Executive Achievement: Eleni Polychronopoulou, President, ERMA FIRST
Polychronopoulou wears many hats as she strives to make shipping – and the planet – greener.
(Article originally published in July/Aug 2023 edition.)
Tell us about yourself. You hold many different positions.
Yes, it’s a privilege to serve as President of the ERMA FIRST Group as well as Executive Vice President of Environmental Protection Engineering, President of METIS Cyberspace Technology, a Director of RWO and President of HEMEXPO.
In addition, I’m a Vice Chair of SEA Europe and last year was elected to the board of the Hellenic Marine Environment Protection Association (HELMEPA).
Have you always been involved in the maritime industry? How did you get started there?
My family had a ship supplies business where I spent a lot of time when I was growing up, so the maritime industry was an obvious choice for me.
I’ve always been passionate about protecting the marine environment, and I started working at Environmental Protection Engineering (EPE) before going to university. Then, after my studies, I joined the R&D department where I was responsible for developing new products and services that would help protect the marine environment. I then moved into business development, and when ERMA FIRST was founded in 2009 I was responsible for business development there too.
What is ERMA FIRST?
ERMA FIRST is a leading provider of sustainable marine solutions. Our absolute priority is to protect and preserve the maritime environment, and one of the ways we do this is by developing and manufacturing innovative solutions that minimize the impact vessel operations have on the environment.
We also actively engage with the local community and international initiatives to raise awareness of the importance of the marine environment. For example, we are committed to helping achieve four of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), Goal 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), Goal 13 (Climate Action) and Goal 14 (Life Below Water). The events we organize are often designed to help us move closer to achieving these goals and give back to society.
What are some of the company’s products? Is it mainly ballast water treatment systems?
ERMA FIRST is best known for its ballast water treatment systems, and we work with some of the largest shipping companies in the world. Our market-leading BWT systems have been installed on over 3,500 vessels so far. However, over the last few years we’ve been developing new products and solutions to support the shipping industry’s green transition.
Last year we launched ERMA FIRST BLUE CONNECT, a revolutionary alternative maritime power (AMP) solution that enables vessels to connect seamlessly to a port’s electrical grid when at berth and shut down auxiliary engines to eliminate emissions. BLUE CONNECT also recently received approval from DNV to be listed as an Energy Saving Device (ESD). We have also just launched another ESD, the ERMA FIRST FLEXCAP. This is a propeller boss cap fin that can be installed to optimize maritime efficiency and improve CII and EEXI performance.
It's a very exciting time for ERMA FIRST. Going forward, we will continue to develop our product portfolio to address the challenge of maritime decarbonization and support compliance with environmental regulations.
Cool. What does the name “ERMA FIRST” refer to?
The word “ERMA” means “ballast water” in Greek, and “FIRST” was chosen because we are leaders in our field. We aim to be the first in everything we do.
Where are you headquartered, and how many offices and employees are there?
While the company is headquartered in Perama, Greece, we have operations worldwide and offices in China, South Korea and Norway. We started with only 10 employees in 2009, but now we have over 400.
Sustainability is much in the news these days and at the heart of ERMA FIRST’s activities. Tell us about the company’s approach to sustainability and how it informs its product offerings.
Sustainability and environmental protection are in our DNA. They underpin everything we do at ERMA FIRST – from the products we design to how we conduct business and interact with the local community. We truly believe in what we do and are committed to working with our customers and partners to create a greener and more sustainable future for the maritime industry.
What makes ERMA FIRST different?
We are so much more than just an equipment manufacturer. We truly believe in sustainability and are dedicated to the higher purpose of preserving and protecting marine ecosystems worldwide. This purpose underpins all our operations. It’s the reason we exist.
This goes beyond the solutions we provide, and we’re currently transforming our workplace into a sustainability hub through our EDEN project to create a green working environment with sustainability at its heart. For example, this has included the creation of a new mobile app to support our objective of becoming a 100 percent paper-free business. We also have an extensive CSR and ESG strategy to support local communities and help us fulfill our commitment to the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Digitalization is sweeping the maritime industry and revolutionizing operations. How will it help drive sustainability as well? Is that what METIS is all about?
Technology can contribute significantly toward decarbonization and support sustainable development and operations.
METIS develops innovative solutions using real-time vessel data and predictive analytics that are powered by AI. To further support decarbonization, we plan to develop more computational models to support new capabilities such as fuel consumption optimization, hull and propeller fouling analysis, real-time engine room monitoring, route optimization, total emissions management and much more.
You are also the President of HEMEXPO – the Hellenic Marine Equipment Manufacturers & Exporters – and much in demand as a speaker and spokesperson for the Greek maritime industry. Tell us about your role there.
HEMEXPO is a leading suppliers and exporters association that represents Greek maritime equipment and technology specialists worldwide. It was formed in 2014, and my role as President is primarily to facilitate new connections and collaborations for our members while helping to raise awareness of the Greek marine manufacturing and shipbuilding industry at both the national and international levels.
What is the maritime industry’s biggest challenge right now?
The biggest challenge right now is decarbonization and environmental compliance. However, to achieve the industry’s decarbonization objectives there needs to be greater cooperation between all parties involved.
What’s your biggest challenge right now?
ERMA FIRST is going through a transition at the moment as it diversifies from a leading BWTS manufacturer to a global leader in sustainable maritime solutions. This is a very exciting time for the company as we continue to add new products to our portfolio, but the timeframe has been quite challenging.
Nonetheless, we’ve successfully brought new and innovative products to market that address decarbonization. The new products are backed by our longstanding expertise and provide customers with solutions that are designed to the highest standard and both effective and reliable.
How would you describe the company’s culture and your own management style?
At ERMA FIRST we seek out and implement policies that align with a modern, safe and equal opportunities workplace. We lead by example – not just me, but the whole management team. Our approach and managerial style are all about inclusivity. We embrace and encourage all people to come and work with us. We’re looking for innovative, “out-of-the-box” thinkers and bright talent.
In short, we’re a very open-minded company, and I’d describe us as a very supportive and caring organization – the result of the managerial style we all practice and promote.
What do you like most about your work? What gives you the most satisfaction?
Our people and our customers! Seeing so many successful people working for ERMA FIRST! Their desire to achieve and the happiness this brings them – to see so many people developing and progressing within the company – is the ultimate satisfaction. We are more than a team, and maintaining this dynamic is very important to me.
Part of this is also our customers, with whom we’ve developed deep relationships, and this is also a major source of satisfaction for us. Seeing all these relationships continuing and strengthening over time is very rewarding.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Although my work is my passion, I love spending time with family and friends, travelling, reading, continuously learning new things – especially on anything AI-related. Paddle-boarding in the summer, skiing in the winter and dancing anytime!
Thank you for your time. Is there one final message you’d like to leave for our readers?
My final message is that we all have a responsibility to protect the planet today, not tomorrow. So I encourage everyone to look for ways to be more environmentally conscious and to help create a greener future for everyone.
Jack O’Connell is the magazine’s Senior Editor.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.