LIVERPOOL – We recently ran across a press release from the American unit of Bibby Line Group, a British logistics, shipping and finance company. It reminded us. The company was founded in 1807 as a shipping company, and it survives to this day.
The company has a storied history; it has outlasted the P&O company as an independent shipper (P&O is now just a brand of Carnival). But it also points up a few lessons that other companies need to heed:
- Original Name: If your first company was founded a long time ago, you should keep an original name, even if it has little to do with your original mission. Bibby has expanded its company into finance, oil rigs, logistics and even convenience stores, but it keeps its old name. The old name gives customers, employees, the government and stockholders a sense of confidence that not only has the company been around, but it has a NAME to live up to.
- Companies Evolve: The traditional theory of management is that you need to have all your brands COMPLETELY consistent, with certain meanings. But that is not always true. If your name is Bibby, whatever you do BECOMES Bibby, and so you morph the brand into what you need it to be. This example is evidenced by situations like Norwich Union, which know-it-all smarties “improved” it into made up name Aviva. The name Aviva means nothing to people; Norwich Union does. Customers are smarter than people think, and they will follow a company as it evolves. They will not follow made up names. While sometimes they can be useful and fun, mostly they are artificial, fake, and a symptom of what is wrong with capitalism.
- Do keep part of your original mission. While Bibby has expanded into new areas, it still keeps its headquarters in the city where it was founded. It is a rooted company. This happens even when your industry, shipping, has moved away from British dominance. But even still, they are leaders in shipping.
- Keep company continuity. That many long-time shipping lines have evaporated is a tragedy. Of course, we will still get our goods from overseas. But what has been lost is a sense of family stewardship of companies that outlast wars, governments and revolutions. If your company business has declined, sell or remake the UNIT of the company that is not working, and keep your company name around. What is most important is the continuity of the business entity.