Merger sees shipping firm set sail towards exciting future

A Cory Brothers employee on board a container ship

All Cory Brothers employees will be retained as a result of the merger with Vertom - Credit: Mike Bowden

As it enters its 180th year, Ipswich-based shipping company Cory Brothers is embarking on one of the most significant moves of its already-impressive history.  

A merger with fellow shipping specialist and long-time partner, Vertom, will see the company become the largest shipping agent in Europe, with a presence at key ports across the continent. The newly-formed group will be known as VertomCory – but will continue to trade as Cory Brothers in the UK – with its global headquarters remaining in Suffolk.  

Although it may sound like a big change, the merger has been several years in the making, explains Peter Wilson, group managing director of Cory Brothers.  

“We’ve worked with Vertom in a partnership agreement for about a decade,” he says. “The relationship was built with myself and the MD of Vertom, although at the time neither of us were MDs of our business. We’ve nurtured that relationship, and in recent years have had some smaller joint-venture businesses.” 

While there are obvious commercial benefits to the deal for both Cory Brothers and Netherlands- based Vertom, the close friendship established across the North Sea is ultimately what clinched it.  

Peter alludes to a framed photo of Vertom’s lead vessel, Anita, which was sent to him as a gift in April 2021 and now hangs on the wall in his office. Anita was also the name of Peter’s sister who he sadly lost in 2019. He’d noticed the ship’s name when carrying out due diligence for the merger and mentioned it briefly during a video call with Vertom – months before receiving the gift.  

“There’s a lot of business rationale to this, but there’s a lot of heart to it as well," says Peter.  

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It’s no surprise, therefore, that both companies put their people front and centre. Indeed, in an industry where every company broadly does the same thing – moving goods safely across the world – complementing this expertise with a genuinely personal service makes all the difference. And that’s certainly proved the case for Cory Brothers, not to mention its new partner.  

“Both businesses have a very strong ethos of people first,” says Peter. “Vertom through its seafarers but also its service staff based in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Antwerp. With us, we’re a service industry, so it’s all about what the people do for the customer.”

Container ships docked at the Port of Felixstowe

The merger with Dutch company Vertom will see Cory Brothers become the largest shipping agent in Europe - Credit: Mike Bowden

All Cory Brothers employees will be retained as a result of the merger, and the company made sure to look after its staff when the pandemic struck in March 2020. This, along with the opportunities it gives people to develop both as colleagues and individuals, saw Cory Brothers named as a finalist in the Employer of the Year category at last year’s Suffolk Business Awards.  

Peter, who was awarded Business Person of the Year, now has his sights set on winning Employer of the Year in 2022. "It was a huge privilege to win the Business Person of the Year award, especially after a tough couple of years, but I was gutted we didn’t win Employer of the Year because I wanted it to be for the team,” he says. “It’s not about ‘Peter Wilson Inc.’ – it's about Cory Brothers.”  

He gives the example of Cory Brothers’ head of HR – who will be moving up to join the newly-formed PLC – as a demonstration of how people can progress within the company. That's not to mention the opportunities that new and existing employees will have to travel overseas, whether that’s to Vertom’s offices in the Netherlands and the Baltics, or Cory Brothers’ bases in Singapore and the USA. “It's all these things that are going to make you an employer of choice,” he says. 

Cory Brothers moved its headquarters from Felixstowe to Cutler Street in Ipswich in 2019 – close to the town’s other big employers, AXA and Willis. For Peter, the local reputation of Cory Brothers is more important than its size.  

“We don't have to be the biggest business in Ipswich,” he says. “But if you walk through Ipswich right now, it’s our logo that's on the T shirts, the jackets, the hoodies, the bobble hats, and on the brollies when it rains.”  

Giving back to the community is also central to the way Cory Brothers does business – and this has been the case since its roots as a shipbroker and coal exporter based in Cardiff. “If you look at Cardiff, there are statues of John Cory in the parks, and the family home has been turned into a school for children with autism,” says Peter. “That moral compass hasn’t changed – we are trying to have the same ethos as the Cory family.”  

Peter Wilson, group managing director of Cory Brothers, won Business Person of the Year at the Suffolk Business Awards 2021

Peter Wilson, group managing director of Cory Brothers, was named Business Person of the Year at the Suffolk Business Awards 2021 - Credit: Mike Bowden

Beyond his role at Cory Brothers, Peter also sits on the board of networking group Suffolk Business Women and children’s charity Home-Start in Suffolk. While demonstrating the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR), both roles also have personal significance for Peter. His sister was a successful business person in her own right, as well as a trustee of Home-Start in Essex. "I've had some fantastic bosses, but the one person that I'm truly inspired by is my sister,” he says. “She’s a prime example of how gender shouldn’t be an issue – she went out and owned everything she did.” 

As a strong believer in equal treatment and opportunities for all, Peter is encouraged by the breadth of people from different backgrounds who have joined Cory Brothers over the past two years – even though the company hasn't set any specific targets. "It's really nice to see because it feels like people are comfortable working with us, whatever background they come from,” he says. “They hopefully feel they are treated equally by us, which may not be the case for them outside of work.” 

More broadly, however, Peter thinks the shipping industry as a whole could do more to attract people from all walks of life. “We have to do something about making our industry a bit sexier, a bit more interesting and a bit more desirable,” he says. “And if we can play a small part in doing that, then great.”  

In the immediate term, it’s full steam ahead with an exciting new chapter for Cory Brothers – which is already eyeing up further acquisitions and growth in partnership with Vertom. “I can categorically say this is the biggest thing to have happened for Cory Brothers in the past 50 years,” says Peter.

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