Stolt-Nielsen started life as the vision of one man from a small town in Norway and grew to become the global organisation and world leader that it is today.
Our founder Jacob Stolt-Nielsen's drive, passion and insistence on excellence remain the lifeblood of our company to this day.
Jacob Stolt-Nielsen: entrepreneur, innovator and visionary
Over the course of an extraordinary career spanning more than half a century, Jacob Stolt-Nielsen built four companies that led the way in dynamic and emerging industries. He invented the modern parcel tanker, built a leading offshore services company and pioneered the aquaculture industry. Thanks to his vision, perseverance and leadership, Stolt-Nielsen continues to provide world-leading services today.
1931 – 1954
Born in 1931 in Haugesund, Norway, into the family of a third-generation shipowner, Jacob showed his potential as both an entrepreneur and natural salesman early. As a boy, he collected herring that fell to the docks as the fishing boats were unloading and sold them door to door. And during the war, he made lead soldiers and negotiated with a local merchant to sell them as children’s Christmas toys.
By the time he was in commercial school, Jacob had a more ambitious scheme for filling a niche market: the design, manufacture, sale and distribution of kitchen exhaust fans. He recognised that his mother needed one, especially when herring was on the menu. After finding nothing available, Jacob took his ideas to a tinsmith who fabricated a fan. All his mother’s friends quickly placed orders and Jacob soon had a workshop and payroll of eight.
Though his parents worried that he was not interested in the family shipping business, Jacob’s vision was clear. Watching the ships and boats from his bedroom window overlooking the harbour at Haugesund, he knew he would someday become a shipowner...just like his father and both grandfathers. But he would need to go abroad to do it.
1954 – 1959
Jacob began his career in shipping at age 23 in London. He quickly realised that, in the tanker business, the potential for profit was far greater in shipping chemical solvents and vegetable oils than crude oil. He also recognised that New York City, not London, was the centre of that market.
In 1954, Jacob arrived in New York, but opportunities were scarce. Through persistence, he was finally given a phone and a desk, but no salary. It wasn’t much, but it was far better than what he had been doing: riding the subway to the beach to spend the day eating carrots and French bread and reading newspapers salvaged from the trash!
Being a successful entrepreneur is about having the right idea, in the right place, at the right time. Jacob found himself in New York at precisely the moment that the petrochemical industry was beginning to boom.
But the ships of the day were simply not up to the task. Piping to the tanks ran horizontally along the bottom of the ship and tended to leak, especially at the bulkheads. A better solution was needed.
Jacob hit upon it while reading an article in Life magazine that talked about the use of submersible pumps to draw water up from deep beneath the desert in the American West. The same principle, Jacob saw, could be used to discharge the tanks on a ship.
The M/T Freddy (pictured) was the ship on which Jacob realised his vision. No plans, no nautical designers or engineers were hired, and no contract was signed with a shipyard. Jacob alone, 24 years old, pointed and explained and the yard did the work, while two partners provided financing.
Under Jacob’s supervision, the Freddy’s old pipes, fittings and pumps were wrenched out and a new system installed. It worked. The M/T Freddy was 13,500 tonnes of leak-proof compartments accessed via 16 deep-well submersible pumps. The ship was an immediate success and proved profitable far beyond expectations, earning Jacob the nickname ‘Jackpot Nielsen.’
Jacob proved he was as skilled at business as he was at building tankers. Negotiating with a prominent Norwegian shipbroker, and despite his own limited funds, Jacob came out on the majority end of a 60/40 deal. His first ship was christened Stolt Avance, inspired by the name of his grandfather’s first ship.
1959 – 1971
Jacob was a hands-on shipowner, who could often be found chipping rust and cleaning tanks alongside his employees, and he earned a reputation as fair and caring.
Ten years after starting the business with two other employees and the Stolt Avance, the company had grown to 11 owned ships, 21 on time charter and 150 employees. And Jacob became a one-man technical department, overseeing construction of the industry’s first purpose-built parcel tankers, which became the model for new international safety regulations.
Today, Stolt Tankers operates a fleet of more than 150 sophisticated parcel tankers, providing safe, reliable and high-quality global transportation services for bulk-liquid chemicals, edible oils, acids and clean petroleum products. Its fleet is seamlessly integrated with Stolt Tankers’ deep-sea ﬂeets in Europe, Asia and the Caribbean; with coastal ﬂeets in Asia; and with inland barging services in Europe and the US.
1971 – 2000
In 1971, Jacob acquired his first bulk-liquid storage terminal, paving the way for what is now Stolthaven Terminals. His vision was of an integrated tanker/terminal service that increased berth efficiency and reduced ship turnaround times.
Today, Stolthaven Terminals operates a global network of 15 owned and joint-venture state-of-the-art bulk-liquid terminals around the world, with a total storage capacity of 4.9 million cbm.
The discovery of oil in the North Sea rekindled Jacob’s entrepreneurial spirit. He moved quickly to capitalise on the opportunities, developing his own fleet of supply and support ships, helicopter companies, drilling rigs and an offshore base.
In 1973, he created Stolt-Nielsen Seaway A/S (pictured) to provide innovative diving services to the offshore oil and gas industry in the North Sea. This operation later evolved into Stolt Offshore, a billion-dollar company, which was divested in 2005 and is now part of Subsea 7.
Jacob – who was no stranger to the fisheries industry, having run the family herring business in Haugesund when he was 18 – also started to develop Stolt Sea Farm in the early 1970s. Soon after, the business pioneered the development of biologically challenging species – sole, turbot, and sturgeon for caviar – as well as salmon. SSF is today a leader in high-tech aquaculture, and its innovative land-based farms and RAS technology are recognised for their environmental friendliness.
In 1982, with Stolt Tankers, Stolthaven Terminals and Stolt Sea Farm all operating successfully, Jacob founded Stolt Tank Containers (STC), a transportation mode that was in its infancy and which he saw as a natural complement to the Stolt Tankers business.
Today, STC is the world’s largest provider of door-to-door transportation services for bulk-liquid chemicals and food-grade products.
2000 – 2015
Over the course of his career, Jacob received recognition from many organisations:
- Commodore Award, Connecticut Maritime Association (CMA), 1991
- the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce (NACC) Achievement Award
- inaugurated by Babson College, Massachusetts, as a member of the Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs, 1993
- Image Award, Louisiana Chapter of NACC, 2001
- inducted into the International Maritime Hall of Fame, 2002
- recognised by the Philippines Government with their Outstanding Shipping Executive Award for his contribution to the introduction of Filipino seafarers to the chemical tanker trade, 2006
- an honorary Doctor of Maritime Science degree, John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University, Philippines, in recognition of his experience and pioneering achievements in international shipping, 2008.
On December 1, 2000, Jacob handed the day-to-day leadership of the Company to his son, Niels G. Stolt-Nielsen, who was appointed Chief Executive Officer. Jacob remained Chairman of the Board, and his sons – Niels and Jacob B. Stolt-Nielsen – serve as directors.
On December 15, 2009, 50 years to the day after he founded the Company in 1959, Jacob stepped down as Chairman of the Stolt-Nielsen Board of Directors but remained a director.
In announcing his decision, he said: “It has been my privilege to lead this Company and its people for the last 50 years. I step down as Chairman with sadness, but at the same time with an extraordinary sense of satisfaction and confidence, knowing that Mr. Olsson as Chairman, and Niels G. Stolt-Nielsen, the Chief Executive Officer, and his management team will continue to capably run the Company going forward. I anticipate this transition with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that SNSA is in good hands and in good order.”
Five years later, on December 15, 2014, Jacob Stolt-Nielsen retired from the SNL Board of Directors, formally concluding his career at the Company, 55 years to the day that he founded it. He continued as Honorary Chairman until he passed away on February 15, 2015.
Information taken from ‘Jacob Stolt-Nielsen, an entrepreneur’ by Kristian Ilner, available at www.norli.no