Back to 1980s

A Sterling Start

Sterling had first joined the P&O board in 1980 at the behest of Sir Andrew Crichton, then chairman of OCL.

Unlike his predecessors, Sterling was a strictly finance and property man and just what the now diversified P&O needed. Having successfully dismissed his contemporary, Nigel Broakes, at Trafalgar House, Sterling set about integrating P&O with the assets and operations Sterling Guarantee Trust, which included Town & City Properties and a number of new service industries from security to catering and exhibitions.

The acquisition of the European Ferries Group brought further property assets as far afield as the US, port interests in Felixstowe and Larne and the fleet and operations of Townsend Thoresen. Swan Hellenic and Sitmar were added to the growing cruises fleet together with a number of tour and leisure interests acquired by Princess Cruises.

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Down under, P&O Australia’s increasingly diverse operations expanded to Malaysia, with the Company’s first international container terminal, and Antarctica where P&O won a contract to supply the Australian Antarctic Division in 1988.

Sterling’s style was to encourage entrepreneurial, de-centralised management. He restructured the company into its core activities; container and bulk shipping, passenger shipping, house building construction and development, investment properties and service industries, whilst pruning out non-performing sectors.

By the end of the decade P&O was listed on the stock markets of Sydney, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. As a global Company it was larger and more diverse than ever, with 64,000 employees and a pride and service ethic uniting them all:

'The most valuable asset any company can ever have it the loyalty and the goodwill of the men and women who work for it and I believe the without doubt that we have this in abundance.'

Lord Sterling, writing in 1987

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