With the sea being at the heart of Gibraltar’s identity and commercial endeavours, it’s no surprise that the jurisdiction’s biggest and most successful firm is a historic, family-run entity in the maritime sphere – one now expanding into a veritable empire.
Gibraltar’s largest corporation, Gibunco Group, is active in shipping, bunkering, marine engineering, real estate and property development. Its annual turnover exceeds $3 billion, and its offices are spread around the world. Nevertheless, the family-owned company still sticks to the same core values of customer service, trust and reliability that fostered its initial success in the 1960s.
Led by native Gibraltarian John Bassadone, Gibunco started off in underwater engineering and ship maintenance, expanding into fuel conservation and vessel efficiency. In the 1980s, Gibunco diversified again, following the government’s call for more affordable housing. Gibunco’s property development subsidiary, the Montagu Group, arose from this building experience. In more recent years, Montagu has reinvented Gibraltar’s public spaces through works like the seafront and harbour-side projects. This ingenious land reclamation project saw over 30 hectares of territory reclaimed from the sea and developed. The Montagu Group has also built over 2,000 apartments since 2005 alone.
One of the Group’s flagship enterprises for over 40 years has been the Gibunco Ship Agency. The Rock’s largest ship agency, it’s now also active in the nearby ports of Ceuta and Algeciras. Handling over 2,000 ships annually, Gibunco Ship Agency is also the region’s largest such firm. Its activities are complemented by those of Maritime (Gibraltar) Ltd, 50-percent owned by the Gibunco Group. Its barges deliver over 1.5 million metric tonnes of bunker fuels annually. Maritime also owns and operates tugboats that provide ship services to the commercial port and naval base, as well as deliveries to ships passing through the strait. Similarly, Gibunco’s Pooltide Ltd subsidiary supports the Group’s maritime and engineering work with its own fleet of tugs and industrial barges.
“In 1996, Gibunco Group reached another milestone when it launched a subsidiary, Peninsula Petroleum”Tweet This
In 1996, Gibunco Group reached another milestone when it launched a subsidiary, Peninsula Petroleum. Led by John A. Bassadone, the son of the Group’s founder, Peninsula brought Gibunco into the exciting world of commercial petroleum, soon creating networks and partnerships across the world.
In keeping with the Gibunco Group’s historic sense of sober and solid growth, Peninsula is run with an eye on the long haul. For example, the company has as a rule avoided proprietary trading on the oil markets; instead, all prices are hedged, reducing the effect of market price fluctuations on the business. “It’s very tempting for some businesses to deviate from their model to make a quick buck, but there is risk in that,” notes Peninsula’s managing director. “One of the key things for our company is that we’re in no rush. We know that we have a good product and a big potential to grow.”
Bassadone Jr has every reason to be confident: Peninsula enjoys annual sales as a trading firm in excess of six million metric tonnes, and runs offices in Europe, Latin America, the Gulf and East Asia. The company’s meteoric rise has been built on the success of its core business, still highly prized today: its role as a supplier of bunkers and lubricants at the port of Gibraltar. It has since added these services at ports in Ceuta, the Canary Islands and Panama.
Although Gibunco’s areas of operation have widened over the years, there’s always been a confident common approach to how the family works. Commenting on the secret to Gibunco’s enduring success, John Bassadone Sr. is refreshingly concise: “We like to do what we can do best.”
“We like to do what we can do best”
John Bassadone Chairman of Gibunco GroupTweet This
Gibunco through the generations
In 1965, Gibunco was just a humble family affair. Its steady growth since then exemplifies Gibraltarians’ entrepreneurial streak – and their historic faith in family-run business.
Gibunco began life as a little underwater engineering company that also did a bit of ship repair. Then only 15, John Bassadone was dispatched to chip barnacles off tanker hulls by his father, the company’s founder. In those early days, the goal was to quite literally keep the boat afloat – for both the company and for the creaky craft they serviced. Indeed, grappling with crustaceans stuck to old rustbuckets would not exactly seem an auspicious start for young John.
However, the Bassadones’ tenacity soon paid off. With some money saved up, John went looking for hydraulic brushes and other “proper equipment” for hull cleaning. The big catch was Exxon’s submerged cleaning and maintenance platform (SCAMP). The equipment improved Gibunco’s core capacities, and also gave them new access to the oil world after Exxon agreed to sell them the system. By teaming up with Seaward Marine, a firm started by retired US Navy personnel, Bassadone was able to go global with the platform, which remains a core business to this day.
Peninsula Petroleum, set up in 1996, is overseen by John’s son, John A. Bassadone. An avid yacht racer, he has always been passionate about the sea and maritime commerce. And, even though Gibunco was firmly established when he started at Peninsula, the younger Bassadone shared his father’s competitive drive to succeed, despite the odds. Indeed, listening to him speak of Peninsula’s early challenges sounds very similar to his father’s own recollections of Gibunco’s first tentative steps. “When you’re very small and you start from zero, you have to find that niche to compete with the big guys,” he says.
The Gibunco Group and Gibraltar have developed together; if there is one thing the company’s patriotic patriarch is more proud of than his business achievements, it is Gibraltar itself. Now he is seeking to pass the spirit of local pride down to the larger Gibraltar family. In March 2015, as part of the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations, Gibunco donated to local schools several copies of Gibraltar history books, written by retired government official and distinguished historian Richard Garcia.
The senior Bassadone’s formidable achievements have not gone unnoticed; in fact, his lifetime of service to the Rock was recognised in June 2015 with an OBE. For the former barnacle scraper, the news was so surreal that he even forgot to inform his family. “I got this call eight weeks before the Queen’s birthday,” John Bassadone cracks, “and I didn’t even tell my wife.”