Since he took over from his father Gianluigi in 2014 as president of the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), Diego Aponte has been frugal with his words. So the opportunity to talk for an hour in Geneva with the boss of the world’s leading shipping company is one that could not be refused.
Especially as the Italian-Swiss company has been constantly in the news since early this year. Not merely content with having overtaken Danish company Maersk to officially become the world’s leading shipowner in January 2022, MSC also confirmed on 31 March that, subject to approval by the regulatory authorities, it was taking over all port and logistics activities of Bolloré Africa Logistics (BAL), for a sum of €5.7 billion.
MSC has a rich history with Africa, since its first line opened in the late 1970s linking Antwerp to Mogadishu, and in 2016 the operator doubled the competition on the continent by being the first to dare to use 14,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) ships to serve the West African coast.
By getting its hands on the continent’s leading port network, MSC is taking a new step in its international development, while remaining faithful to a port hub strategy that has proven its worth in Lomé, all while retaining a certain culture of secrecy that has not prevented the company from settling at the top of the maritime industry in just over 50 years.
The Bolloré group surprised the entire sector by confirming in October 2021 its intention to sell its African activities grouped under the BAL brand. How long have you been following this dossier at MSC?
Diego Aponte: The Bolloré and Aponte families have a long-standing relationship, which started with my father and Vincent, and continues between Cyrille and myself.
We had mentioned several times that, if the BAL facilities were put on the market one day, we would be interested in taking them over, and they knew it.
It was they who approached you at the end of 2021?
Yes, that’s more or less what happened, because of that long-standing relationship.
And so you seized the opportunity that was presented to you?
Yes, I did. Our sector is currently doing very well, and thanks to our continuous growth over the last few decades, we had the finances to carry out such an operation. In an international bidding environment, BAL’s facilities could have ended up in the portfolio of a private equity or sovereign wealth fund, and I don’t think that would have been a good option, either for the continuity of BAL’s business or for Africa.
For €5.7 billion, many believe that MSC got a good deal.