CONTAINER LINE CMA PIONEER DIES

Jacques Saadé, who built French shipping company CMA CGM into the world’s third-largest container operator, has died at the age of 81, the company said.

CMA CGM didn’t disclose the cause of death. It comes a year after Mr. Saadé passed the reins of the Marseille-based company to his son Rodolphe, who is chairman and chief executive officer. The company operates around 500 container ships, sailing to 420 ports world-wide.



Mr. Saadé was one of the first industry executives who believed containers would dominate global trade. He launched CMA CGM’s first office in Shanghai in 1992, saying that China would become the “world’s factory.”

These days, container ships move 98% of the world’s manufactured products ranging from designer dresses and home appliances to furniture, heavy machinery and food.

“Jacques Saadé dedicated his life to CMA CGM,” the company said in a statement. “An extraordinary visionary and entrepreneur, he made the group into a world leader in the maritime transport of containers, developing the company in more than 160 countries, while maintaining the family dimension with its values.”

Born in Beirut in 1937, Mr. Saadé fled Lebanon in 1978 to protect his family from civil war and moved to Marseille, where he set up Compagnie Maritime d’Affretement (CMA), with a single ship sailing from France to Lebanon.

He sent his first ships across the Suez Canal in 1983 and CMA was among the first liners to launch a service linking North Europe with Asia in 1986.

Mr. Saadé was an early believer in consolidation. In 1996, he acquired France’s Compagnie Générale Maritime (CGM) to form CMA CGM, which over the years swallowed up a number of rivals, including Singapore’s Neptune Orient Lines for $3.4 billion in 2016.

CMA CGM was badly hurt by the 2009 economic crisis, but stayed afloat after Turkish family-run Yildirim Holding AS invested $600 million for a 24% stake.

The cash injection strengthened CMA CGM’s finances and secured funding to build a series of giant container ships that sail between Asia and Europe and across the Pacific. The ships are part of the Ocean Alliance, which also consists of Chinese behemoth Cosco Shipping Holdings Co., Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine Corp. and Hong Kong’s Orient Overseas International Ltd.

In 2011, he built CMA CGM’s new headquarters in Marseille, a 147-meter (482-foot) glass tower designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid. It is the city’s tallest building and CMA CGM is also Marseille’s largest employer with around 2,500 workers.

Mr. Saadé graduated with a business degree from the London School of Economics in 1957. On the advice of his father, who ran tobacco, cotton seed and olive oil businesses in Syria, he became an intern in New York to learn about shipping.

He understood the potential of the container used by the U.S. army during the Vietnam War, telling the French business newspaper Les Échos it was “an excellent idea for transporting goods as it was closed, easy and quick.”

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