Our Story - Transcript

Every journey starts with the first step.

Our journey spanning two-hundred years, six continents, five industry sectors, and countless like-minded individuals, began in Liverpool in 1816. Very young John Swire established a small import-export business focussed on textile between the UK and US. With enthusiasm, imagination and integrity, his sons John Samuel and William, expanded the business further. John Samuel took the company to Australia, exporting a range of goods from sardines and cement to Guinness.

As the outbreak of the American Civil War disrupted cotton imports from the US, John Samuel sailed to Shanghai and formed a new company called Butterfield & Swire in 1866, so beginning Swire’s enduring commitment to China.

Initially trading in tea, silk and cotton, Butterfield & Swire also became the agent for a number of leading insurance and shipping companies, including the UK’s Blue Funnel Line. In keeping with local tradition, John Samuel chose a Chinese name – “Taikoo”, meaning “Great and Ancient” for the company. Taikoo would become a household name in Greater China.

Seizing the opportunity presented by the river trade along the Yangtze river, Swire set up its own shipping business with the establishment of The China Navigation Company in 1872, running paddle steamers up and down the Yangtze.

As the shipping business grew, Swire ventured into sugar refinery and ship repairing, giving rise to Taikoo Sugar Refinery and Taikoo Dockyard in Hong Kong.

World War II brought devastation in its path and very nearly destroyed Swire. By 1945, much of Swire’s buildings, factories and vessels were reduced to nothing. However, driven by resilient spirit and a strong commitment to the region, Swire rose to the post-war challenge and rebuilt its businesses. In its days, Swire was one of Hong Kong’s biggest and most progressive employers, providing staff housing, a hospital, recreational facilities and a school for employees’ children that exists to this date.

John Samuel’s grandson John “Jock” Kidston Swire recognised that air transport was the key to the future. With engineering skills forged in the dockyard business, he developed an aircraft maintenance company, which today as HAECO, is one of the world’s leaders in its field.

In 1948, Swire took to the skies itself, buying the controlling interest of fledgling airlines – Cathay Pacific Airways. Under Swire’s management, Cathay Pacific has become a globally acclaimed international airline.

Taikoo Sugar Refinery and Taikoo Dockyard left their sites in Hong Kong in early 1970s, releasing a large area of land right for the development at the eastern end of Hong Kong Island. This prompted the establishment of Swire Properties and inherited a new era of Swire as a leading property developer, creating premium mixed-use development across Hong Kong, China and US.

Through the years we have adapted, involved and innovated to capture the amazing opportunities in shipping, sugar, aircraft engineering, airlines, properties, beverages, food distribution, tea trading, cold storage, road haulage, car trading, wholesale and retail, offshore support and renewable energy.

Our geographical reach has evolved in growth through strategic expansion, Swire is now a highly diversified global group with principal areas of operations in Asia Pacific. We are centered in the Greater China region with a century’s long commitment. Our businesses have been shaped by our people that foresight expertise and dedication. We continue to nurture and develop these remarkable individuals. We pride ourselves of being original and forward looking and in setting standard for operational excellence whatever we do businesses. As we journey towards our third century, new challenges and opportunities will inevitably arise. Just as we have impacted in the past, we look forward to shaping the future.