Today we are sitting down with Kassandra (Kassie) Lefakinis '00 and Alexandra (Ali) Lefakinis '99, co-owners of the luxury charter company, Valef Yachts International, in Pireaus, Greece.
Tell me about the company, Valef Yachts International? What do you two do?
KL: Valef Yachts was founded in 1969 by Vassilios (Bill) Lefakinis, our father. He pioneered luxury yacht chartering in Greece, paving the way for the booming industry it is today. Valef Yachts offers full-service, luxury yacht charters throughout Greece, Turkey, the Adriatic and the West Mediterranean, and caters to a worldwide clientele. There are offices both in the USA and in Greece.
Alexandra and I run the Greek office of Valef Yachts; we organize the trips from A to Z, seeing our clients when in Greece, making sure we welcome them onboard, introducing them to the yacht and crew before sending them off. We see through each stage of the charter—booking the clients pre and post cruise hotels/villa, their transfers, private air if needed, even restaurant bookings, clubs etc. Also, we manage the provisioning for yachts (food/drinks/fuel), planning itineraries with captains. We aim to make Valef clients feel guided in every aspect, throughout the charter process, onboard the yacht, and until departure from the final yachting destination.
Alexandra focuses more on back-end work while I focus more on marketing and client relations. I enjoy venturing into new territory as well while Alexandra holds down the fort and keeps things running smoothly, at times pulling the reins.
Who are your clients? Has anyone famous come aboard?
KL: Our clients come from all over the globe and can be your regular John and Jane Doe or big time CEO's of major corporations, entrepreneurs, politicians and ministers, famous musicians, athletes, actors, you name it. We have many successful Greek-somethings (Greek-Aussy, Greek-American, etc.) as well. These clients come often to enjoy their heritage in summer since they live abroad – they usually are repeat clients.
Our clients are often repeaters and much of our business is referral. We meet many interesting people in this job and its inspiring meeting these people and sharing a piece of their life. It's intimate, the job, getting to know the client and sharing in a way these special moments.
We have had many famous charterers—our father opened the gates for American celebrities in the 70's and had people such as John Denver, the Boss, Sting, The Beatles, Hugh Hefner, not to mention many heads of state and local Greek heads like George Papandreou (former Prime Minister of Greece) and celebrities such as Demi Roussos. More recently we have had Carmen Electra, model Marcus Schöneberg, the Kardashians and Jenners, ambassadors and ministers from all over.
What are your titles and what are your day-to-day jobs like?
AL: Being that we run the company ourselves, we are involved in all aspects of the business including and not limited to sales, marketing, provisioning, public relations, and client relations. Each of us focuses a bit more on different aspects. I run the financials and accounting while Kassandra is more heavily focused on the marketing, PR and e-commerce development. Both of us are highly immersed in direct customer relations and the running of charters.
KL: To distinguish it in a different way, Alexandra runs things at the office while I am more out and about exploring opportunities, visiting locations and suppliers, and seeing existing and potential clients. I learned from my father the importance of circulating and that personal touch—being accessible. For me inspiration and business develop beyond the office, but of course this couldn't be done without a reliable partner holding things down at the office and keeping things in order.
It's a company your dad started, right?
AL: Yes. He saw the opportunity for yachting in 1969 after he returned home to Greece from living and working in New York City. He gathered yachts of friends and started the business when there were only a couple of yachts for charter. Today the industry has boomed with Greece being the number one yachting destination in the world (or rather it should be).
KL: His office back then was the hub for clients and crew back when Marina Zeas was the main marina for all and the office was at its entrance. His marketing was also brilliant and he was THE name in yachting for decades.
As a child and teenager, did you visit Greece often? Did your Dad live there part-time?
AL: We spent our summers in Greece. Days after GA would let out, we were on the plane to Athens. Our dad spent his time going back and forth between the US and Greece—usually two months in Greece, one month in the US. It was a lot of work managing the two offices in different continents and also managing spending time with us.
KL: We celebrated holidays on different days than most others in order to accommodate his schedule!
What is it like to own your own company now? What have you learned and where are you hoping to take the company?
AL: It's a great feeling being able to own what you do. Everything you put into it has a direct outcome worthy of your efforts (hopefully).
KL: I always wanted to "be my own boss" and I love being able to manage my own time and propel myself forward having to always stay on my toes and look for opportunities. It's really rewarding when business goes well. I have learned a lot through the years of course, mostly about steady growth, patience, innovation in times of crisis and with high competition, and about business manor and etiquette.
We enjoy being boutique and not a massive, global enterprise because we still have personal touch on every charter that comes through. I would like to diversify by offering more to our clients, whether it's just with adding yacht destinations or in sales of unique yachts and specialized services. Eventually, I would like to grow to create larger teams to manage all of these services we offer our clients – teams dedicated solely to those things. Currently our biggest added value is our knowledge, personal touch, and free concierge service. I have some ideas about where the company might go and usually in the winter, when it's not hectic, I flesh out various partnership or growth ideas.
To confirm, Kassandra, you co-own a luxury yacht charter company, co-hosted a travel show on Greece, launched an e-boutique store, and helped produce a documentary, right? How do you have time to do some many jobs and fun projects?
KL: I love being super active and branching out. I enjoy being 'eclectic', getting involved with whatever interests me and finding unique ways to highlight and merge the things I'm passionate about, and hopefully add value. I love collaborating so if something or someone inspires me, I usually find a way to get on board. Example: I love a Greek brand, I call them and ask to sell it to my clients. I like a project a friend is involved in, I ask more about it and offer my assistance. The travel show producer for 'This I Greece' came to us to rent a yacht and we were so helpful they relied on us more and more for production help, which I gave freely. We have done many productions in Greece, merging tourism and film/TV plus I studied communications and film/media. I proved worthy for a host and script advisor along the way and was offered the job. For me, I take on more than required and that is when doors open. Maybe this attitude comes with the freedom of owning my business. I love to stay busy with creative projects so I make time to do everything, driven by the vision of putting something new out into the world. The reward of adding value and collaborating keeps me happy to stay busy, as well as paving roads to new horizons. I also try to use my time in the winter effectively—in the winter it's much slower than our season in Greece with chartering so I try to stay focused on developing projects then and engaging my creative needs.
I also write freelance for various publications, most recently publishing in Mykonos Confidential and The Ecologist on the film. I tend to plant many seeds, not knowing exactly how they will grow or flower, but there's beauty in the mystery and process!
What grade did you both start at GA?
AL: We are both "Lifers," entering in kindergarten. We are also third generation: our mother Kathy Speece Lefakinis '70, her two brothers (Paul '72, B. French '69), as well as our grandfather (Benton French Speece '29) all attended GA.
Were there any teachers or coaches or administrators that made an impact on you? If so, can you talk about that?
KL: Of course there were. Mr. Stephens in fourth grade was my English teacher and he had so much faith in me and my writing—he pushed me back then to submit my poetry to children's publications and gave me confidence about a tool I had and could develop. He also taught classes in unique ways, which amused us and allowed us to use creative problem solving and engage. Gaby Russomagno was my photography teacher in high school and she became a mentor; she believed in me as a person and creator and made me believe I could use creativity in a real way in life and make a difference. She also gave us a taste of life beyond school, in the "real world" and in the creative world. She spoke to us as equals and adults. Ms. Hench in second grade inspired me with her unique character and Ms. Henry in seventh grade opened me up to Latin American authors. Mr. Buckley was my homeroom teacher in high school and my history teacher and always had a cool approach in handling me, which made me feel I had kin at school. I enjoyed many teachers along the way, including the warm Ms. Finnegan from kindergarten and sweet Mr. Savering from first grade. Mrs. Wexler of course was a favourite as she was "cool" with us. Mr. Probert (English) was excellent as well making us feel seeped in high education and hefty classic literature! He had an excellent manor to teach even if we were boggled much of the time, we felt a part of something grand and saw we had to aim high and delve in. He gave me a hard time, which was nice; often referencing teaching my mother and how she was a better student.
In regards to being an entrepreneur, do you have any advice for GA students?
KL: For me, it was always about how I envisioned living my life and making the appropriate moves to move towards that vision—attaining freedom and living in a way authentic to me. It's important to feel confident in your vision and be moved by your passion, but never to neglect or dismiss the amazing resources available to you such as your educational institutions and those communities. Along the way you will need support so in 'going solo' return to what you've spent the majority of your life doing—learning and creating contacts (colleagues and mentors) and use it for leverage. Always look to those who have had success and suck information and inspiration from them! I was lucky enough to have my father for this and various other mentors. Hold onto those who believe in you, as those voices will echo for years and years to come, fuelling you to continue in your ventures and be bold. Entrepreneurism requires confidence in yourself. More importantly and from the heart, pursue whatever interests you and continually plant seeds and some will grow even without much water. This comes in handy if you don't particularly have one strong vision. I have done this all my life in my relationships with people and also by diversifying my endeavours and it proves to always create new paths and opportunities where before there was nothing. You never know what these seeds will produce so just keep planting them and do your best to attend to them all with a bit of love and attention. Say YES whenever possible—be open to things and people and opportunities will come you can build on.