Niarchos served in the Greek Navy during World War II. He participated in the Allied operations in Normandy and was awarded, among other distinguished service medals, the Commander of the Order of the Phoenix in 1977, the Royal Order of King George I, and the Royal House Order of SS George and Constantine. While Niarchos was serving in the Greek Navy, the Allied Forces leased his first vessel. The ship was destroyed in battle, and Niarchos used the insurance funds as capital to expand his fleet after the War. Thus began the emergence of Stavros Niarchos as a significant participant in the world of international commerce. For many years, he owned the largest private fleet in the world, with his company operating more than 80 tankers and other vessels.
In 1956, Niarchos agreed to build and operate the Hellenic Shipyards, the first such private investment in Greece, which rapidly became the largest Mediterranean shipyard. In 1985, the shipyard was placed under state control, but Niarchos´s commitment to Greece still stands today as an effective demonstration of the power of private investment for the country’s economic well-being.
Stavros Niarchos understood the meaning of thinking and acting globally long before the term globalization became so prominent. His business operations began in Greece, the country of his birth and heritage, yet his accomplishments were notable worldwide. Although he was known predominantly for his shipping business, Niarchos’s diversified financial activities were at the core of global industry from the time he formed the Niarchos Group in 1939 until his death in 1996. He was considered one of the most innovative and successful businessmen of the twentieth century.
Niarchos’s legacy continues into the twenty-first century with the establishment of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Working in Greece and internationally, the Foundation began its grantmaking efforts in 1996, and it derives its mission from Niarchos´s commitment to Greece and Hellenism, as well as his keen instincts and interests in support of causes in the fields of education, social welfare, health, and arts and culture.
By designating a significant part of his estate to establish the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Stavros Niarchos created an enduring vehicle to enriching the lives of others worldwide.
In 2016, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation celebrated its 20th year anniversary, fulfilling the original purpose of its establishment: to contribute, with all the means at its disposal, to the improvement of the lives of those less privileged and to support organizations and projects that are expected to achieve a broad, lasting and positive impact for society at large.