The Aponte family takes a step back on MSC management, for the first time it will be an external manager to lead the giant – Business Insider Italia


What is taking shape in these hours in the headquarters of MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) in Geneva is a small but real revolution. After days of rumor, the second company in the world in the container sector – founded in 1970 by the Sorrentine shipowner Gianluigi Aponte – confirmed the change at the top: the new managing director will be Soren Toft, who has recently left the position of COO (Chief Operating Officer) of the AP Moller-Maersk group, the first in the world in container transport and the main competitor of MSC.

If the news in itself may seem of little relevance, a succession of top figures such as many occur in large corporations, in reality in the context of the global maritime industry it is quite important. First of all it must be remembered that Maersk and MSC are two groups with tens of billions of dollars of turnover – 39 billion Maersk (in 2018), while for MSC there are no precise data because the company, having its headquarters in Switzerland, is not required to publish financial statements (and has so far always made use of this faculty), but it is estimated that the figure is well over 20 billion – with thousands of employees, global activities both in maritime transport and in related services, from the management of port terminals to land transport, both road and rail.

The two companies are linked by a particular relationship: they are in effect competitors, and are at the top of the world rankings for the fleet of container ships operated (Maersk on the 1st and MSC on the 2nd place), but they are also allies. In fact, a few years ago they established an operational partnership called 2M for optimize the management of the ships on the main sea routes, then pushing the other companies to do the same and to meet in the Ocean Alliance and The Alliance associations. And now the operational director of the entire Maersk group will move on to lead, as CEO, MSC's cargo business.

But the determining factor is another: Toft will be the first external manager to the Aponte family to play the role of CEO of MSC.

If in fact on the cruise front, in which the group operates through the subsidiary MSC Cruises, already in 2013 the Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago, son-in-law of Gianluigi Aponte, is joined by the CEO Gianni Onorato (former top manager of Costa Crociere), as far as regards the activities dedicated to freight transport, which are still predominant in terms of percentage weight on the group's business volume, have always remained under the strict control of the family: the founder Gianluigi, first, and his son Diego, then.

And in fact, even if the company did not make this clear, Toft in the position of CEO will take over from Diego Aponte, who will keep the role of 'President', as well as the founder Gialuigi will maintain, at least for the time being, Chairman of MSC.

However, it is not clear how much the patron, who started in 1970 with only one cargo ship and has now become one of the most important shipowners in the world, will still maintain social positions in the organization chart of his "creature". As reported in recent days by the Wall Street Journal, Toft's recruitment would be propaedeutic to a round of seats that should lead Diego Aponte to assume the duties of the father, representing the shareholders in the management of the company, and Gianluigi to withdraw from operational roles, now at the threshold of 80 years.

Hypothesis that however was denied by the same MSC, which reiterated that the two members of the family will maintain respectively the positions of Chairman (Gianluigi) and President (Diego).

What is certain is that the transfer of Maersk's former COO from Copenhagen to Geneva marks an important step in a company's managerial process which, born almost 50 years ago as a family business, has today taken on the proportions of a large multinational company, while maintaining many of the management practices of a small company, closely linked to the figure of the founder. A character, however, little known outside of his sector (and, in the case, only for the cruise business, which despite the extraordinary growth of the last few years still plays a minority role within the group), but at the head of a true and its economic empire that allows it to position itself at the 133rd place in the ranking of the richest men in the world compiled by Forbes, thanks to an estimated assets of around 11.8 billion dollars (just to give a term of comparison, the former premier Silvio Berlusconi is in 257th place with an estimated assets of 7.1 billion dollars).

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