‘Visionary creator’ Saade was a ‘survivor’

Tributes pour in for CMA CGM founder Jacques Saade who has died aged 81.

Tributes have poured in for Jacques Saade, who for over 40 years built France's CMA CGM into the third-largest liner operator and took it through the toughest of times.

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Saade’s death spurred “a tribute to this visionary entrepreneur” from French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who tweeted from Beijing that Saade had been one of the first to recognise the potential of China’s growth.

Philippe Louis-Dreyfus, the chairman of Louis-Dreyfus Armateurs, said that Saade had been a “creator and builder of companies” as well as a “survivor” in difficult situations.

Timeline: Jacques Saade

1937 Born in Lebanon.

1957 Graduated from the London School of Economics.

1978 Moved to Marseilles and founded CMA (Compagnie Maritime d’Affretement).

1992 Opened the first CMA office in China (Shanghai). China became the group’s most important destination.

1996 Acquired CGM (Compagnie Generale Maritime) when it was privatised.

1998 CMA acquired the National Australian Line (ANL).

1999 Merger of CMA and CGM created the CMA CGM Group.

2004 The CMA CGM Group became the world’s fifth-largest shipping company.

2005 Acquisition by CMA CGM of the Delmas group. The CMA CGM Group became the world’s third-largest shipping company and the biggest in France.

2009 Saade was named Officer of the French Legion of Honour.

2010 The Group signed a shareholder agreement with family-run Turkish industrial group Yildirim.

2011 Saade was appointed chairman and chief executive of CMA CGM Group.

2015 Saade was named Commander of the French Legion of Honour.

2016 Saade was named "Commandeur in the Ordre National du Mérite Maritime".

2017 Saade appointed his son, Rodolphe, as chairman and chief executive of the CMA CGM Group, and was himself appointed founder chairman.

2018 Saade died in Marseilles, France, on 24 June.

Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC) founder Gianluigi Aponte — with whom Saade had much in common — also expressed his admiration.

MSC president and chief executive Diego Aponte said: “My father, who knew him well, said that he was a very shrewd businessman and also very proud individual. But he was most importantly a very generous person.

274d1794d6b6116d2c18f8b9598cf5fa Tanya Saade Zeenny (left) and Rodolphe Saade in Paris earlier this year Photo: Scanpix

“They entertained a very good friendship based on strong mutual respect for one another.” He added that Saade was “a great shipping man who created a great reality in a short period of time”.

Claus-Peter Offen — whose Hamburg-based company ranked as the largest containership owner during the boom years — said Saade “deserves every respect with what he has done with this company over the decades”.

Saade’s larger-than-life personality meant that he was not always easy to deal with. He enraged some shipbrokers. Closer to home, he was embroiled in a long-running court feud with estranged brother Johnny that ended in 2014.

But Saade also had “a lot of charm”, Offen said.

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Louis-Dreyfus said Saade was always “professional, dynamic and full of vigour”.

“Saade was a man of exceptional temperament who overcame all the difficulties to build a world leader in maritime transport. A man who has not only been a visionary but also a creator,” said Jean-Marc Roue, president of Paris-based shipowners association Armateurs de France.

Born in Beirut in 1937, Saade founded Compagnie Maritime d’Affretement (CMA) 40 years ago after moving from Lebanon to France.

CMA was launched with four employees, a single ship and only one maritime service between Marseilles and Beirut. Saade grew the company quickly, making successive acquisitions of other outfits.

CMA remained a key consolidator in the liner industry, acquiring CGM in 1996, Australian National Line in 1998 and Delmas in 2005. Since then it has remained the third-largest liner company.

CMA CGM is also the leading French-flag operator, alongside Louis-Dreyfus Armateurs.

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That dizzying expansion could have gone badly wrong. When the financial crisis hit a decade ago, CMA CGM’s very survival was threatened.

Saade proved equal to the task. In 2010, he brought in Turkish investor Robert Yuksel Yildirim, who by 2014 had acquired a 24% stake in return for pumping in about $600m, helping to save the company from predatory banks.

With his legacy secure, Saade handed over the reigns of CMA CGM just over a year ago to his son Rodolphe, who was appointed chairman last November.

His wife Naila, and three children — Rodolphe, Tanya and Jacques Junior — have different roles in the company and are seen as modest and hard working.

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Saade’s numerous contributions to the industry and society saw him conferred the title of Commander of the French Legion of Honour in 2015.

But he will best be remembered as the last of a rarified breed of shipowner — alongside MSC’s Gianluigi Aponte and the late Evergreen founder Chang Yung-fa — in the increasingly industrial world of container shipping.

The funeral for Saade will be held on 29 June at Marseilles Cathedral.