Gianluigi Aponte, the low-profile principal of Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC), is still a driving force in the giant owner's operations and growth.
An in-depth report by Swiss newspapers Le Matin Dimanche and Sonntagszeitung reveals a focused businessman obsessed with the details of his empire.
At 82, Italian-born president Aponte has not really slowed down, nor changed his ascetic lifestyle, insiders said.
“He does not drink, does not smoke,” a source who knows him told the newspapers. “At the table he eat very little or sometimes nothing at all, because he thinks about business.”
His custom every evening has been to come down from his office on the ninth floor of the MSC headquarters in Geneva to talk to staff.
“He goes to everyone, the managers in charge of a line, asking if the ships are full, what is the price of freight,” said a source who has worked with him.
“The object of the game is that the ships are full all the time. He knows everything…and decides very quickly. That’s the secret of MSC: they are very flexible, with a short hierarchy.”
Another insider tells of Saturday morning conferences to discuss fleet deployment.
These involve longstanding executives, often Italian.
Aponte is said to keep a notebook in the drawer of his desk in which he records the movements of his ships.
A source said that one night the former seafarer and banker advised a master how to refloat a grounded vessel over the telephone from his bedroom.
MSC issues no financial figures, unlike rivals Maersk or CMA CGM.
Based on the results published by rivals, however, one source believes that the company has made $26.6bn in profit between June 2021 and June 2022, as container rates and asset values soared and MSC went on a vessel acquisition spree.
These kind of earnings would help make the company worth $100bn.
The value places Aponte at sixth place in the world list of billionaires behind Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Loyalty is rewarded with high pay.
The average annual salary of 1,400 MSC employees in Switzerland is CHF 164,000 ($146,000), the report claims.
The group is co-owned by Aponte's wife Rafaela Aponte Diamant.
Their son Diego Aponte, 46, is chief executive, and daughter Alexa Aponte-Vago, 50, is the financial director.
Her husband Pierfrancesco Vago runs MSC Cruises and Diego Aponte’s wife, Ela Soyuer-Aponte, is in charge of sale and purchase, as well as ports.
Aponte declined to be interviewed, but MSC answered some questions for the article.
Insiders described the family as close-knit, sharp-witted and fully dedicated to expanding the group.