Global shipping heavyweight Jacques Saadé passes away

The founder of transportation technology and container developer CMA CGM Group, Jacques R. Saadé, has passed away, according to recent media reports. He was 81.

Born in Lebanon in 1937, Saadé and his family were later forced to flee their country as civil war erupted around them. They relocated to Marseilles, France, where he would found Compagnie Maritime d’Affretement (CMA) in September of 1978. 

The company’s beginnings were humble – just four employees and a single ship, which operated between Marseille and Beriut in those early days, were counted among CMA’s initial assets. Under Saadé’s direction, the company’s reach quickly expanded and, by 1983, it was sending its first ships beyond the Mediterranean to North Asia. 

In 1986, CMA acquired France’s Compagnie Générale Maritime (CGM), a move that made it an integral player in the shipping container sector. And the mergers continued: The company acquired market movers ANL in 1998 and Delmas in 2005. Saadé’s belief in consolidation in the shipping space saw a number of rivals come under the company’s purview, including Singapore’s Neptune Orient Lines for USD 3.4 billion (EUR 2.9 billion) in 2016.

As his company flourished, Saadé himself was also celebrated as a decorated businessman and innovator. He was awarded the City of Hamburg’s highest honor, the Admiralitäts-Portugaleser, and received an Honorary Doctorate from the American University in Lebanon, as well as Lebanon’s National Order of the Cedar. He was also named Commander of the French Legion of Honor by the president of France in 2015. 

The city of Marseille has been particularly grateful for Saadé and CMA CGM. The company is Marseille’s largest employer, with around 2,500 workers, and the CMA CGM headquarters, newly established in the city in 2011, is the city’s largest building, standing at 147 meters (482-feet). 

“With the death of Jacques Saadé, Marseille has lost one of its most important ambassadors,” city mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin said in a statement obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

Saadé’s colleagues within the industry and beyond also expressed gratitude for the storied  entrepreneur. 

"Jacques R. Saadé dedicated his life to CMA CGM. A true visionary and unique entrepreneur, he made his business a world leader in the maritime container transport," a company statement from CMA CGM said on Sunday, 24 June. Saadé’s son, Rodolphe, is currently at the helm of CMA CGM as its CEO and chairman.

"We have lost a visionary entrepreneur," said French President Emmanuel Macron in a statement obtained by Yahoo News, adding that Saadé "always knew how to overcome crises in the maritime market and how to run his group with lucidity within a global and complex economy."

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who is in Beijing, paid his respects to Saadé on Twitter, describing him as a "French jewel."

Saadé’s CMA CGM is known in the seafood industry for its innovative transportation technologies. With help from EMYG Environnement & Aquaculture, CMA CGM Group developed the Aquaviva container, which allows for the safe carriage of live lobsters in their original water and in conditions maintaining their natural habitat, in 2016. 

“We’re going to enter areas and markets where today, we aren’t yet moving live lobster,” Mauricio Bonilla, commercial director for CMA CGM Reefer, told SeafoodSource of the container. “We’re going to be able to take this further inland to areas where it couldn’t be done before.”


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