Monday, September 14, 2015

German shipping magnate: Albert Ballin

Albert Ballin was born on August 15, 1857, the son of Jewish immigrants from Denmark. He was born poor, but through his keen intelligence and flair for business was able to work his way up the ladder and become chairman of the steamship company.

He had gotten onto the shipping business through his family. His father ran a modest shipping agency, Morris & Co., and his business was to ensure that emigrants got from Europe to America to start new lives for themselves.

Albert Ballin took over the business in 1875. In the course of expansion, Ballin joined forces with English Carr Line, which provided new ships to carry the ever-swelling numbers of emigrants that Ballin’s company handled.

Ambitious and erudite, Ballin went to England as a teenager to learn the shipping business from the bottom up. He returned to Germany in 1883, aged 26 and then served three years as general passenger agent in Hamburg for the Carr Line.

His competitive selling ability was so great that he cut deeply into the business of the Hamburg-based lines and in 1886, was lured away to head the passenger service of Germany’s oldest transatlantic steamship company, the Hamburg-Amerika Packetfahrt.

Always elegantly dressed and elegantly mannered, Ballin believed that Hamburg-Amerika ships should be equally elegant and mannered. He traveled frequently on his ships, moving among the passengers, asking their opinions, always keeping an eye opened for flaws and lapses in service, making notes that would be transformed onto memorandums when he returned to his office.

Rising to Director General of HAPAG after 1889, Ballin built that line into the world’s largest shipping company, and with it built the port of Hamburg into Germany’s second largest city. The HAPAG offered competitive prices and efficient service both in a passenger travel and freight and soon took over the lead that British steamship companies had monopolized for decades.

By 1913 there were 175 ships in the line with a combined tonnage of 12.3 million. Ballin brought about the American-German shipping agreement of 1912 and became the Kaiser’s consultant on economic affairs.

Ballin committed suicide in Hamburg in 1918 two days before the end of World War I.
German shipping magnate: Albert Ballin 

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