Tribute to M. Jacques R. Saadé, founder of the CMA CGM Group


Mr. Jacques R. Saadé, founding President of the CMA CGM Group, passed away on Sunday, June 24th 2018 at the age of 81. Jacques R. Saadé dedicated his life to CMA CGM, making it a recognized world leader in less than 40 years.

A visionary man

Jacques R. Saadé Jacques R. Saadé was an extraordinary visionary! Long before the others, he knew how to anticipate the evolution of international economic exchanges and the role that the container would play.
It was during an internship in the United States, during the Vietnam War, that he discovered this metal box. On television he saw the US Army resupplying its troops by delivering 1m3 boxes on the ground filled with all kinds of equipment. He then understood all the interest of containerization as applied to the maritime transport: efficiency, speed and cost reduction.

He also anticipates the development potential of Asia, especially China, as early as the mid-1980s and was already thinking that the country will become "the factory of the world". As a result, he decided, in 1986, to head to the East, despite the opposing opinions of his entire executive committee at the time. He expanded his network and opened new offices. In 1992, when China opened up to foreign-invested enterprises, the Group's first office moved to Shanghai. The CMA was ready to grow at an exponential rate.

An extraordinary entrepreneur

. Jacques R. Saadé was also a unique entrepreneur with incredible energy, relying only on himself and his teams. To develop this company that was so important to him, he pushed back all the limits, making the seemingly impossible possible.
The geographical limits first.
Since the launch of the Marseille-Beirut first line in 1978, Jacques R. Saadé had been thinking of developing throughout the rest of the Mediterranean basin, particularly to Egypt. The Group's second fully owned vessel, Levant City, was designed to rotate between Beirut and New York.

In 1982, CMA moved north and gradually opened shipping agencies in England, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. 1983 marks the Group's first passage of the Suez canal.

The desire to open new lines and new services goes hand in hand with an increase in the number of vessels with increasingly large capacities. "I soon thought that large vessels could help to have lower cost prices."

Since 1996, Jacques Saadé has been making targeted acquisitions, all specialists in their market with a specific ambition: to be the specialist on high-potential niche markets: CGM, ANL, MacAndrews, Delmas, Comanav, CNC and US Lines ... the Group grew and became the world’s number 3 in 2006.

"Think outside the box" A freethinker who broke the shipping codes

. While the container became a major element of globalization, Jacques R. Saadé always retained a unique ability to think "out of the box" and break the shipping codes.
In 1980, when the Lebanese war prevented stops in Beirut, he had ships unload in Cyprus to put the containers on smaller vessels that would feed the country's secondary ports: the concept of relays in a transhipment port was born.
Very early, Jacques R. Saadé understood that it is not enough to transport containers between two ports, as they must also be transported to their final destination. This makes the Group a forerunner of multimodal transport. He also applies this ability to break the shipping codes to customer service.

Thus, in 2005, then #12 in the United States, he wanted to convince Walmart to work with CMA CGM. While the very principle of shipping is to share space aboard a single ship, to convince them, he offered a dedicated, exclusive line. Seduced by the idea, Walmart accepted immediately and the contract, as defined by Jacques Saadé, lasted 10 years...

A convincing man who inspired confidence

J.R.Saadé en 2013 Jacques R. Saadé was undoubtedly the greatest expert in shipping. His knowledge and precision allowed him to constantly master the situation, anticipating what was going to happen, leaving nothing to chance. He liked to go into every detail.
For example, at the launch of the first Asian line in 1986, when he did and redid the calculations, reviewed the possible rotations, until he was convinced. He gave the instructions to find the agents, the vessels, negotiate the stopovers etc.... Two months later, the first ship came back full... he had once again succeeded.

Ten years later, it is this same attention to detail that allowed him to win the purchase of the CGM, ahead of many other, more established ship owners in Paris. The government of the time was astounded by Jacques Saadé's analysis of the CGM and was convinced that if any man would be able to restructure it, it would be him. After years of losses, the CGM became profitable in less than a year.

The key dates



Politics and competitors pay tribute to an extraordinary man

Press release from French Republic Presidency:

RFWith the death of Jacques Saadé, we lose a visonary entrepreneur. He understood before anyone that globalization would take a new step and that the sea would be its main vehicle, through a new tool: containers.
Leaving Lebanon, a country he remained attached to during his entire life, Jacque Saadé settled in Marseilles to found the CMA Group in 1978, with four other employees. Back then, his activity was mainly based in the Mediterranean area. Five years later, he crossed the Suez Canal. Fifteen years later, he stepped into China.
The successive acquisitions (notably the purchase of CGM) and the globalization of the economy gave the pace of the growth to a Group, which is today a global leader in the shipping industry, serving 420 ports and counting more than 30,000 employees. Jacques Saadé always managed to overcome crises within the maritime sector and led his Group with lucidity in a globalized and complex economy.

His establishment in Marseilles gave the city a boost in dynamism. His commitment, through the CMA CGM Foundation, to help underprivileged children was one of his true prides, as was the passing of the leadership of the Group to his son, Rodolphe.

The President of France addresses to his family, his relatives and to the Group's staff members, his deepest sympathy.

Edouard Philippe testimony« I learned with a great sadness the death of M Jacques Saadé, CMG CGM's founder, family-owned company and french flagship. From China, where he was one of the first to foresee the incredible potential, tribute to this visionary entrepreneur. »
Edouard Philippe, French Prime Minister

.« Tribute to Jacques Saadé, foundeur of CGM CGM Group, a great and visionnary industrialist. I recall one inteministerial oceans&seas commitee we had back in 2016, right in front of « his » Méditerranean sea, in the beautiful CMA CGM tower in Marseilles. My deepest sympathy to his family. »
Manuel Valls, former french Prime Minister

.« Saddened condolences to Rodolphe Saadé and to Jacques Saadé's family, who was a great entrepreneur who built CMA CGM, a french pride. »
Jean-Pierre Raffarin, former french Prime Minister

.« With Jacques Saadé's death, Marseilles loses one of her most prestigious ambassador while France loses one of her most iconic businessman. By choosing Marseilles as the headquarters of CMA CGM back in 1978, Jacques Saadé believed in the economic potential of our city and in its international exposure. His boldness, his courage and his exceptional visonary talent led this ambitious entrepreneur to make CMA CGM a global leader in the shipping industry. »
Jean-Claude Gaudin, mayor of Marseilles

« We are sad about the passing of Jacques Saadé, the founder of CMA CGM.Our thoughts are with his family and with all employees of CMA CGM. »

Hapag-Lloyd AG, on their Twitter account

. « We are deeply saddened by the death of Jacques Saadé, founding president of CMA CGM Group. Mr Saadé was a key player in the containerization of global trade and made valuable contributions to our industry. Our thoughts are with the CMA CGM team and the Saadé family during this difficult time. »
Maersk Line, on their Facebook account

Press and Media unanimous about Jacques R. Saadé's extraordinary journey

. The french and international press payed a unanimous hommage to Jacques R. Saadé, and saluted the journey of a man who managed to build, in less than 40 years, a global leader in the shipping industry. All the medias acknowledged at the genius and the vision of the founder of CMA CGM.


  • 1978 : Foundation of the Compagnie Maritime d’Affrètement (CMA) by Jacques R. Saadé in Marseilles
  • 1986 : During the summer, Jacques R. Saadé gathers his staff members and decides to expand its North Europe Red Sea Line into Asia
  • 1992 : Jacques R. Saadé sets up the first office of CMA in China, marking the beginning of the great Chinese adventure
  • 1996 : Jacques R. Saadé offers to acquire CGM. CMA becomes the 12th largest global player of the Shipping Industry
  • 2000 : CMA CGM is awarded « Company of the Year 2000 » by Containerisation International
  • 2006 : Jacques R. Saadé receives the insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur
  • 2007 : Jacques R. Saadé Saadé lays the foundation stone of CMA CGM Tower
  • 2007 : Jacques R. Saadé is part of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s delegation in China
  • 2009 : Jacques R. Saadé receives the insignia of Officier de la Légion d’honneur
  • 2010 : Christening of CMA CGM Christophe Colomb with Christine Lagarde
  • 2012 : Christening of CMA CGM Titan with Laurence Parisot
  • 2012 : Jacques R. Saadé receives the “Lifetime Achievement Award” by “Containerisation International"
  • 2013 : Jacques R. Saadé surrounded by his Marseilles Management Team to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Group in June
  • 2013 : Inauguration of the CMA CGM Jules Verne with french President François Hollande
  • 2013 : Inauguration of the CMA CGM Jules Verne
  • 2013 : Inauguration of the CMA CGM Jules Verne
  • 2015 : Visit of China Prime Minister Li Kequiang in Marseilles
  • 2015 : Jacques R. Saadé made Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur
  • 2015 : Inauguration of CMA CGM Bougainville with France President François Hollande François Hollande
  • 2016 : Christening of CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin in Long Beach
  • 2016 : Monumenta Exhibition in Paris
  • 2017 : Jacques R. Saadé awarded Commandeur in the Ordre National du Mérite Maritime