Here is a story about one of America’s most iconic brands – Brink’s. As told by the company itself, Brink’s has a long, focused history in the security business. Brink’s is a success story, serving as inspiration to all small businesses.
Enjoy – The Story Behind the Brand.
Brink’s was founded in Chicago on May 5, 1859 when Perry Brink purchased a horse-drawn wagon and made his first delivery. The wagon bore his new company’s name – Brink’s City Express. Chicago was booming, fueled by new railroads built to exploit the growing economy of the surrounding Midwestern U.S. With railroads came manufacturers, distributors, banks and insurance companies, all of whom attracted business travelers to the new city. In the early days, Brink used his single wagon to transport travelers’ luggage between Chicago rail stations and hotels.
In 1860, Brink’s employees delivered luggage and parcels during the Republican National Convention, where an estimated 50,000 delegates and spectators assembled to see local dark-horse candidate Abraham Lincoln win the nomination over other contenders.
In 1871, the Great Chicago fire destroyed some 18,000 buildings, including the headquarters of Brink’s City Express. Miraculously, Brink’s horses and wagons were saved and the company was back in operation within a week. As Chicago recovered, Brink’s grew. By 1872, Brink’s ran 20 wagons to every part of the city three times a day and had begun service to the prosperous new suburbs. The company advertised fees less than those of competitors: 25 cents to deliver a trunk from a train station to anywhere in the city.
When Perry Brink died of encephalitis at age of 43 in 1874, he left an estate valued at $2,654 to his wife and two children; eldest son Arthur Perry Brink, just 19 years old, became the company’s new leader. In 1878, Brink’s was one of the first businesses in Chicago to install a telephone; the company was one of only 500 subscribers listed in the November 1878 Chicago telephone directory. In 1879, four investors, including Arthur Brink, financed further expansion as the company sold stock and was incorporated for the first time.
Turbulent Times Cause a Change in Focus
The late 1880’s and 1890’s were a turbulent period, especially in Chicago. Brink’s was closely linked to the railroad industry, which was especially hard hit by economic contraction, stock market upheaval and social unrest. With the traditional delivery business declining, Brink’s shifted its focus to transporting money. In 1891, the company’s first shipment of money was made: six bags of silver dollars, each weighing 61 pounds, delivered from the Home National Bank to the Federal Building. Soon after, Brink’s bonded its employees and guaranteed to customers that they would be reimbursed for lost, damaged or stolen shipments. In 1893, Brink’s was the sole authorized delivery company for packages and money at the World’s Columbian Exposition, better known as the Chicago World’s Fair.
As Chicago grew and rapidly industrialized, massive new firms began employing thousands of workers. All of those workers needed to be paid in cash on regular pay schedules. Brink’s began to serve this need for payroll security. Rates were modest: in 1904, Brink’s contracted to deliver payroll twice monthly to the Corn Exchange National Bank; the $12,000 payroll delivery cost $5 per trip.
In 1904, Brink’s made a giant technological leap and acquired its first motorized vehicle: a Knox Gasoline Express Wagon. It was not universally well received: it was reported to have frightened the horses. Employees complained about fumes in the stables. On the other hand, the Knox could reach 18 miles (29 km) an hour and it didn’t break down at all during a 12 day test. Arthur Brink boasted the new truck could replace three wagons and 12 horses. While horses remained a decreasing part of the Brink’s operation until the 1920’s, by 1910 Brink’s had begun closing stables and turning barns into garages. (Knox went bankrupt in 1914; a restored 1904 truck remains on display at the Brink’s Museum in Chicago.)
In 1912, the Brink family severed its relationship with the company they had founded when Arthur Brink retired and moved to California. (His son, Percy, briefly formed an unaffiliated and unsuccessful Brink’s Express Company in Los Angeles.) Arthur died in 1916 at age 61.
In 1904, the veterinarian Dr. Frank Allen began caring for the company’s horses. Allen became a shareholder one year later, was named to the board of directors in 1909 and served as company president from 1919 to 1944. Both of Allen’s sons also worked for Brink’s. John Allen worked his entire career at Brink’s, succeeding his father as president from 1944 to 1952. Barton Allen was one of two Brink’s employees murdered on August 28, 1917 during a robbery at a payroll distribution site.
The 1917 robbery forced the company to implement new practices to combat escalating criminal activity. Initially, convoy cars were deployed to follow behind each money car. Armored side panels were added to refurbished school buses and small safes bolted to the floorboards. By 1923, armored cars were being constructed of lightweight steel, but frames and floors were still made of wood. In 1927, bandits in Coverdale, Pennsylvania used dynamite to blow open the floor of a Brink’s truck that was travelling along a country road on a payroll delivery. The robbers managed to flee with about $100,000. Soon after, Brink’s vehicles were updated again with steel frames and floors.
A Time of Expansion
During the 1920’s, Brink’s expanded from its Chicago home across the U.S. Branches were opened in Cleveland in 1918; Rochester, New York in 1920; and Philadelphia in 1922; each expansion was at the request of local banks drawn to the company’s reputation for trust and security. By 1932, Brink’s had opened branches in 49 cities from coast to coast. Brink’s thrived by focusing on payroll deliveries, cashing payroll checks at employer sites, and securely transporting deposits from retailers to banks. In 1925, Brink’s introduced the pioneering Two-Key Safe. The one-piece metal safe required two keys to open; one would be held by a store manager and the other by Brink’s. Two-Key Safes were provided free as part of contracted service to retailers and spawned the nearly ubiquitous tagline, “Only Brink’s can open this safe.” At one point, 20,000 of these safes were installed in retail locations.
Brink’s was one of the few firms that continued to prosper during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Stable and well-capitalized, the company remained profitable as increasing organized crime helped drive new demand for Brink’s trusted security services. Brink’s continued to expand, buying up five failing local competitors in the middle 1930’s. On its 75th anniversary in 1934, the company changed its name from Brink’s Express to Brink’s, Incorporated. In 1937, during an initial public offering of the company’s stock, assets were listed at $2.5 million.
The war years of 1941 to 1945, however, were challenging for Brink’s. Although demand for payroll services boomed with new military bases and manufacturing plants, civilian workers were in short supply and the company had difficulty maintaining operations. Profits fell as labor costs increased. Truck repair costs skyrocketed because no new commercial vehicles could be produced. Tires and fuel were rationed.
After the war, the company returned to its expansion. Nineteen new branches were opened between the end of the war in 1945 and 1949. Several local competitors were purchased. Postwar economic expansion created demand for new services, like parking meter collections, introduced in 1949.
In January 1950, 11 gunmen in rubber masks held up the Brink’s branch in Boston and made off with $2.7 million in cash and securities. It was the largest robbery in U.S. history up to that time. Within two days of the robbery, Brink’s and its insurers had reimbursed all customers for the stolen money. Not until 1956, after a years-long investigation, were eight men found guilty of the crime. More than $1 million of the stolen money was never recovered. One result of the Boston robbery was that Brink’s building security was markedly improved. Instead of renting space in existing buildings, the company began designing its own secure facilities. Bullet-resistant windows, turret guards, perimeter fencing, electronic locks and other security features helped reduce the threat of armed invasions.
In 1952, the younger Allen became board chairman and was succeeded as company president by H. Edward Reeves, a member of the board of directors since 1941. A former insurance company executive, Reeves had engineered Brink’s insurance policies and became intimately familiar with the operation of the company. Nonetheless, a series of setbacks endangered the company in the middle 1950’s. A devastating 1955 strike by Brink’s workers in Chicago and other cities drove many customers away. Demand for the company’s bedrock payroll services declined as businesses switched to check payments. A new coin processing venture unexpectedly failed, leading to large losses. In 1956, Reeves was replaced as president by attorney Eugene Murphy, a Brink’s legal advisor since 1934.
Brink’s Sold to Pittston Company
The era of independent ownership of the firm was drawing to a close. In 1956, former president John Allen sold his large holdings in Brink’s to the Pittston Company, a holding company with interests in mining, petroleum and trucking. The Allen family had maintained a controlling interest in the company for about 50 years, nearly as long as the Brink family that they succeeded. Pittston was granted final regulatory approval for a full merger in April 1959. In May, Brink’s turned 100 years old; it operated branches in 97 U.S. and 15 Canadian cities.
Under new leadership, Brink’s began to focus on international expansion. In 1961, Brink’s began operations in France, the company’s first venture outside North America. Operations began in Israel in 1965, in Brazil in 1966 and in Venezuela and Mexico in 1970. Expansion in the United Kingdom, Australia and Hong Kong followed in the 1970’s. A joint venture was formed in India in 1981 and new operations were opened in Thailand, Japan, Singapore and South Korea later in that decade.
In 1962, Brink’s also launched its first air courier service when major banks sought an express delivery service for high-value securities. The first shipment was from First National Bank in Chicago to Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. Air courier services worked by using Brink’s armored trucks to pick-up valuables and then transport the cargo to a scheduled airline flight. Brink’s would meet the airplane in the other city and make the final delivery. This secure air courier business also began attracting shippers of diamonds, jewelry, furs and precious metals. By 1970, the Air Courier group served 135 mainly U.S. cities, and was responsible for 10% of company revenue.
By the 1980’s, Brink’s again faced multiple challenges. Brink’s and its major competitors had been hampered by a series of financial scandals and union tensions. Deregulation of the U.S. trucking business increased competition from low-cost providers. Pittston as a whole suffered when demand for coal fell, resulting in net losses from 1982 to 1987. During these years, Brink’s returned to profitability by forging new relationships with its U.S. employees, resulting in better training programs, improved internal communications and new profit-sharing plans. Pittston also began diversifying its holdings. Its petroleum business was sold and the cash used to purchase Burlington Northern Air Freight, later renamed Burlington Air Express (BAX). In 1983, Pittston also launched Brink’s Home Security (BHS), a burglar and fire alarm company.
Global Expansion Accelerates
Michael S. Dan became CEO of Brink’s Worldwide in 1991 and initiated an accelerated global expansion strategy. Brink’s gained controlling interest in affiliates in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland, Bahrain and Hong Kong, and opened new operations in places as diverse as Taiwan, Luxembourg, South Africa and Argentina. In 1992, Brink’s began to manage the international logistics for high-value shipments of diamonds and jewelry. In 1998, the Diamond and Jewelry group was merged with Air Courier to form Brink’s Global Services (BGS). Today, BGS serves more than 100 countries through a network of 900 offices on six continents. BGS leverages state-of-the-art proprietary information and communication systems and a variety of transportation methods (air and sea freight, air charters, armored trucks and trailers) to safeguard some of the world’s most valuable assets.
Back in the U.S., Brink’s introduced its CompuSafe® Service in 1995. CompuSafe combined cash-acceptance technology and automated reporting with a safe and was marketed toward retailers. In 2006, Brink’s worked in partnership with major banks to pioneer CompuSafe with Daily Credit, allowing retailers to receive credit for funds that are in the safe, but not yet retrieved by Brink’s. CompuSafe is now available in many countries around the world.
On September 11, 2001, veteran Brink’s messenger Joseph Trombino was among the many killed at the World Trade Center in New York. A Brink’s crew was making deliveries when the planes hit; while other crew members escaped, Trombino became trapped in the chaos and debris. Remarkably, Trombino had survived being shot in a famous 1981 robbery attempt by members of a domestic terrorism group, the Weather Underground.
A Company Transformed
As Brink’s entered the new century, a series of financial transactions rapidly transformed the company’s management structure. In 2002, Pittston announced plans to sell off its remaining natural resources assets. The sale of coal, natural gas and timber interests removed major financial liabilities and allowed the firm to concentrate on core businesses. On May 5, 2003—Brink’s 144th anniversary–Pittston changed its name to The Brink’s Company and began using a new stock ticker symbol, BCO. In early 2006, BAX Global was sold to Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company. Finally, in 2008, Brink’s Home Security was spun off into a separate stand-alone firm. (One year later, Brink’s Home Security was acquired by Tyco International and merged with competitor ADT.) In 2011, Michael S. Dan resigned and in 2012 Thomas Schievelbein, a member of the board of directors, became The Brink’s Company’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer.
Additional international acquisitions in recent years strengthened and extended the core business. Brink’s purchased ePago international, a Panama-based bill collection service, in 2006 and began expanding it throughout Latin America. China-based ICD Security Services was acquired in 2010; it offers commercial physical security services in Asia. Controlling interest was purchased in armored service firms in India and Russia in 2009 and Mexico in 2010. Threshold Financial Services, which offered ATM services in Canada, was also acquired in 2010.
Since the horse and buggy days, Brink’s has approached its customers with a spirit of partnership and problem-solving. Through more than 150 years, a combination of conservative business planning, strategic foresight and customer-focused innovation has allowed the company to prosper. Throughout its history, Brink’s has maintained a level of integrity that sets the standard for others to follow. Throughout the world, the name “Brink’s” is synonymous with trust and security.