November 9, 2018, a memorable day: WW 1 was officially over, the once mighty German Kaiser abdicated, becoming a flower grower in the Netherlands. The German economy lay in ashes,
including the commercial shipping industry.
It was the day when the long-time and legendary HAPAG General Director Albert Ballin decided to put an end to his life.
Characters like him are missed in today’s world of arbitrariness
Last week, Hapag-Lloyd commemorated Albert Ballin, who died one hundred years ago on November 9, 1918 in desperation of the indescribable damages and grievances caused by the war. Being a long-time war opponent and peace supporter himself, he chose suicide as a final way out.
In memoriam of this exceptional person and visionary shipping line director, numerous events were held in Ballin's native city of Hamburg: a series of discussions and lectures on globalization tendencies in the past and in present times, a senate reception in the city town hall, numerous musical performances and a visit to Ballin’s grave at Hamburg’s huge cemetery Ohlsdorfer Friedhof.
All in all, it was a dignified celebration of a man who shaped the maritime industry like no other from 1896 when he became general director of HAPAG until his tragic death 22 years after.
An extraordinary person
Originating from poor circumstances, he worked his way up step by step, becoming the best-known and meanwhile legendary chairman in the long history of the 1847 founded Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Aktien-Gesellschaft (HAPAG), the forerunner of 1970 founded Hapag-Lloyd AG.
Under Ballin’s tenure the shipping line grew steadily, taking first place in the final decade of the 19th century and defending that position until the outbreak of World War 1. The reward for this was the renaming of one of the city’s most prominent streets in Ballindamm, where Hapag-Lloyd’s HQ is located even today.
Remembrance ceremony with first-rate program
Today’s contemporaries might ask, what made this gentleman so unforgettable and unique. So outstanding that a century after his passing away Hapag-Lloyd commemorates and honors his life and role as shipping line commander, organizing many different events spanning an entire week.
According to H-L’s corporate communications director, Nils Haupt, it was mainly four fields of economic and social activities that have to be deeply associated with his name:
He believed in and actively promoted them building of very large and extremely fast sailing commercial vessels to outpace competitors on naval routes between Europe and North America. This resulted in HAPAG becoming the world’s leading shipping line at the end of the 1890s, defending this position until WW 1.
Giving emigrants shelter
Under his leadership the legendary Ballin-Stadt (Ballin Town) was erected on the shores of the Elbe River in Hamburg: a solid brick-built complex that accommodated hundreds of thousands of emigrants over weeks or even months. People that were determined to leave Europe behind by boarding a ship in Hamburg harbor, to start a new life in the USA or Canada. HAPAG made a fortune on them because it was their vessels that transported almost all of these migrants across the North Atlantic. This exodus of “human capital” led to the fact that even today about 20 percent of U.S. citizens with European background are of German descent. Meanwhile, Ballin-Stadt is declared as a historical monument, constantly attracting many Americans in search of their forefather’s roots.
Thirdly, it was Ballin that invented cruise holidays as new business segment next to maritime shipping, this way attracting new target groups with high purchasing power. Today, this has developed into a global multibillion-euro business.
Putting PR on the table
Finally, HAPAG and its former director Albert Ballin felt very early the need for active corporate communication, implementing some features very early, such as advertising, pursuing active PR programs, lobbying, and targeted media work.
Entrepreneurial social responsibility (today: CSR communication) was part of this offensive communications strategy.
Believer in merits caused by globalization
But, above all, Ballin was a true cosmopolitan, supporting free trade, and opposing nationalism. His trailblazing motto was: “Die Welt ist mein Feld” – “the world is my field.”
Time and again, the Hamburg-born son of a Jewish emigrant from Denmark warned of a looming big war. Unfortunately, not very many listened to him. Nor did the Emperor, with whom he was friends with over many years.