Archive | April, 2014

From parochial partnerships to public ownership

23 Apr

Reference: Aitken Spence Coffee Table Book, Published 2012

The beginnings of Aitken Spence merge into the history of British Colonial Ceylon. Many dates are given, but for the purpose of a starting point, we have set the date at 1830, which takes us back to a business entity called Wilson & Archer, the parent company of Clark Spence, established in Galle that year. It was on September 1, 1868 that Clark & Spence entered into a formal partnership as merchants and commission agents in Galle. As this Company progressed in it’s trading, it expanded its base. Some history pages tell us that in 1871 it made an agreement with another Company whose partners were E. C. Britton and Edward Aitken. Over the next two years, the ownership of
the Company changed gradually, and soon it came to be known as Aitken Spence & Company. The recorded date of this entity’s official beginning is New Year’s Day, 1873.

The Company’s primary business at this stage was the export of gems, plumbago, hides, sapanwood, ebony, coffee, arrack, coconuts, coconut oil, coir yarn, coir rope, bristle fibre, citronella oil and the import of rice from Burma and
coal for ship bunkers. Business consisted very largely of the chartering of ships to carry these commodities.

P.W.G. Spence is said to have been a man of immense energy and great business acumen. He was constantly seeking new opportunities for the Company. In the early months of 1871, he went on an extensive tour of the UK, seeking
business contacts that would help push this fledgling Company ahead. On April 5, 1876, he recorded his firm’s appointment as sole agent of the prestigious Lloyd’s of London.

But agencies were not all the Company was looking for; P. W. G. Spence and Edward Aitken believed that good partnerships were what made a sound base for their business.

Looking at the Company’s early history and its partners, there are many names attached to it, such as W. B. Patterson, G. W. Suhren, A. S. Berwick and A. P. Waldock, amongst others. It is clear that from its inception the Company was constantly seeking new partnerships and reinventing its business culture, making bold decisions that made it stand out from the crowd. It is this spirit that has carried on through time in every partnership Aitken Spence entered into.

Aitken Spence became a private Company in 1952 and at that time the ownership model was for the directors of the Company to hold shares. The understanding at that time was, a shareholder leaving the Company had to sell
his shares to the remaining directors. This understanding was backed by provisions made in the Articles of Association.

With a Socialist government ruling Sri Lanka in 1972, the Company in a further diversification of its ownership, began a new practice. Shares when they become available were offered on par to executives, leading to the gradual
broad basing of Aitken Spence. The Company’s share capital increased over the years through regular bonus issues.

What was important to note during this period was that board directors did not buy a single share. They were all sold on par to executives, which established a bond between the upper levels of the Company and the executive staff, creating a sense of ownership all around.

In 1983, another significant change in ownership took place with Aitken Spence becoming a quoted company on the Colombo Stock Exchange.



The Partnering Spirit

22 Apr

Reference:  Aitken Spence Coffee Table Book, Published 2012

This is a story about strength of belief, trusted partnership, and a passion to excel.
It all began in the 19th Century, when two Scottish gentlemen shook hands on an agreement that sealed a partnership, forming the beginnings of Aitken Spence. Over the years,the Company has steadily evolved into a vast conglomerate with a reach into almost every sector of the Sri Lankan economy.

What began on the docks of port town, Galle on the southern tip of the British colony Ceylon, was the first small step of a long successful journey. The significance of these two Scottish men from different clans working out a business arrangement together, far away from home, has had a lasting impact on the ethos of Aitken Spence. To this day the company believes in the spirit of making long term partnerships and honouring them.

The handshake made in trust all those years ago has become the hallmark of how Aitken Spence does business to this day; mutual trust and commitment is carried through every partnership the Company enters into.

The strength of the Group’s partnerships lies foremost in the best practices itemploys in every sector of its operations. For Aitken Spence, sustainability and good governance are core values in driving business. Layer on layer, the Company’s management structure is designed and tailor-made to fit the diverse sectors it operates within.

Apart from its business counterparts, Aitken Spence considers its employees the Company’s greatest partners. With a workforce that operates from tea estates to factory floors of garment industries and a large executive cadre; Aitken Spence adheres to internally accepted corporate accountability standards. This includes for human rights; equal opportunity irrespective of gender, race or religion; freedom of association; and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.

The Group rigidly complies with ILO conventions on the employment of persons, which eliminates all forms of forced or compulsory labour, and strictly ensures that no employees below the minimum legal age are offered employment. These policies are not merely looked at as the letter of the law; they are an embodiment of the Aitken Spence culture.

The heart of the Group’s existence is in the partnerships it makes, be it in travel, cargo, power, hospitality, plantations or with governments. Over three centuries, Aitken Spence has grown into an entity that manages a vast landscape of diverse business, making partnerships and joint ventures, which are winning formulas for companies across the globe.


Aitken Spence facilitates MS Europa call on three ports in Sri Lanka

9 Apr

The luxury cruise ship MS Europa, owned by German operator Hapag-Lloyd Kreuzfahrten, called at the Ports of Trincomalee, Galle and Colombo recently with a total of 355 passengers and 280 crew on board. Aitken Spence Maritime is the local agent for Hapag-Lloyd, considered one of the largest container shipping lines in the world.

MS Europa, has been awarded the rating of 5-stars-plus for the fourteenth time in a row by the Berlitz Cruise Guide, is said to be designed as an “all outside concept”. Adorned with a 204 passenger suites, the cruise is considered as one of the most spacious cruise ships on the market and is intended for the luxury cruise segment of the German speaking market. Every year the MS Europa sets sail on its journey around the world to visit ports that are unreachable by other ships due to its size.
“Hapag-Lloyd Kreuzfahrten has decided to have more frequent callers to Trincomalee, Galle and Colombo and have included the Port of Hambantota in their schedule for 2015/16. We intend in selecting Sri Lanka Ports for our start and end voyages, where the passengers will embark and disembark in Sri Lanka” said Lalith Witanachchi, General Manager of Hapag-Lloyd Lanka.
Hapag-Lloyd’s local agents Aitken Spence Maritime pioneers in the industry and are the first in Sri Lanka to undertake port efficiency enhancement management overseas with its entry into the African continent and then the South Pacific Islands. The Company handles all areas of maritime services – from ship agents and cargo handlers, to liner agency, cruise vessel, port management and development, chartering services and maritime education. With the Group’s involvement in the leisure industry, the company is able to offer comprehensive synergised services to cruise operators.

On MS Europa’s voyage to Sri Lanka, the cruise ship called at the Port of Trincomalee and Galle prior to her calling at the Port of Colombo on the 7th of April 2014. To commemorate her inaugural call a ceremony was held onboard at the Trincomalee port where the staff Captain Alexander Sokacic of MS Europa was handed a plaque by the officials of Hapag-Lloyd Lanka – Mr. Lalith Witanachchi and Mr. Chathura Nissanka. From Sri Lanka Ports Authority Mr. K. Nanathilake – Residence Manager Trincomalee Port also attended the ceremony to mark this commemorative occasion. [Ends]


(L-R) Ms Syblle Hardegen -MS Europa, Chathura Nissanka – Hapag Lloyd Lanka, Lalith Witanachchi – Hapag Lloyd Lanka, Capt. Alexander Sokacic – Staff Capt. MS Europa), K. Nanathilake – Residence Manager Sri Lanka Ports Authority Trincomalee