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It is an Award for everyone who works in Kestrel Liner Agencies and I am sure they are equally proud to be recognised in this way


A company which has been given a Queen’s Award for enterprise in international trade has been built up to a multi-million pound shipping business by a man who reflects the true flavour of enterprise having started out as a runner in a shipping yard when his job as an apprenticeship toolmaker lost its appeal.

Andy Thorne, the managing director of Kestrel Liner Agencies ( has developed his business from scratch by having a sharp eye for what makes a business work and by demonstrating a real commitment to personal customer service worldwide.

At the age of 11, having been taught to sail by his step-father who had sailed round the world twice, Andy was a proficient sailor and skippered his first boat into Ostend harbour.

He left school at 16 with no real qualifications and his mother lined him up for an apprenticeship as a toolmaker but after four months he left and headed for the job centres. His first break came with a job as junior freight forwarder – they wanted someone who understood ships and shipping and who was willing to travel.

His job was to sort the paperwork for the Customs office and he discovered that what should be a simple one day process was stretched over three days. He soon worked out that offering to run a few errands for the men processing the paperwork might speed up the whole process. Within three weeks he had managed to short circuit the paperwork process to one day – to the delight of his boss.

Andy took every available opportunity and before long he was learning about cargo handling, how to load ships and how to measure cargo.
“I would spend hours in the port watching and learning. It was exciting every day and I was taught by people who had been doing it for years and this was at a time before computers were involved. Knowing the basics like how to handle cargo gives you an edge and it is something that has served me well over the years,” Andy explained.

In 1982 Andy did his first trip to the Caribbean, helping with vessel discharging and port operations and two years later he was working for a major north Atlantic carrier.

He was headhunted by Canadian Pacific and then through a chance discussion with his MD he was given a chance to go out on the road selling at 24 when most people were not allowed out until they were 30.

Within 12 months he was the top sales rep in the UK and the company decided to spin off their liner agency business into a new business called Quadrant and Andy met his future business partner Mark Pattison at that business.

In l997 after working all hours and being disappointed by promised bonuses which did not materialise, Andy and Mark saw an opportunity and decided to start their own company. In three weeks they prepared a business plan for a new line which was entering Europe for trade with South America.

Andy had always been known to many in his home county of Essex as ‘the bird man’ as he was a falconer and this link gave the name of ‘Kestrel’ to the new company which started in a portacabin in a container yard in Barking.

“It was a scary time as we started out but we rang customers and people were prepared to back us and we delivered our first customer charter which stated we would man our ‘phones 24 hours a day, seven days a week – something we still do today.

“By l994 we had grown to having new offices and had developed a reputation not just for shipping but also for our worldwide knowledge built up from first hand experience. We would get calls for the currency rates in Chile, the best hotels in Lima and other questions about South America,” Andy explained.

They were shipping some 400 containers to the Caribbean in l998 they were approached by a US company to be their agent in the UK with Kestrel taking over the staff based in the UK.

By 2002 Kestrel were producing some £6 million in revenues for the US company and their reputation for excellence in terms of moving cargo in the Caribbean grew. Business was won on this expertise and Guinness awarded them all their Caribbean business and United Distillers followed with more household names then joining the client list.

“The most important thing about the Caribbean is that it is difficult to get to a small and remote island with big ships – you do need specialists who can deliver on time and that is what we gave our customers,” Andy said.

But their world was tuned upside down when one of the market giants then turned its attention on Kestrel and attacked them through lower rates and many other cost-cutting deals. But the competitors soon realised that working in that area was not quite so simple as two way trade does not work in the Caribbean. In most shipping you take a load and bring one back but the islands in that part of the world they produce very little and so the whole journey has to be paid for the by one-way load going to the islands.

In the meantime Kestrel had been busy building up other areas of the business with a West African service, moving oil and gas and linking up with places such as Aberdeen and Great Yarmouth and the company established a base in Miami.

By 2003 the world was changing and people wanted other commodities moved across oceans – they wanted wines from Australia and New Zealand and also China was beginning to export more and more. Andy saw the changes and swiftly set about developing a global business by visiting every market around the world and selected agents to sell the Kestrel brand.

“We were actually overwhelmed by our initial success and we came close to failure. Our systems crashed with overload, our staff were at breaking point and we were getting overbooked in every direction. I flew to Miami and actually stopped the staff from taking bookings. I went to customers who wanted 50 containers moved that week and said I could do 20 and little by little we turned things around,” Andy said.

“I knew the weekly commute to Miami was not a realistic long term solution and so I asked a great member of my team, Gary Aspinall to work on the US operation with me. He accepted the role and in fact is living out there full time.” Andy added.

Since that time the business has grown with an office opened in Aberdeen, Miami has a team of 30 headed up by the operations person Andy first selected. In 2008 they held their first world-wide agency meeting and over 200 people flew to Miami for a two day event.

With the years of experience he has Andy is also busy these days helping people who buy and develop islands – advising them how to ship the components of a dream home or possibly for an entire hotel.

He also does a great deal of charity projects such as helping Otis Roberts, the cousin of Jason Roberts the Blackburn Rovers footballer, to move charity goods to Grenada to help underprivileged children play football.

Andy also sponsors a team in Grenada and the minute the news broke of the tragedy in Haiti he and his team agreed to help all the aid agencies with free logistical support.

“Working with Samaritans Purse, we sent the first NGO private relief vessel into Port Au Prince Haiti after the earthquake. People said ships could not get in there but we found a way – it is the nature of our business.

“We will look to expand new markets and to work towards global recognition as a global shipping brand. To win this Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade is overwhelming and when we had the letter to confirm the Award I have to say it was one of the proudest days of my life. It is an Award for everyone who works in Kestrel Liner Agencies and I am sure they are equally proud to be recognised in this way.”


For further information please contact:

Mary Rudd
Mary Rudd PR
Tel: 01362 821415
Or: 07831 719573

This press release was distributed by ResponseSource Press Release Wire on behalf of Mary Rudd Public Relations in the following categories: Business & Finance, Transport & Logistics, for more information visit