Gianluigi Aponte is shrewd in his appointments and five years ago, at a crucial moment in the development of the MSC cruise business, he promoted Pierfrancesco Vago to CEO. In the past five years, MSC Crociere has seen a tenfold rise in passenger numbers from 100,000 to 1.2 million, thanks in part to its far-sighted chief executive. Monocle met him in Geneva.
Monocle: What makes MSC so special?
Pierfrancesco Vago: We are a global company with big shoulders but at the same time we are a private company and, in today’s world, to be out of the stock exchange and to be out of the public world makes you so much leaner. With public companies you have to interact with the stakeholders and directors who don’t always have the same visions. This gives us a great advantage because we can play at any level financially and do things so much faster, which makes us unique.
M: How do you maintain such a high slot capacity in the current economic climate?
PV: By building new ships and operating the right size ships for the right trade. Trade fluctuates and suffers downturns and upturns, and you must have the flexibility to follow the capacity of that particular trade and demand. So if I have a particular demand because the raw materials and the cargo is flowing a certain way, then you must be capable, flexible and fast enough to deal with it at any moment.
M: So do you see any economic trends when you look at your own movement of cargo?
PV: I don’t follow the day-to-day movement but I can tell you, and I don’t think it is any secret, that Mr Aponte has declared there is a definite upswing in the economy, specifically in trade. Goods are starting to move again, so this is a very good sign, there is an increase in volumes on all different levels. We could start to see some light at the end of the tunnel by as early as June.
M: Diversifying from cargo to cruise: how did that work?
PV: If we didn’t have the cargo back-up, it would have been much more difficult. When you introduce yourself to a port and say, “Hi, I’m here, I’d like to have a berth on a Saturday,” if you are nobody all the berths are taken by the competition, but if you operate 400 ships and are a very important client because you handle in excess of a million containers a year, the port will automatically assist you.
M: Why is an MSC cruise seen as being one of the best in terms of service?
PV: There is attachment to the job. Mr Aponte is the first one to walk into the office and the last to leave 365 days a year, we set an example. If we have the passion, dedication and professionalism, then it will affect everyone from the top down.
M: Why do people choose an MSC cruise?
PV: Value for money in this industry is unbeatable, there is no land-based resort that can beat it. For €100 a day you have a five-star hotel where you can eat five times a day, with music and entertainment, shows and a disco and spas all for a fixed price. And don’t forget the free ice cream.
M: What about the stigma attached to the traditional cruise?
PV: You no longer have the boring old stereotype of the cruiser, we are part of the revolution. The middle class has increased worldwide and we all live comfortably already in our beautiful houses so on holiday we expect something more.
M: How did the now defunct G8 affiliation come about?
PV: The soul of the company is Italian and we like to assist our country. Security is paramount and can be problematic... and Silvio Berlusconi had the brilliant idea to host the G8 on Maddalena island. He had previously hosted summits on cruise ships and approached us. We agreed to supply the Fantasia, and anything they would have needed, for free.
CEO MSC Crociere
1961 Born in Milan
1981-1984 Studied economics at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, UK
1985-1989 General manager of Franco Vago, one of the leading transport companies in Italy
1989-2001 Managing director of African Transport in Johannesburg
2001-2003 Line manager for US, Canada and Mexico for MSC
2004 CEO of MSC Crociere