A.G. Leventis Foundation

Anastasios G. Leventis Biography

Anastasios G. Leventis was born in Cyprus in December 1902, in the Cypriot mountain village of Lemythou, the home of his mother Salome. The earliest records of her family go back to the 18th Century when a young ancestor had travelled to the Peloponnese to join the abortive 1770 uprising against Ottoman rule (known to history as the ‘Orlov’ rebellion) .  During this time they counted among their family members and acquaintances  a number of distinguished clerics who served at the highest levels - metropolitan bishops, patriarchs from the Orthodox churches of Jerusalem and Antioch, as well as from the Church of Cyprus.

Anastasios’ secondary education was at the Mitsis School in Lemythou, founded by an emigrant from the village, who had made his fortune in Egypt and set up a school that specialized in more commercial subjects and foreign languages. At the end of the First World War the young Anastasios, determined to improve his education and prospects, travelled to visit his elder brother, George, who was already based in Egypt. From there he boarded a ship to Marseilles, where he first found work and then completed his commercial education at the ‘Ecole Superieure de Commerce’ in Bordeaux. Through a Marseilles contact, in 1920 he found employment in rural south-eastern Nigeria with an Anglo-Greek (Manchester-based) company.  Two years later, he moved to Abeokuta in the south-west of the country to work for a British company (also based in Manchester), as the manager of their branch.

In the 19th century Abeokuta, capital of Egbaland, was the centre of missionary and educational activity for large part of West Africa and an important cultural and educative centre. The young Anastasios made many friends there that he would retain for most of his life. Fifty years later the Alake (King) of Egbaland conferred on him the honorary Chieftaincy title of Babalaje.

Anastasios G. Leventis was, above all, a dynamic and inspired man of business. By 1928 he was Deputy General Manager οf the G.B. Ollivants company in Nigeria and, in 1929, at the age of 26, was transferred to Accra, capital of the Gold Coast (now Ghana), to take over as general manager of the company’s business there, as well as in the Ivory Coast and Togo. The Gold Coast was the most advanced of the British colonies in West Africa and already had an embryonic system of local self-administration, overseen by a Legislative Council. Anastasios G. Leventis was chosen by the commercial community to represent them on this Legislative Council. He also served as Chairman of the Accra Chamber of Commerce.

In 1936 Anastasios G. Leventis formed his own company, A. G. Leventis & Company Limited, and was joined by George Keralakis, and a little later by his younger brother Christos (Christodoulos) Leventis. The new company, although established at the height of the depression, expanded rapidly, and soon had branches in all parts of the Gold Coast. In 1942 Christodoulos moved to Nigeria to further expand their remit. A. G. Leventis and Company Limited was soon to rival the large, long-established trading companies based in England, France and Switzerland that stood at the heart of the colonial West African economy. This rivalry brought its own problems when, in the immediate post-war period, these older companies formed the Association of West African Merchants to protect their near-monopoly of imports and high profit margins. They fought the fledgling Leventis & Co with all the means at their disposal, using their influence with the colonial authorities. Anastasios G. Leventis, however, fought back with characteristic boldness, winning the battle and emerging much stronger, particularly in the eyes of the Gold Coast public. When resentment of high prices and the incipient nationalist movement brought about the Accra riots of 1948 - the most serious instance of anti-colonial violence in post-war Western Africa - the only large stores not to be burned were those of A. G. Leventis & Company Limited.

Over the quarter- century after the end of the war, the business changed and expanded into a number of new ventures in the manufacturing and technical fields, shifting its focus in the process from Ghana to the much larger Nigerian economy. By the time of A. G Leventis’ death in 1978, it had become one of the largest enterprises - and one of the two largest employers - in Nigeria, and poised to expand into other parts of the world.

Business was by no means Anastasios G. Leventis’ only interest. He had played a leading role in social and philanthropic life in pre-war Gold Coast. He was appointed honorary Consul-General of Greece in Accra and threw himself heart and soul into the war effort, collecting aid for the war-torn community. He also helped with many projects to improve life in the Cypriot villages connected to his family, supporting many students at courses overseas, and helping many in need.

These efforts were intensified in the face of the political turmoil that unfolded in Cyprus in the late 50’s and 60’s, and Anastasios G. Leventis aided his newly independent homeland in a number of ways. President Makarios, with whom he had collaborated to found the main old people’s home in Nicosia, made use of Anastasios’ political expertise at several meetings of the United Nations General Assembly and, in 1966, appointed him Cyprus’ first Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, in recognition of his support for education and the cultural heritage of Cyprus.

Anastasios G. Leventis had been particularly active in supporting the Department of Antiquities’ restoration of two important Byzantine monuments and in helping the Cyprus Government project the image of its cultural and artistic heritage abroad. He himself was very interested in the arts and built up a notable collection of French and European paintings in Paris. In Athens he acquired the important first collection of Evangelos Averoff, champion of Greek art and artists of the early 19th to the mid 20th century.

The 1974 invasion of Cyprus imposed a particular burden on Anastasios G. Leventis.  Not only was his own home village, Petra, occupied by the Turkish army, with the loss of the cultural centre and family church he himself had built , but he had to deal, at UNESCO, with the overwhelming problem of the invaders’ destruction of Cypriot cultural heritage. He gave what help he could to repatriate treasures stolen and smuggled abroad, but above all, it was the needs of the injured and the refugees that he did his best to help alleviate. The great pressures of the time were certainly to blame for his last serious illness at the end of 1976. Anastasios G. Leventis died in October 1978 having provided for the establishment of a Foundation to support educational, cultural, artistic and philanthropic causes in Cyprus, Greece and elsewhere.

©2012, A. G. Leventis Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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