Dynasties of the Sea

Bookshelf: Dynasties of the Sea

Dynasties of the Sea – Lori Ann LaRocco

Dynasties of the Sea
Dynasties of the Sea

Global shipping magnates tend to have a few things in common. One is that a strong familial tradition exists, with sons and grandsons taking over the business from their fathers and grandfathers. Further, as described by Rose George in Deep Sea and Foreign Goingher book on the shipping industry, the major shipping companies have turnover comparable to that of Microsoft, but are somehow almost unknown and unrecognised commercial enterprises. The combination of great dynastic wealth and understated power seems to characterise many of the key players in the global shipping industry.

Dynasties of the Sea is a series of interviews with shipping titans and shipping financiers. The list of interviewees is largely male with the exception of Kristin Holth, head of shipping at DNB Bank. This gender bias is likely at least partly due to the tendency of family dynasties to pass control of the business from firstborn son to firstborn son.

It’s not easy to make an interview format work in book form; the best efforts I have seen are Jack Schwager’s Market Wizards series about stock market traders and investment managers. One of the challenges is to record a conversation that will have relevance for some time after the interview. Shipping markets are highly cyclical – violently so – and unfortunately many of the remarks recorded in Dynasties of the Sea are specific to the time and market conditions when the interviews were conducted. Another challenge is to write up an interview as prose, and make it sound varied and interesting (“he said… he replied… he answered… he chortled… he snorted…”). This book fails that test.

If anything, the book works best as a superficial meditation on power. Everyone profiled in the book is able to command massive assets with a wave of a hand, and some interesting psychological insights can be gleaned from how they perceive themselves and the origins of their success. It could also be read as an object lesson on how everyone thinks they are a contrarian, “buying when others are selling” and vice versa. Really?

I am busy reading Maritime Economics by Martin Stopford, which is fabulous but long, and a far more comprehensive and theoretically complete introduction to the shipping world. At 819 pages, however, it may be too big a mouthful for some, in which case this book might be a candidate for a short, easy to follow introduction to some of the issues of global shipping.

You can get a copy of the book here or here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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