Historic Bibby Line, Founded in 1807, Survives to Today

Bibby Line advertisementLIVERPOOL – The Bibby Line Group, a British logistics, shipping and finance company, is one of the surviving early shipping lines.

The company was founded in 1807 as a shipping company, by the first John Bibby (1775–1840) and it survives to this in altered form, but essential in the same space.

It is still led by a member of the Bibby family, an astonishing record of corporate continuity and service to the United Kingdom.

The company, originally Bibby Bros & Co., has a storied history through its fast mail steamers to India and Ceylon. It has outlasted the P&O company as an independent shipper, as P&O is now just a brand of Carnival and the P&O ports were lost as a British institution.

The success over generations points up a few lessons that other companies can heed if they wish to survive over multiple generations and lifetimes:

  1. Original Name: If your first company was founded generations ago, companies should keep their 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Have children. This seems obvious, but it is not. When people do not have children, the legacy will not live on. Those children must also be brought up in the company. There is another thing that people will not say today. Have lots of children.
  5. Keep company continuity. That many long-time shipping lines have evaporated is a tragedy. 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.

About the Author

  • Garland Pollard is publisher/editor of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website BrandlandUSA.com has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands. He has decades of experience across all media, including newspapers, TV, radio, magazines and the web.

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