Case Study: Spencer Barton-Hope, General Manager, Bibby Line Ltd

From the army to a shipowner. Meet Spencer Barton-Hope, General Manager at Liverpool’s Bibby Line Ltd

Spencer Barton-Hope is the Liverpool-based point of contact for Bibby Line Ltd, and the commercial manager for the company’s dry bulk fleet (a dry bulk cargo is a cargo that is shipped in large un-packaged amounts like coal, iron ore or grain).

Bibby Line Limited is the ship owning division of Bibby Line Group; a diverse, £1 billion global business which was established more than 200 years ago in Liverpool.

Spencer explains that the company, Bibby Line Limited, was originally was a traditional deep sea shipping company, but in the 1970s diversified into Finance and Transport and Logistics.  There are still two maritime divisions, Bibby Line Limited (BLL) which remains the traditional deep sea ship owners and Bibby Marine Limited (BML) with its own coastal (floating accommodation) fleet and shallow water survey company.  Amongst other things, BML provides floating ‘walk to work’ accommodation for offshore installations, where high quality floating accommodation is connected via an escalator to the rig site, all in the deep sea.  The Bibby Line Group now operates in over 20 countries, employs 6,500 people and covers retail, finance, distribution, shipping, marine based businesses and plant hire.

Spencer is part of a small specialist team, based in Liverpool, his route to the job he’s now in, was unusual as he’s not an ex-seafarer, he was actually a serving army officer in the Royal Logistics Corp. But in that role, he specialized in port and maritime operations, completing an intensive course to qualify as a bridge watch keeper on army heavy landing craft.  He was then in charge of heavy landing craft, tank transporting and was the operations officer of a port squadron.

Nothing phases seafarers, if there’s a problem everyone focuses on solving it – not on apportioning blame

When he left the army, he joined Bentley, as their transport manager, but he found he was far more interested in marine transport and when he spotted an opportunity with Bibby’s, he jumped at it, and that was 13 years ago.

In his current role he has oversight of all the dry bulk fleet operations, he manages the dry bulk cargo chartering, managing one bulk carrier – the Supramax Shropshire – and has some involvement in the chartering of the fleet’s tanker.

The Shropshire is a 56,811 DWT geared Supramax bulk carrier cargo vessel. The ship trades worldwide and has five cargo holds with a combined capacity of 71,600 cubic metres.  It is also equipped with four cranes and cargo grabs which allow the ship to discharge cargo in ports with few facilities.  Meanwhile, the tanker is based in Singapore, and mainly sails between Asia and Australia

Spencer says almost every day in his job is different and that he’s never had the same problem twice.  Every day is a new challenge and a new situation, it can be tough finding the right cargo for the ships, particularly the tanker, but the technical aspects of the role are very interesting.  One day he can be looking into a technical problem on the vessel, the next he’s working with the accounts dept on the OPEX (operational expenses) figures – it’s very varied.

Asked if he would recommend the sector, he says he definitely appreciates the culture and attitude of most seafarers, describing it as being very similar to soldiers, they share the same dry sense of humour and banter.  Nothing phases them, if there’s a problem everyone focuses on solving it not on apportioning blame.  Spencer says that his route to his job was not the norm, but his Managing Director has taken a more structured route, joining Bibby Line as a cadet, qualifying, sailing in the fleet for many years and working his way up.  But having said that, Spencer hopes to continue working with Bibby and in the sector, and he feels that he has developed many transferable skills.

Spencer started his career by joining the Army after a short career in retail management and he served eight years with the forces before embarking on his civilian career.  Since then he has also completed Haulage qualifications (CPC National and International), successfully done an MBA while working and spent three years doing the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers (ICS) qualifications, it’s only been the last four years that he hasn’t been studying for something! He’s also been the Liverpool Branch Chairman of the ICS and rates his learning and experience gained through the professional body highly.

Click here to download further information about a career in the UK maritime sector.