Transportation & Logistics Analysis

Where will the two S­ørens take the 2M alliance?

November 25 2019

Shipping group MSC has confirmed that it has recruited S­øren Toft. The former Maersk Line chief operating officer is to head the container transport and logistics division of MSC, which is Maersk's partner in the 2M alliance. Maersk group CEO S­øren Skou has temporarily taken over S­øren Toft's role at Maersk Line. Captain Upply explains the implications of these developments.

S­øren Toft's switch to MSC, with the blessing of the Aponte family, has created a stir in the small world of container shipping. The objective is explained in the press release announcing the arrival of the former Maersk Line chief operating officer. It is to ensure that MSC stays in the closed circle of industry leaders in the years to come.

This transfer happens between two partners since Maersk and MSC are both part of the 2M alliance. Initially, in June 2013, Maersk and MSC set up the P3 alliance with CMA CGM. But, a year later, in June 2014, China doused their ambitions. As a result, in June 2015, Maersk and MSC launched the 2M alliance on the basis of a 10-year contract, pushing CMA CGM into the arms of non-European interests as part of the Ocean Alliance.

An effective alliance

In terms of capacity made available, the 2M alliance has increased its market share from 28% in December 2015 to 33.7% today, according to figures from Alphaliner. The performances it has registered over the last four years are an industry reference. The two giants have given the market a demonstration of their ability to extend their limits by combining their efforts for the greater benefit of the alliance.

S­øren Toft's appointment, with its "father-son" resonance, comes at just the right time to enable the 2M alliance to start a new phase of its development after a six-month period in which MSC has kept a very low profile.

External interests

Like many other people, I recently enjoyed watching the film Le Mans 66, which gives a faithful and precise description of the historical relationship between Ford and Ferrari. I cannot help spotting similarities between it and our subject today, with S­øren Skou in the role of Henry Ford 2, S­øren Toft as Lee Iaccoca and Gianluigi Aponte as "Il Commendatore" Enzo Ferrari. On the one hand, there are Ford and Maersk with their blue logos and their structures based on processes, rigor and external growth. On the other, there is Ferrari like a wild horse which has won every race over two decades, just as MSC has succeeded in becoming a leading world shipping group using methods diametrically opposed to those of Maersk.

If history repeats itself, as it often does, I would not be surprised to see interests external to Maersk and MSC enter the arena, just as Fiat did when it took control of Ferrari after Ford had served as the hare in the Ford/Ferrari battle in the 1960s.

I am totally convinced that MSC will remain a major brand in future, just like Ferrari today. But its future will depend on changes in the family's control of the group's capital over the generations.

An apparent stability

The container line shipping industry cannot afford to remain static in these times of low profitability against a background of growing Chinese ambition. The apparent stability over the last two years of a market which is now highly concentrated should not, in my view, be allowed to mask the battles which are being fought offstage.

The other recent surprise announcement, which is related but had not been expected to come as soon as it did, came from the European Commission in Brussels, which has decided to extend the Consortia Block Exemption Regulation (BER) for four years. This decision can be seen as a European and Atlantist response to a Chinese challenge which is now very much out in the open.

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Expert in Ocean shipping for 25 years, Jerome puts all his knowledge of the industry to contribution for Upply. Ship captain at heart, he has written the English-French Lexicon of Containerized Shipping (Paris: CELSE, 2001).
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