Tug o' My Heart : A towing dynasty
The Fourth Generation on the Brink
Brian was born on Christmas Day in 1932, one of eight children, and grew up in his grandfather’s house on Albemarle Road, near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. His father Anthony would take all the boys to the shipyard. “I was scared to death on the boats,” Brian said. When he was 12 or 13, and working as a summer deckhand on a tug, he recalls his fright watching the very tricky task of maneuvering one ship from a line of three and then moving another ship into the same slot. He told the pilot he was scared and was sent to the engine room. “I was happier down there,” he said, because he didn’t have to watch what was going on. Despite Brian’s alleged lack of interest in learning, he graduated from the State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College at Fort Schuyler in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in maritime engineering, but the family business was not calling him yet.
“The third generation had an agreement that only two sons from each branch of the family could work in the business, so I went into the Navy for two years.” He came out in 1958 as a Lieutenant JG and got a job with the American Express Isbrandtsen Line, making a lot of money. “I loved it,” he said, but by then also realized he was spending too much time away and asked his father for a job on the tugs. Anthony was able to get Brian a job as tug captain and eventually pilot. By the mid-1960s Brian had extensive seagoing experience and was promoted to the office.
Keeping It All in the Family
By the 1970s, Brian said his dad was not in good health and only three of the eight kids (Brian, Anthony, Jr., and Bruce) were in the business. “My uncles didn’t have all their kids in the business,” he added. (There are now close to one thousand descendants from the original James McAllister, but most of them drifted away from the family business into other areas. Those in the business today are descended from Captain Jim and his sons.)
Brian realized his father was getting close to selling the business for $20 million, part of which was stock in a Canadian company. “I was a fairly aggressive guy, although I didn’t know much about finance,” he admitted. Nevertheless, he convinced his brothers and cousins to put up $3,000 each and form a corporation to buy the company. “My father said, ‘You’ll never make it. You have no reserves to fall back on.’” It took four years to close the deal, but in 1974 the fourth generation bought the domestic company from the third generation for $15 million. Other pieces of the business went to various siblings and cousins. Brian invited a Harvard MBA to help with the financial arrangements and come aboard as a partner. The company expanded into the oil business. The outside partner wanted to sell the tug business, but Brian wanted to hold onto the company’s heritage. This resulted in a lawsuit for control and in 1998 the company was divided with the partner taking the oil business and Brian keeping the towing and ferry business. The settlement was made one day before the company was to be auctioned off. “My sons helped put a settlement together,” Brian said, “and the partner gave in.”