Athens — Athen's Golden Age flowed from "springs of silver" -- the rich mineral veins dug near Lavrion in the 5th century BC which financed an intellectual flowering never seen again.
Today Greek mining companies are trying to create pockets of wealth from the land's inheritance. Historians might look back on this Greek era as the "lignite age," or the "cement age," or even the "bauxite age."
Bauxite, as well as a few other important minerals, fall under the rein of Kitty P. Kyriacopoulos, one of Greece's few women who run large companies.
As chairman of the Eliopoulos-Kyriacopoulos Group, she maintains that Greece's underground wealth owes much to the private sector. That kind of statement is meant to counteract the policy of Pasok, the opposition political party, which vows to bring about state control of minerals if it wins the Oct. 18 national election.
Pasok or not, Mrs. Kyriacopoulos this year doubled the investment in her profit-making Bauxites Parnase Mining Company, the largest of her three-company group, mining 70 percent of Greek bauxite (base material for aluminum). Active prospecting also began for gold, lead, lead, zinc, chrome, molybdenum, copper, and nickel in northern Greece. and plans are being set for a $600 million alumina plant.
Such tenaciousness is not new to this family-run business. Mrs. Kyriacopoulos's grandfather first stumbled on a bauxite deposit over 50 year ago when the bought a poor iron mine. Even though the government took over the land after World War II, the family bid and won it back in 1954. And in the 1960s, the company proved right in claiming that enough bauxite existed to justify a large aluminum plant.
Jumping government hurdles is a major part of the job, says Mrs. Kyriacopoulos, who took over the company in 1970 "as an amateur" to keep it from being sold. Her husband handles government relations, while she controls exports as well as management of the firm's 2,000 employees, which are spread out from northern Greece to the Aegean island of Milos."She works two to three more hours a day than I do," says her husband, Paraskevas Kyriacopoulos, "and she is a very good seller."
Her well-appointed, Tudor-paneled office in downtown Athens contains a 20 -button telephone, a bookshelf filled with an encyclopedia, and a picture of her son, who, having finished education in Britain and France and a stint at American Express International, is expected to take over the family business soon.
Mrs. Kyriacopoulos, who holds a physics degree from Mount Holyoke College in the United States, has had obstacles to surmount in the latest government environment restrictions on open-pit mining. The effect is a costly shift to underground mining, which leaves 20 percent of a deposit behind and requires special worker training in a sun-kissed country without a strong tradition in subterranean work. The company has had to advertise for Greeks now working in European mines.
The company produces 2 of the 3 million tons of bauxite mined in Greece each year, making it the largest private bauxite producer in the European Community. Even though Greek bauxite is of high quality, it requires special treatment. Thus, Europe prefers Australian or Jamaican imports. Romania, the USSR, and other Greek compa nies ramain the enterprise's main customers. The Greek government is now searching for a Mideast country -- perhaps Iraq -- that would build an aluminum smelter especially suited to Greek buaxite. Despite the firm's success, however, Mrs. Kyriacopoulos looks forward to handling the company over to her son. She comments: "If a woman really wants to run a business in Greece, she can. But it has required a sacrifice of family life."