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  • Sandrina Gomes Teixeira

Rodolphe Saadé, the Entrepreneur who Earned 30 Billion in One Year

Born on 3 March 1970 in Beirut, Lebanon, Rodolphe Saadé is the CEO of CMA CGM. Taking advantage of inflation, the entrepreneur is now the fifth richest man in France.

In one year, Rodolphe Saadé's fortune has risen from 6 to 36 billion euros. This meteoric rise is linked to the explosion in the price of container transport. Having taken over his father's business, he now manages CMA CGM and its subsidiaries with a master's hand. Here is a closer look at the entrepreneur.

Rodolphe Saadé's early days at CMA CGM

CMA CGM, at the beginning, was only CMA. Founded by Jacque Saadé in 1978, he bought CGM for 20 million francs and merged it with his company in 1996.

Born in Lebanon, Rodolphe Saadé studied in Montreal at Concordia University. He received his degree in commerce and marketing. He then founded a water fountain company before joining his father Jacques Saadé's company, CMA CGM, in 1994. Before moving to Marseille, Rodolphe Saadé worked in New York and Hong Kong.

From 1997 to 2000, the entrepreneur managed various shipping lines before becoming responsible for transatlantic and transpacific lines. In 2004, he became Managing Director in charge of developing regular lines on the North/South axis. This was a golden opportunity for him: he became responsible for the expansion of DELMAS lines, a subsidiary, in Africa and the Indian Ocean in 2006. He transformed the subsidiary into an efficient and profitable operator.

In 2010, Rodolphe Saadé became Vice Chairman and member of the Board of Directors of CMA CGM and oversaw the financial restructuring of the Group. At the end of 2012, the entrepreneur put his negotiating skills to the forefront: he negotiated an operational alliance with his two biggest competitors, Maersk and MSC. In 2015, Rodolphe Saadé led the conditional voluntary cash takeover bid for all the shares of Neptune Orient Lines (NOL), a shipping company based in Singapore. He became Chairman of the Board in 2016.

In the same year, he signed OCEAN ALLIANCE, a strategic operating agreement with Cosco Shipping, Evergreen Line, and OOCL. With this agreement, he makes his company more competitive than ever. In 2017, the entrepreneur was appointed Chairman and CEO of the Group, succeeding his father. The latter passed away one year later.

Rodolphe Saadé, a determined entrepreneur

From the 30th floor of his 145-meter tower, Jacques Saadé reads his newspaper every morning: the Provence. He bought the shares of the deceased Bernard Tapie. He is also in conflict with the entrepreneur Xavier Niel over the acquisition of the press group. In addition, in 2018 he financed ZeBox, a start-up incubator. At CMA CGM, the entrepreneur is digitizing and greening the fleet by building the first ships powered by liquefied natural gas.

In 2019, CMA CGM buys Ceva Logistics, a Swiss company that is the fifth largest in the world. It employs 56,000 people to serve around 100,000 customers worldwide. At the beginning of September 2020, the first 30 liquefied natural gas-powered ships arrive, allowing the group to expand its fleet. With cargo planes, warehouses, and shares in Air France, CMA CGM is transformed.

By February 2020, world trade slowed sharply, so transport capacity adjusted downwards. However, after this major blockage, demand for "made in Asia" explodes in the winter of 2020. The ports became congested and there was a shortage of labor: sea freight rates soared, increasing sixfold in twelve months. This is how Rodolphe Saadé managed to climb to the title of fifth French fortune.

In 2021, the entrepreneur acquires the Fenix Marine Services terminal in the port of Los Angeles and the logistics division of the American company Ingram Micro. In 2022, CMA CGM absorbs Colis Privé and repatriates the Gefco group, which was established in Russia, to France. With the family holding company based in Beirut, the group is set to take over the operation and maintenance of the city's port.

Today, the Group employs nearly 2,900 people in Marseille, making it the city's largest private employer. Rodolphe Saadé is also a reference shareholder of Air France, which is how he became known by the general public. Emmanuel Macron, the President of the Republic, regularly consults the entrepreneur to discuss the international situation.

CMA CGM is the world's third-largest shipping company, with a turnover of over 30 billion dollars and 110,000 employees worldwide. However, the company is still run as a family-owned SME.

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