Home Business The odyssey of CMA CGM, the Marseille logistics giant

The odyssey of CMA CGM, the Marseille logistics giant


From the sea, you can feel your wings growing… and imagine a future on rails. A year after the creation of a cargo division dedicated to air freight, the French shipowner CMA CGM, in excellent health, is continuing to diversify: since April 8, Marseille’s leading private employer has been the sole owner of Gefco, a specialist in industrial logistics and previously owned by Stellantis and RZD, Russian Railways.

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Already a beneficiary of the rise in maritime freight prices during the health crisis, this time it was the sanctions taken against Russia that made CMA CGM opportunistic. “Blows” that the founding president Jacques Saadé, who died in June 2018, seven months after having inducted his son Rodolphe at the head of a jewel of international transport with Marseille and… Oriental origins, would undoubtedly not have denied.

CMA bought CGM in 1996

Jacques Saadé was born into a Syrian family who moved to Beirut after his activities in the food industry were thwarted by the nationalizations of the Baathist regime of Hafez Al Assad. He discovers, during an internship in New York, the container that will revolutionize the transport of goods. Driven out of Lebanon by the civil war, he created the Compagnie maritime d’affrètement à Marseille (CMA) in 1978.

→ ARCHIVE. Landmarks – The history of the CMA CGM group.

“Jacques Saadé was a captain of industryemphasizes Paul Tourret, from the Higher Institute of Maritime Economics in Nantes Saint-Nazaire. The CMA also owes a lot to his brother-in-law, Farid Salem, who had a flair for finding the boats. » The two entrepreneurs did not stay on the original Marseille-Beirut line for long and ventured outside the Mediterranean in 1983. In 1992, a permanent office was opened in Shanghai then, in 1996, the CMA bought the Compagnie Générale Maritime (CGM) , itself the result of two companies founded in the middle of the 19th century, and privatized at a good price by the government of Alain Juppé.

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In 2021, a turnover up by 78%

A quarter of a century later, with a fleet of 566 ships, the company (160,000 employees) operates on 250 maritime routes and is close to the other world giants, Maersk and MSC. “It’s a bit like the third brother, who imitates his elderssmiles Paul Tourret. The CMA CGM, managed by the second generation, resembles MSC, also created in the 1970s and which is in the hands of the Aponte family”. These family-owned companies saw their revenues explode last year, which enabled MSC to buy the Bolloré group’s terminals on the African continent.

CMA CGM, for its part, achieved in 2021 a turnover of 56 billion dollars (51.8 billion euros), up 78%, and an exceptional net result of 18 billion dollars (16.6 Billions of Euro’s). Record results linked to the health crisis. Confinements have limited spending on leisure – restaurants and travel – but inflated purchases of manufactured goods… transported for the most part by boat! “There were also supply issues.adds Maria Lee, partner at Sia Partners. With disruptions in supply chains, customers were willing to pay much more for the transport of their goods. »

Grow as a logistician

A context that has whetted the appetite of shipowners who, while continuing to invest in their vessels, increasingly see themselves as a logistician. It continues its acquisitions in port terminals, such as those of Algeciras in Spain or Fenix ​​Marine Services, the third largest terminal in Los Angeles, in the United States. In air cargo, its fleet already has six aircraft and the delivery of four more is planned by 2026.

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The turn towards logistics was taken during the year 2018-2019 when, in two stages, CMA CGM seized the Swiss Ceva Logistics, a major player in the sector whose shipowner wants to continue restructuring. “It’s already a very nice incorporationemphasizes Maria Lee. CMA CGM has the ability to transform acquired companies into nuggets. » In January 2022, the shipowner bought 51% of Colis Privé, a specialist in so-called “last mile” delivery.

New stage at the beginning of April with the acquisition of Gefco, the Groupages express de Franche-Comté, created in 1949 by Peugeot to transport goods between Paris and Sochaux. With Ceva Logistics, the idea would be, according to Paul Tourret, to train “a planetary maritime-logistics group”. Without forgetting all the same the anchoring in the Phocaean city: Rodolphe Saadé has been in competition for several months with Xavier Niel, the president of Iliad, to buy the daily Provence.


Liquefied natural gas controversy

The propulsion of boats by liquefied natural gas is presented by the CMA CGM as the best alternative to put an end to sulfur emissions. The charterer has announced that it has invested 5.4 billion dollars in this type of fleet.

This strategy is contested by the Brussels NGO Transport and Environment, which itself brings together some fifty European NGOs. Using infrared images, she captured unburned methane emissions from the exhaust stacks of ships from different companies, including one from CMA CGM. The company claims to work at a “reduction” death “unburned”.

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