towards technical engineering in Greece?
Mr. Konstantinos Mitzalis: Our company always believed and still believes in bringing in young engineers. I also strongly believe that Greece has very good engineers and we realized this when we went overseas for some projects. We can see that Greek engineers are better and well equipped. We have seen that with our joint ventures with foreign countries in Greece and other countries that Greek engineers stand out and I do not say this just because they are Greek but this is from what I have seen over so many years with practice. Unfortunately, with the crisis that we are facing over the last 10 years resulted in a very respectable number of engineers that could not find work (not only speaking for the engineers but many other professions as well) therefore went and seeked work overseas/abroad. We hope that things will be better in the next years which will bring these people back here. Everything depends on the funding of the construction projects and this industry has proven that they can help towards the economic goal for economic growth and also in the decrease of the unemployment rate. We think that the Greek construction companies can cope with everything so far.
Mr MITZALES, through this interview, you have the attention of the Britain’s business and investor elites: perhaps to conclude, and on behalf of J&P AVAX, this is your opportunity to share a powerful message with the influential readers of The Times?
Mr. Konstantinos Mitzalis: Thank you very much for the interview that we had and that I had the opportunity to share with you some of my insights. We are an international contractor and we are involved in many different kinds of projects and our portfolio can show/prove this and we are open to every kind of co-operation and we are willing. Our eyes and ears are open…