It was surely the largest party in Finland that night. A sea of 1,200 flocked to the Helsinki cruise terminal on May 15 to celebrate Finnlines’ 70th birthday.
Suppliers, partners, crew and office staff, both former and current, packed the cargo deck of the Star Class vessel Finnmaid to renew acquaintances and exchange anecdotes about the Company and the Finnish maritime industry.
The collective memory of those present pre-dated containerisation. Certain former employees, born in the 1930s, even remember steamships. Complex, changing shareholdings make company lineages more difficult to map that family trees, but those with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the local industry believe Finnlines to be the heir to the Finland Steamship Company, founded in the late 19th century.
On video screens lining the walls of the Finnmaid’s cargo deck, images of vessels from decades past – the Finnamer, the Finnsailor, the Finnjet – scrolled by party-goers who had flown in from Germany, Sweden, Russia, Italy, UK, Netherlands, and Belgium, to mention a few. The black and white photographs revealed a master concealing a sneaky cigarette in one hand as he showed guests around his bridge; passengers lapping up the sun on board one of the only Finnlines cruiseships; Antarctic penguins marvelling at the arrival of a Finnlines expedition support vessel.
The spread was luxurious, but party-goers had more to smile about than simply the Lingonberry mousse or the white chocolate crumble dessert. This was a celebration of a job well done. Finnlines has overcome the nosedive in traffic with Russia to celebrate record profits and today operates a wholly-owned fleet of environmentally-friendly ships, all of them ice-class. The carrier, now 100% in the hands of the Grimaldi Group, has become a magnet for potential service providers and logistics partners. They used the party to network. “We are keen to work more with Finnlines, to discover the requirements of the fleet,” said Rami Savolahti, a sales manager with Sweden-based marine galley specialists Loipart.
Five short years ago, few if any of these party-goers would have believed Finnlines was set to celebrate in such style. Indeed, management at that time was focused on avoiding bankruptcy, on simply surviving. If it were not for the deep pockets of the Grimaldi Group, which injected tens of millions of Euros and completely re-organised the Company, Finnlines might not have made its 70th birthday at all.
These dark days were little talked about on May 15, though some managers have not forgotten. “Finnlines went through difficult times after the 2009 crisis, but the brand remains. We kept our dignity,” said Staffan Herlin, Head of Group Marketing, Sales and Customer Service, who joined the company in the 1980s.
The change in ownership is the biggest news of the past decade. The diffuse ownership that came with a stock exchange listing has been replaced, and a de-listed Finnlines is now part of the Naples-based Italian shipping dynasty, a Group itself celebrating 70 years of trading. Underlining this change, the three key shareholders, chief executive Emanuele Grimaldi, his elder brother Gianluca and brother-in-law Diego Pacella, all came to Helsinki. As in many Italian, family-run enterprises, profits are re-invested in the company. Party-goers talked that this is a sign of the family’s long-term commitment.
As part of a worldwide network, Finnlines is shipping cargo from northeast Europe to the Gulf of Mexico, Africa and the Middle East on a single bill of lading. In the past it was a regional player; now it is part of global a team, contributing a healthy share of the Group’s bottom line. “Deepsea operations have had a difficult start to the year as rates in the container industry were very low,” Gianluca told . “But you can be sure that if I am covering my costs, my competitors are losing money. As for the shortsea services and Finnlines, they are still doing well.”
Well indeed: two days after the party, Finnlines reported profits up 35% over 2016, which was already a record year.