The Grindrod Story

Going back in time: 2010
Note: Scroll over bold words for images and captions
One hundred years ago, Captain John Edward Grindrod started Grindrod & Company, a clearing and forwarding agency and marine surveying business. Twelve years later he and Mr Leon Renaud purchased the 150 ton steamer 'Frontier' as she lay disabled on the Durban breakwater. Refloated and re-equipped she began trading to Port St Johns and East London carrying sugar, oil, timber, hides and wool and occasionally livestock. Their company, The SS Frontier Company was the predecessor of the founding company of Unicorn Shipping and the Grindrod group.

Nine years later Renaud, a leading Durban legal counsel, learned through the legal network of an old pilgrim ship, the 'Halal', which was lying in Aden pending sale by auction. Purchasing her for £9 355 under the name African Coasters (Pty) Ltd, he renamed the 430-tonne ship 'Cecile Mapleson', his wife's maiden name, and with Grindrod & Company as ships agents began trading between Durban and Lourenço Marques (now Maputo).

On the death of Captain John Grindrod in 1930, his son Walter Grindrod, born in Britain in 1903, took over the management of Grindrod & Company and as such became a very active protagonist of the coasting industry. An interest that was amplified in 1931 when he became an alternate director on the board of SS Frontier Company.

When Leon Renaud died in 1934 his son Cecil joined the board of SS Frontier Company, rekindling with Walter Grindrod the business partnership their fathers had enjoyed. Within three years they had consolidated the operations of the SS Frontier Company and African Coasters.

The Second World War interrupted their hard work as both men joined the armed forces, but immediately on their return they set about expanding their fleet, a program led by Walter Grindrod, who became managing director of African Coasters in 1946.

Steeped in shipping from dinner–table discussions and a family life that revolved around the small vessels trading out of Durban, Murray Grindrod son of Walter Grindrod joined Grindrod in 1957. In his job he learnt the trade from the wharf side, becoming involved in the hiring of personnel, stevedoring and general ships husbandry. He also took every opportunity to study the operation of the ships at sea, which gave him a personal grasp of the trade and an affinity with the people aboard. In 1960 he was appointed alternate director to his father.

Plotting the course for Grindrod
With the limited volumes of coastal cargoes being spread among three players and African Coasters needing an urgent injection of capital to replace their ageing fleet, it was Murray Grindrod who persuaded his father and Cecil Renaud to seek finance elsewhere. Indeed, it was the team that he led that secured funding from Union Corporation, thus paving the way for the modernisation of the fleet, the subsequent merger with Smith’s Coasters in 1966 to form Unicorn Shipping Lines and the acquisition of Thesen’s Steamship Company from Safmarine in the same year. The Unicorn brand has since been synonymous with local shipping.

Under Murray Grindrod’s leadership as Managing Director, Unicorn pioneered a fully cellular container service in 1971.

Grindrod lists on the JSE
A personal sense of achievement for Murray Grindrod followed the acquisition of the majority shareholding from Union Corporation’s successor, Gencor, in 1986 and then the listing of the group in the same year.

Mike Groves was appointed Managing Director of the newly listed Grindrod Unicorn group and a number of years later Ivan Clark became the group’s Chief Operating Officer, a move that culminated in his appointment as Managing Director in July 1999.

Growth Story
A highlight of 1999 was the successful acquisition of Safmarine’s 40% interest in Unicorn Lines (Pty) Limited (which later changed its name to Unicorn Shipping (Pty) Limited) held by the Restis group of Greece.

The Grindrod Unicorn Group Limited changed its name to Grindrod Limited, incorporating a new brand and logo, under the dynamic leadership of Ivan Clark and a new executive team together with a general rationalisation of structures, the group acquired several key companies in rapid succession including Island View Shipping. The shipping fleet was increased at a low point in the market, land-based activities were expanded, trading businesses acquired as well as the full shareholding in Grindrod Bank.

Grindrod today lists numerous proud achievements, including being named the top listed shipping company in the world in 2004 and 2005 and as the top listed company in South Africa for 2004 and 2005. In 2009, the group received the accolade as the number one JSE listed company over 10 years.

At the end of 2006 and after nearly 30 years’ service, Ivan Clark retired as Chief Executive Officer and was appointed Deputy Chairman and subsequently Chairman when Murray Grindrod retired after 21 years as Chairman and 50 years with the group. Alan Olivier was appointed Ivan Clark’s successor as Chief Executive Officer and has recently had to steer the group through tough economic times.

Investing in the future – charting new horizons
Grindrod has committed employees, a strong balance sheet, limited debt, good liquidity, a low cost fleet and diversified freight and logistics operations. The Grindrod group is poised for future growth in all its divisions and looks forward to “Charting New Horizons” with all its stakeholders.

Click on "Timeline" on the left hand side to view the Grindrod Timeline.


January 1, 1910

Captain John Grindrod establishes a clearing and forwarding agency that would grow into a company with a current annual turnover of R10.2 billion and total assets of R36.5 billion.


January 1, 1922

John Grindrod and Leon Renaud buy a 150- tonne steamship.


January 1, 1933

The company is appointed as ships agent for African Coasters, established by Leon Renaud.


January 1, 1966

African Coasters merges with Thesen’s Steamship Company to form Unicorn Lines. Today, Unicorn Shipping operates 13 owned and long-term chartered medium-range, small-products tankers, with one medium-range product tanker on order.


January 1, 1971

The company pioneers containerisation in the country and establishes the first container depot and service. Today, Grindrod terminals in Maputo, Richards Bay, Durban and Walvis Bay have combined annual throughput capacities of 18.7 million tonnes dry bulk and 120 000 vehicles.


January 1, 1986

The company lists its shares on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange through a newly established holding company, Grindrod Unicorn Group Limited, known as Grincor. At 31 December 2015 the company’s market capitalisation was in excess of R8.6 billion.


January 1, 1999

The company purchases dry-bulk charterer Island View Shipping. Today, Island View operates and commercially manages 24.2 owned and long-term chartered handysize, supramax and capesize dry-bulk carriers, with one handysize and five supramax fuel‑ and emissions-friendly carriers on order.


January 1, 2001

The company changes its name to Grindrod Limited.


January 1, 2003

The company’s initial investment in the Richards Bay dry-bulk terminals becomes operational. Today, these terminals have a 6.1 million tonnes capacity.


January 1, 2005

Grindrod acquires Marriott Corporate Property Bank, which today trades as Grindrod Bank and Grindrod Asset Management Services, with total assets under management of R15.7 billion and a contribution to group profit of R165 million.


January 1, 2007

The company invests in the Maputo Port Development Company. Today, the port manages a throughput of 16 million tonnes a year. Grindrod investments in dry-bulk and car terminals at the port add significant value to the company’s logistics offering.


January 1, 2009

Grindrod re-enters the rail sector, which now offers a full suite of rail services, from locomotive manufacturing and line operations to track construction through interests located in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Congo Brazzaville, the DRC, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Mauritius.


January 1, 2011

Grindrod enters into a R2 billion equity raising transaction with Remgro Limited to support the group’s strategic development of capital projects in Southern Africa.


January 1, 2014

The company streamlines its freight and logistics services offering by closing its Trading division. It gears for infrastructure expansion, mainly into the African continent, through a R4.0 billion capital raise, which included a R1.6 billion B-BBEE consortium transaction, to fund planned investments of R10.0 billion.


January 1, 2016

Projects targeting diversification gain traction, but major long-term projects are not initiated due to depressed commodity markets.


January 1, 2017

The company restructures its Terminals and Logistics businesses due to prolonged weak commodity markets and closes the Rail manufacturing and assembly businesses.


January 1, 2018

Grindrod spins off the Shipping division. Grindrod Shipping lists separately on the Nasdaq and the JSE.