In 1969 Bill Lefakinis a Greek born and United States bred businessman envisioned a dream, which has since become a reality – Greece, The Yachting Capital of the World.
Bill left Greece at the early age of 13 to pursue a better life and future for himself and his family. Bill attended the Hackley School and The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business on full scholarships and served in the US Army and the Greek Air Force. Having worked and traveled extensively as Chief Executive Officer of Filtrine International Co., Bill finally returned to Greece in 1969 where he started his own company, Valef Yachts.
At that time there were no marinas in Greece and only about 30 yachts, 20 of which were for private use. There was no national concept of the wealth Greece had to offer to the yachting world. Its unique history, civilization, hospitality, 4,000 islands and 13,000 miles of seashore (twice that of the USA where only 18% was yacht friendly compared to Greece’s 99%) made it most ideal for the world of yacht chartering. Bill, after realizing the immense potential of Greek yachting, went to work applying his know-how taken from his Greek and American business exposure. He convinced four of his friends to let him charter their yachts and after almost forty years of constant work, marketing, public relations, pressure to the various Greek Governments to promote this unique tourist feature that is second to NONE, Bill’s dedication finally paid off. Today, Greece has over 20,000 yachts for charter and for private use, and over 50 marinas. Valef Yachts became a successful and trusted company with offices in the states and in Greece. Bill began his company and single-handedly created a vision and a revolution in the yachting world in Greece with his motto since 1969 being, “Discover The Yachting World of Greece.”
To accomplish this, together with Panos Tsafos, Bill founded and presided over The Professional Yacht Owners Association, became Secretary General of the Hellenic Yacht Brokers Association and Consultants Association, and organized the Association of Greek Yacht Crews in order to coordinate efforts to improve yacht chartering in Greece. He also started a magazine called “Sea and Yachting” to enlighten Greeks about the beauty of their islands, their potential as well as the importance of participating in seawater sports. He constantly wrote caustic articles addressed to the Greek Government regarding their apathy about improving conditions and laws to govern properly professional yachting in Greece. Bill also became co-publisher of the English Daily Newspaper “Athens Mirror,” in 1971, became a member of the Foreign Press Association, The Greek Travel Agents Association, Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce, Greek Ship owner’s Club and many others.
In his efforts to promote Greece internationally, Bill brought the Miss Universe Contest to Greece in 1973 (it was the first time they held the competition overseas); movies James Bond in 1980 & 1983 and The Greek Tycoon; TV series The Love Boat in 1980, Heart to Heart, The Life Styles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leach, The Evening Magazine (which featured Greece for one entire week), The Arthur Frommer Show, Eyes on LA, Canadian and Japanese Government television; magazines Playboy and Penthouse, Conde Nast’s “The Traveler” and dozens of other international TV shows, movies and magazines continuing to the present. Internationally noted personalities were brought to Greece by Bill to promote yachting. To name a few, Hugh Hefner and daughter Christina, Bob Cuccione, John and Bo Derek, John Wayne, Anthony Quinn, Christina Onassis, Baron Hans Heinrich von Thyssen, Patricia Gucci – fashion designer,
Claude Arpels – Van Cleef and Arpels jewellers,
Garavani Valentino – fashion designer, Max Fisher, John Clinton (Chairman of Dunhill and Rothman Group), Ernest Gallo, Giovanni-Yanelli of Fiat, Henry Ford II of Ford Motor Corporation, Roger Smith, ex-CEO of General Motors, ex-Chairman of the Board of Intercontinental Hotels Corp. Mr. Hans Sternik, ex-German President Richard Fon Weizsacker, internationally acclaimed cellist Mr. Rostropovich, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, John Denver, Kenny Rogers and Charlton Heston. He has been an advisor to the Greek National Tourist Organization, Greek Ministry of the Merchant Marine and member of the Greek Government’s Advisory Council for the Development of Greece, yachting marinas, and the yachting infrastructure.
In 1978, with the increasingly heavy air pollution in Athens and water pollution in the Hellenic Seas, Bill co-founded “PAKOE” (The Panhellenic Ecological Research Foundation) together with a group of volunteer scientists and doctors. As the Secretary General of the organization, he chartered airplanes and helicopters to take hundreds of air samples by University and Government scientists (including reporters abroad) to analyze the contents for air pollution around the Acropolis, Athens as well had several Valef Yachts with the same groups to test for water pollution in the seas. All evidence was confirmed by Government scientific laboratories and independent research centers. The high extent of pollution was widely published with articles, photos to all the media as well as full reports to the Greek Authorities including the President, Prime Minister and all parliamentary members. As a matter of fact, pollution was the main subject for the next year’s election. Now the Greek Seas are the cleanest in Europe according to the findings of the European Union and the air pollution has dropped dramatically, the Parthenon is protected and many laws have been made to protect the environment.
Bill and Kathy, his wife of 27 years; run the North American Headquarters of Valef Yachts and Bill travels frequently to the Greek headquarters always keeping his finger on the pulse of the market. Kathy and Bill met in 1978 while she was traveling in Greece. Within months they were married and moved to Greece where they settled and began working together. Kathy and Bill realized in 1981 the need to establish a USA North and South American Headquarters for more direct contact and more efficient response and information for potential clients. Running two offices half way around the world from each other keep Kathy and Bill quite busy.
In 1986 Bill, as President of Valef Yachts and President of the Yacht Owners Association, invited 200 American yacht brokers on 20 yachts to “Discover the Yachting World of Greece.” They went to many islands where mayors of the islands greeted all with parties and festivities and the famous Greek Easter was celebrated with the traditional roasted lamb on the fire and great fun was had by all.
Such hard work leads to an appreciation and understanding of a proper vacation. This has given them further insight into the development of the ultimate holiday vacation that caters that caters to the clients every desire. The personal touch and hands on approach offered by the yacht owners make chartering a luxury yacht with Valef Yachts a true pleasure.
Bill and Kathy’s two daughters, Alexandra and Kassandra, have spent numerous summers working in the yachting business, learning the ropes from the ground up. Having been brought up in both countries spending quality time in Europe and cruising the Aegean, they have a great head start in knowing Greece, what yachting is all about, and what the client ultimately desires. Alexandra and Kassandra both passionately work where Valef Yachts has its roots; and continue to infuse fresh energy into their family business and one of the first names in Greek Yachting.
Valef Yachts remains a company that continues to flourish, raise industry standards and client expectations while remaining firmly anchored in the ever-flourishing Greek yachting community. All of the above activities have finally helped establish Greece as the Center of the Yachting World!
submitted by Lee Ann Pughe