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Helping the town of Svendborg

From his very early years, the founder of the A.P. Moller Group, A.P. Møller, was consistent in letters and speeches about his life and business ambitions; your actions should benefit the country and society as such.

This consistency forms ‘the spirit of A.P. Møller’; the business should be developed over time to have a positive impact on society while being kept well consolidated financially. Profits were important to continue the growth of the enterprise, whereas dividends were secondary.

The A.P. Moller Group has developed from a one-ship steamship company to a group of enterprises with global reach, and the following is part of that story.

The start-up: a new steamship company

A.P. Møller’s father, captain Peter Mærsk Møller, had made the entrepreneurial move from sail to steam in 1886 when he acquired the small steam ship LAURA. During the next 12 years, the captain ploughed the waters of the Baltic and the North Sea to support his family before leaving the bridge to his eldest son.

Then Peter Mærsk Møller focused on motivating more investments in steam rather than sail, and from 1900 A.P. Møller joined his father’s efforts resulting in the formation of the Steamship Company Svendborg in 1904 – the forerunner of today’s A.P. Moller – Maersk.

Being useful in the societal context was core for father and son; in the planning phase for the Steamship Company Svendborg (est. 1904), A.P. Møller expressed that

…the attempt to form a steamship company for Svendborg undoubtedly will be a benefit for the town…”.

For the founders, the emphasis was not on creating a business activity with only an inward, profit focus. Rather, the broader perspective was to encourage the shipping community in Svendborg, up until then a prominent sailing ship town, to change their view on the potential of steamships; to be forward-looking and to prepare for new times.

Housing for employees

Competition for labour was a factor when A.P. Møller established the Odense Steel Shipyard in 1918. To motivate welders and other skilled labour to move to Odense, A.P. Møller immediately initiated building houses and apartments near the shipyard. Along with a savings scheme, A.P. Møller’s idea was to provide affordable housing for interested staff, but not to make a profit on the rent – as expressed in a letter from 1942:

“[the housing programme] is not an ordinary financial transaction, but a social effort to help [the workers] in getting their own homes and instigate savings, which would be positive for both themselves and the country…”

The shipyard was located away from the Odense town centre. Eventually, the new housing area was included in the municipality. When a new shipyard was established as a green field project some 12 km east of Odense in 1959, A.P. Møller built a new town adjacent. The small village of Munkebo of about 400 people grew to a planned, modern town of 4,500 in less than 10 years.