20 Jun 2022 / Article

“We are ready to invest in 7 or 8 ports in Africa”

Soren Toft, CEO of MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company

After his appointment as CEO of the Swiss shipping giant in December 2020, Danish native Soren Toft now holds the reins of the largest logistics company in Africa after Bolloré Africa Logistics was acquired for €5.7 billion in the second half of 2022. He spoke about his plans at AFRICA CEO FORUM 2022.

Swiss giant Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is the world leader in container shipping. It has reaffirmed its ambitions for the African continent where it already reigns supreme, following the acquisition of Bolloré Africa Logistics this year for €5.7 billion. And MSC has no intention of relinquishing the position it has inherited of largest logistics company in Africa. On the contrary, the shipowner plans on developing its presence at African ports. “The ports we have in the East and elsewhere will come to Africa. We are fundamentally ready to invest in seven or eight ports on the continent. We are developing infrastructure that the world, particularly Africa, will need to facilitate trade”, said CEO of MSC, Soren Toft, at the AFRICA CEO FORUM on Tuesday in the Africa Hall room of the Sofitel Ivoire Abidjan Hotel.

A new name soon to replace Bolloré

According to Toft, Africa has “all the tools and potential” for its development. For this to become a reality, Africans must believe that they can bring about transformation and put the continent on the road to development. MSC will soon announce a new name for the brand through which it hopes to contribute to the success stories already present in Africa.

Toft told attendees that the world leader in shipping had “very fruitful discussions with Bolloré” on the matter of potential liabilities associated with the acquisition, and that he believed the process would run smoothly even though “when you acquire a company of this size, underlying problems may arise at any moment”. All things considered, he said that due diligence was done and that, in the event of any surprises, a certain number of clauses in the sales agreement would allow him to withdraw on a case-by-case basis.

He also expressed his hope for the future. “We still have our ability to adapt. We are the best in a number of areas and will continue to be”. Yet, MSC does not intend to be in a position where it abuses its dominance through unfettered competition.

Shipping amid the crises

Further abroad, the CEO of MSC revealed his strategy for keeping his company afloat in a context where global supply chains are disrupted, shocks related to the Covid-19 pandemic are still being felt around the world, and where the conflict in Ukraine has no end in sight. He admitted that MSC is operating in a crisis-filled environment, but that it adapts to changes as they occur thanks to its resilience, which allows it to emerge unscathed. “We play a pivotal role in world trade; our industry pulls people towards prosperity. (…) Our employees are unsung heroes. During the lockdowns, it was tough; people were ordering more and we fought to keep the market going. Billions of dollars were injected to deal with the challenge”, he underlined.

Since his appointment in 2020, he has started the company on a growth cycle. When analysts reported that the company made immense profits and amassed a large fortune, Toft put things into perspective stating that the company posted good results over the last two to three years. He explained that supply and demand rule the market, but noted that things have changed considerably in this very competitive sector.

MSC, the Ukraine crisis and decarbonisation

The company anticipated the crisis in Ukraine by making conscious decisions based on how the situation unfolded, and measures were taken to ensure continuity of service. “We express our sympathies to the people of Ukraine for everything happening in their country and everything they are going through. If NATO finds a way to open certain corridors, we will be able to restore traffic”, he stated. On the matter of transporting the liquefied gas that Europe needs to replace Russian gas, he said, “We have solutions but we cannot roll them out as they are currently” and that his company “does not have the solutions for all the problems relating to this difficult situation”. In Ukraine, for example, the company had no other choice but to relocate its activities to other countries.

The MSC boss also spoke about decarbonisation and mentioned that the company is ready to invest between 5 and 10 billion CFA francs in a transition phase that will last between 10 to 15 years. “All we can do is reduce pollution by around 15% to 20% since there are currently no green fuels that can replace hydrocarbon”. The company created a carbon neutrality program that will allow it to replace ships within its fleet that are unable to meet decarbonisation objectives over the next few years.

Emmanuel Akani  

 

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