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MSC is poised to surpass Maersk as the largest maritime group

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It took 50 years – but now Gianluigi Aponte, the expedition’s tycoon secretary, is on track to reach the top.

The Italian shipping company’s Mediterranean shipping company, which he founded half a century ago, is in the process of taking over the crown as the largest container group in the world, surpassing AP Moller-Maersk.

After ousting one of its Danish rival’s top executives and allowing a foreigner to take on a leadership role for the first time, the family-run group seeks to cement its position at the heart of supply chains. world.

“I think it’s a perfect opportunity to bring together the best of both worlds,” Soren Toft, who joined the private company as executive director in December after 25 years in Maersk, told the Financial Times.

“It’s about taking my experiences, my intuitions and my foresight and combining them with the great attributes of MSC. . . we are private property, we have the long lens ”.

Toft has perhaps come at the right time to grow the Italian-Swiss group, which has embarked on an aggressive expansion, as it took advantage of the pandemic that gave record profits to shipping lines at the back of growing shipping largely caused by the online shopping boom.

The lucrative race for shipping lines followed more than a decade of overcapacity that forced alliances to consolidate and share capacity.

Although Toft insists “we’re not bothered by the size,” the company has bought about 60 second-hand ships since August with 43 new ships on order, according to Alphaliner Consulting, in a show of its opportunism.

An MSC container ship. Toft will use his experience in Maersk to help balance the interests of family and business © Rodrigo Garrido / Reuters

MSC is very secretive, but the group’s annual revenues were probably in excess of $ 25 billion before the pandemic since it is destined to grow larger than rival Maersk in terms of capacity with the largest order book for the new tonnage.

Toft, described as ambitious, rational and impatient by those close to him, will have to find a balance between his desire to make a mark and follow the line with the billiards owner and his family.

Apontes has maintained tight control over the company’s decision and culture for decades as it has expanded beyond cargo transportation to cruise ships, terminals, internal logistics, security and other areas.

The founder and former captain of the Neapolitan ships have also maintained a maritime family that feels like the group, gaining fierce loyalty from its more than 100,000 employees, even sending personalized letters to staff inviting them to name-giving ceremonies. ship, say people who know the company.

Chart showing shipping capacity, existing fleet vs order book

Another key feature of the company is its extremely short chain of command, with Aponte intimately engaged in operational decisions of the business.

The line managers, accustomed to direct access to the owners, met him and senior family members on Saturday morning – and now Toft, who shares the ninth floor of the MSC headquarters in Geneva with three of the family.

Toft can use its experience in Maersk to help balance the interests of family and business.

Almost 30 years ago, Danish transport magnate Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller gradually withdrew from operating participation as his company became more transparent and transactional. “He’s made a somewhat similar journey before,” said Lars Jensen, a transportation analyst at Vespucci Maritime.

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In particular, Toft is likely to try to make its mark by placing a greater focus on global network optimization, rather than primarily focusing on improving each of its 215 business routes. This is to ensure that goods arrive on time and that customers ’needs are met, while ships are as full as possible.

It is also trying to make the secret society, which has strayed from public attention in the past, more communicative, visibly on social media.

This move partly reflects the strong focus on transportation due to pandemic-induced delays and rising prices and their impact on the climate.

Shippers, who plan and coordinate routes for freight forwarding, and analysts say MSC has a poor service reputation, despite the improvement in recent years.

They add that a key priority for the new leader will be upgrading their obsolete IT systems to improve these services and information for customers, which will likely involve strong investments.

Digitization is a particular challenge for society as it opens up the shipping industry to new competitive pressures from shippers using digital technologies as well as the likes of Amazon and Alibaba.

“The whole liberation of the sector is a threat.” If someone else provides you with space on your ships, then you have to take the price, ”said Stephen Cotton, secretary general of the International Federation of Transport Workers.“ You don’t want to be vulnerable to a high society. technology “.

Another challenge for Toft is how to reduce carbon emissions. The group was the sixth largest polluter in Europe in 2020 with only coal-fired plants emitting more CO2, according to the NGO Transport and Environment.

The chief executive is taking a more proactive public stance in this case, recently warning about EU climate measures on maritime transport which he says could have the opposite effect of his intention by increasing emissions.

Gianluigi Aponte

MSC founder Gianluigi Aponte is closely involved in the operational decisions of the family-run business group © Thomas Samson / AFP via Getty

It initially supports a global carbon tax, but believes the industry has no visibility when low-carbon fuels become available on a scale.

The group also had to face some unwanted attention when it emerged that MSC was the largest debtor of Credit Suisse’s $ 6.8 billion main fund linked to Greensill, the financing group of the supply chain.

MSC said there is no material impact from the $ 321 million related to the frozen fund. “It’s a thing of the past, we’ve established everything we need to set it up,” Toft said.

In addition to Greensill, analysts and bankers speculate on the company’s cruise division, the world’s fourth-largest, and its impact on the wider group the sector has suffered during the pandemic.

However, bumper profits for containers this year could make their cruising arm to counter the strength of the industry, while there is little sign that it will limit the group’s overall ambitions.

“We’ve seen a series of spaces where we still have a lot of track ahead of us,” Toft said.


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