Shipping Industry Pioneer Christos N. Kritikos Passes at 95


Published Feb 9, 2021 6:34 PM by Kathleen Abbott

The shipping industry has lost one of its pioneers from the golden era of containerization. Christos N. Kritikos passed away on January 31, 2021 at home with his family at his side. He was 95 years old.

Born in Greece on the Island of Andros and raised in Athens, he arrived in the United States in 1947 as a merchant mariner. In 1954, he found a job working for an East Coast stevedoring company. After just four years, he moved to Chicago to start his own stevedoring firm, launching an illustrious shipping career.

Christos Kritikos, known as “Chris” to his friends, was an experienced sailor and very familiar with the dynamism of marine transportation. The late 1950s was a time when the St. Lawrence Seaway was opening up, and it presented a lucrative business opportunity. Chicago was expected to be the largest general cargo port in the Great Lakes, and the influx of cargo ships coming into the port needed professional stevedores and terminal operators. Chris recognized the potential and this is where he founded his passion, Ceres Terminals Incorporated.

After the Seaway opened in 1959, Ceres picked up over 50 percent of the total grain volume in Chicago. From 1959 to 1962, Ceres expanded to Duluth, Milwaukee and Toledo. In 1962, Ceres opened a Canadian operation at Montreal and quickly became one of the port’s largest stevedoring companies.

Ceres expanded to the Port of Baltimore in 1979, then to Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans and Houston. In 1982, Ceres became a container operator in Montreal with Atlantic Container Line as it first container customer. That same year, Ceres signed a 20-year lease with the Halifax Port Authority and secured 55 percent of the port’s volume in the first year of operation.  In 1988, Chris moved Ceres’ corporate headquarters from Chicago to Weehawken, New Jersey. Here he could be closer to his customers and maintain the personal service that was his trademark.

In 2002, Ceres was purchased by NYK, and Chris remained at the helm for a year before “becoming unemployed.” Chris would never retire, and he always strived to move to another chapter in his life.

Chris Kritikos was one of the true icons of the shipping industry, and his impact on containerization was measurable. Those who had the opportunity to work with Chris would never forget him. He was the type of person that the waterfront reveres. He was a tough negotiator, but never let the deal get away. Right at the point when a customer would pack their bag to leave, Chris would drop a new idea on the table and get to a contract signature. His word was sacred, and quality came before anything else. He never referred to contract language, but rather to the spirit of the agreement. As a result, his customers stuck with him as he expanded to new locations.

Chris had a heart of gold, and his quiet generosity made a huge impact. In 1997, Chris met a four-year old girl from Honduras named Carla who was in the United States undergoing surgery for a dangerous birth defect. The organization, Healing the Children, had placed her with the family of an ocean carrier friend for pre- and post-op care. Chris and the child hit it off immediately. Her surgery was a success and she returned home. One year later, Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras, and her family’s house was destroyed. In true Kritikos fashion, Chris spearheaded a fundraising drive that bought a two-family house for Carla’s parents, giving them a guaranteed monthly income. He also established college funds for Carla and her brothers, changing their lives forever.

“Our industry has lost one of its most memorable and unique individuals. He was a colorful soul full, of ambition and drive and the nerve to pull his vision off. Using his progressive vision and outsized personality, Chris built a small Chicago-based startup company into one of the leading stevedoring and terminal operators in North America. His is a true American success story. The industry will miss him,” commented Thomas J. Simmers, past President & CEO of Ceres Terminals Incorporated.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, there will be a private burial service for Chris.

Kathleen Abbott is the president of AbbottWalsh Creative. 

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.