Hapag-Lloyd is in high spirits. Last week, the shipping line celebrated its 175th birthday with a series of events which will be continued through to October, each with different focuses.
So far, the highlight has been a reception at Hamburg City Hall, where Mayor Peter Tschenscher welcomed CEO Rolf Habben Jansen and Supervisory Board Chairman Michael Behrendt together with
selected Hons. They not only celebrated the anniversary, but also the shipping company's economic successes, from which shareholder Hamburg (13.9%) benefits directly through dividend payments
amounting to €860 million for fiscal 2021.
Head of Communications, Nils Haupt, his colleague, Tim Seifert, and the other members of Hapag-Lloyd's media department have all had an extremely tough time these days. One event followed the
next, invitations had to be prepared, speeches written, press releases distributed, and appointments coordinated. Indeed, hard and exhausting work for the entire team, from early morning to late
evening. Yet, they only have a short breather, now, because the marathon of events continues on until October. For example, with a big party at the harbor honoring the company’s staff, followed
by an ‘open day’ and similar festive activities.
Judging from reactions, the first anniversary week’s events pleased the board members, were applauded by the shareholders, and made the vast majority of the worldwide 14,000 employees proud of being a member of this company: one of the most traditional, well-known, and renowned in the global maritime cosmos.
In almost all speeches - and there were many - the focus was on the eventful history of the company. This began on 27 May 1847, when various shipowners and some traders founded the Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft (Hapag), in their hometown, Hamburg. Although sea freight was the backbone of the business, the company engaged very early on in passenger transport, triggered by millions of emigrants who left Europe to seek their fortune in the USA or Canada. Famine, political or religious prosecution, or unemployment drove them out of their native countries. It was a huge human wave, growing year after year, until WW1 broke out.
Ballin - the greatest of all Hapag leaders
Among the many outstanding figures who led the shipping line, one name in particular stands out: Albert Ballin. He started his Hapag career from scratch, selling tickets to emigrants wanting to leave Europe to seek their fortunes overseas. Ballin’s congenial sales qualities were soon noticed by the top management which offered him the job as General Manager in 1899. Just a couple of years later, he presented the shareholders with a twelvefold increase in capital, coupled with a stark expansion of the sea freight business. It was Ballin who succeeded in putting Hapag on top of the global shipping industry, including in passenger traffic. In contrast to competitors, he decided that Hapag had to treat each traveler as a human being, not like cattle crammed together on the decks of the vessels. Word of that got around. Soon, those who wanted to emigrate no longer went to competitor, Norddeutscher Lloyd, in Bremen, but started their transatlantic journey on board a Hapag liner in Hamburg.
The decline was followed by a rapid recovery
Then came the two World Wars and, with them, a break in the shipping line’s development. After its recovery in the 1950s and ‘60s, it merged with its long-time rival, Norddeutscher Lloyd, in 1970, and has since been known worldwide under its twin name, Hapag-Lloyd. Further acquisitions followed, such as those of Canadian Pacific (2005), CSAV (2014), UASC (2017), NileDutch (2021), and the intended incorporation of the container liner business of DAL (2022). Today, Hapag-Lloyd is the fifth-largest container liner in the world, operating 248 vessels with a capacity of 1,8 million TEU.
“Our anniversary fills us with great pride,” said Rolf Habben Jansen, CEO of Hapag-Lloyd AG, kicking off the festivity weeks. “As with many long-established companies, our history has also been characterized by constant change and innovation. Hapag, which initially sailed the Atlantic with just a single sailing ship beginning in 1848, has today become a renowned and internationally active logistics company serving almost all of the world’s major ports.”
See you in 25 years!
And the history of this economically successful shipping company, bursting with strength, innovation, and self-confidence, seems to be far from over, even 175 years after its foundation. On the contrary!
After all, the next big anniversary, the 200th, will follow in just two and a half decades. With the long history of the company in mind, this is almost like next month. Then Hapag-Lloyd's headquarters in downtown Hamburg will once again become a magnet for hons, shareholders, employees, visitors, and the media. Located at Ballindamm 25, the avenue in the heart of the city named in honor of the congenial former Hapag Director, Albert Ballin.
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