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Happy 18th Birthday Spinnaker

TURNING eighteen is a major milestone for anyone and an emotional moment for parents.

Spinnaker celebrates its 18th birthday in October. Like any teenager, it is unrecognisable from the wrinkly baby that was two ex lawyers in a spare bedroom with a shared phone and a laptop back in 1997.

It is hard to imagine now, especially for real eighteen-year olds, just how much the world has changed since then.

As a junior solicitor at Ince & Co who could touch type, I felt that it would be efficient to have my own computer rather than to rely on dictating everything. There were so few computers in the office then though, that I had to write a business case to support my request. That's right kids. Oh, and only the lucky few had mobile phones.

Leaving the law to start up a new business with our CEO Steve Cox, recently qualified from Bar School as a mature student after a first career in banking, meant buying my first mobile phone at the age of 28 and a computer and fax machine with heat-sensitive paper. Plug it in, switch it on, connect to the Internet for the first time (ber-ding-ber-ding) and …proclaim it all hype and a storm in a teacup. No Google. No Facebook. Ask Jeeves. Ask who? Jeeves. Well, in 1997 he couldn't tell us much.

Instead, recruitment was still largely about newspaper advertising, but as the internet grew in importance so the effectiveness of newspaper advertising decreased, such that it has gone from being the major part of our marketing budget to non-existent.

As fresh-faced entrepreneurs, Spinnaker's two founders (now not so fresh-faced) were at the cutting edge. A website (, does what it says on the tin) by Easter 1998 said that we meant business and were a modern company. And email!

Trouble was, only a few others had it and so much of what we did was still by fax. We would stack up CVs to the end of the day and then feed them laboriously through the fax machine in the evenings.
Social media? Not yet. Promotion was initially by leaflet at London Underground stations. Our first recruitment fee was paid by Zodiac who recruited our 65th candidate. A far cry from the world we live in today, where everyone accesses the internet and social media from their always-on mobile devices.

Another major change specific to shipping has been the introduction of HR professionals. During Spinnaker's early years HR was "personnel" and was admin, hiring and firing. Now, HR plays a much more strategic role and is responsible for developing and training people (who, after all, are supposedly our most important assets) and benchmarking their salaries to ensure fair and competitive pay.

Spinnaker was established without any external funding. We made ends meet by writing the weekly law page for Lloyds List, when it was still a newspaper, and by practising law on the side as the UK office of our good friends Elias Marine Consultants in Cyprus.

One day saw us handing out fliers in the early morning, commencing an arbitration at lunchtime and filing 3000 words of copy in the evening. It was fun. And we never worked Friday afternoons. They were spent in the local wine bar.

We soon moved from the home office to one above a pub, then in 2006 to our own brand new offices and then in 2013 to our current offices, where nearly 50 people now beaver away everyday.

The eighteen-year old Spinnaker is grown up. Like any teenager it has accomplished a lot and still has a long way to go. It has wrestled with its personality and insecurities over the years but always stayed resolute to the notion that the way to achieve repeat business is to behave ethically and with respect for confidentiality.

We now have three quite distinct businesses. Teresa Peacock is Managing Director of two recruitment businesses – an executive search business that has recruited many shipping CEOs, CFOs and Secretary Generals, and a contingency recruitment business that has filled jobs in more than 60 countries – that go by the mission statement ‘Tenacious Recruitment with Integrity’. Karen Waltham is Managing Director of Spinnaker's HR Consulting division, whose mission, ‘Valuing People Professionally’, reflects its roots as the founder of the Maritime HR Association, now a major industry body with almost 100 members that benchmarks the salaries of shipping professionals globally.

Spinnaker Consulting became Spinnaker Global in a re-branding exercise in 2014 intended to demonstrate our international track record and capabilities. We have resisted the temptation to open international offices and spread ourselves too thinly, preferring instead to maintain our culture and quality with everyone in one place. This may change given the size if the business today but Spinnaker has always operated globally and is as busy in Asia, the Middle East and now America, as it is in Europe.

As with any business operating in and servicing shipping, Spinnaker Global has 'enjoyed' a roller coaster ride since freight rates crashed in September 2008. Somehow, we have always been profitable, even in 2009(!) and we have continued to grow. 2015 has been an odd year with market sentiment all over the place. We really did enjoy our best ever quarter, but this was offset by other very average quarters and higher-than-average staff turnover at the beginning of the year.

And so the eighteen-year old Spinnaker continues to test us just like any teenager would but we are very proud of it. We like to think that if your son or daughter brought Spinnaker home as their partner, you'd be pleased with their choice; well brought-up, well-mannered …marriage material. We have big plans for Spinnaker in the next year or two as we send it out into the world as an adult.

So, thank you to all of you who have supported us over the years and continue to do so. We are still recruiting – and now providing external HR support – to clients we worked for back in ‘97 and '98 when Spinnaker was still in short trousers. Without you, we'd be looking for jobs ourselves!

Spinnaker Global: ‘Making Shipping Work Better’.

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