Identity Narratives of Danish Maersk Captains - Negotiating Self and Company Loyalty in the Age of Containerization

The Danish shipping company Maersk Line, part of A.P. Moller Maersk, has since 1973 been at the forefront of the containerization of international shipping. In the process it became the world’s largest container company and transitioned into a transnational corporation. Existing literature writes this history by focusing on the strategic decisions and business development of the company. What is missing is an in-depth exploration of how the transformation of the company affected the identity of the seafarers who experienced it from the ships. The paper offers an answer to this question by deploying an oral history methodology and a narrative interpretive framework. The paper thus answers the call for a deeper engagement with cultural historical research in business history and furthers the renewed conversation between business history and oral history. Through the analysis of in-depth, life-history, interviews with five Danish Maersk captains - selected from a larger group of oral history interviews conducted for my PhD - the paper shows how the captains struggle to narrate a coherent identity narrative as they negotiate their sense-of-self as autonomous seafarers with their loyalty and belonging to the company. Some of them align themselves with the core values of the company as being personally innovative, effective and entrepreneurial, while others feel displaced by the transformation of the company and use ghostly stories of the former CEO, Maersk McKinney Moller, in a sense-making process, arguing how they as seafarers represent the true core of the company. The paper offers an argument for the contribution of oral history to business history as a method uniquely suited to i.) bringing in untold perspectives, ii.) linking the personal experience with great historical transformations, iii.) investigating matters of identity construction and uses-of-the-past.