UPDATE: Dec. 2, 2020: Søren Toft assumed the role of CEO at MSC on Wednesday, according to an emailed statement from the carrier.
"Søren is the ideal match to help lead MSC into the future at the helm of our family company," Diego Aponte, MSC group president, said in a statement.
UPDATE: Nov. 20, 2019: MSC refuted the Wall Street Journal report that MSC chairman Gianluigi Aponte will step down.
“Unfortunately, we have had to correct some speculation in the media from the preceding days after an inaccurate report said that Mr G. Aponte would be stepping down. This is clearly not the case and both Mr G. Aponte and Mr D. Aponte retain a close, hands-on role at the top of the business,” the carrier stated via email.
- Søren Toft, the recently departed chief operating officer of Maersk, will join MSC as CEO, the carrier announced in a press release Monday. His start date has not yet been announced.
- MSC will also have a new chairman, as founder Gianluigi Aponte steps down to make way for his son Diego Aponte, according to the Wall Street Journal. The timing of that handover has yet to be announced and the release regarding Toft's hire states that he will report to Gianluigi Aponte.
- Toft joins MSC after more than 25 years at Maersk, including five years as COO. Industry stakeholders point to Maersk's acquisition of Hamburg Sud as the pinnacle of Toft's role as head of operations. He oversaw the acquisition and integration of the shipping line and served on the carrier's advisory board.
Maersk announced Toft's departure effective immediately on Nov. 11, and soon after, rumors circulated about where he might head next. The abrupt nature of Toft's exit from Maersk raised suspicions the COO was headed to a rival container shipping organization. According to ShippingWatch, Toft was asked to "pack his office and leave immediately."
Although Maersk and MSC are members of the same 2M alliance, the two are still competitors vying for shippers' business. Maersk holds the top spot with 17.8% market share and 4.2 million TEUs of capacity, but MSC is not far behind with 15.9% market share and 3.7 million TEUs, according to Alphaliner data. Last month, MSC placed a massive vessel order, putting it on track to rival Maersk in terms of capacity. Maersk executives said the carrier would place no new orders for large vessels in the near term on its Friday earnings call.
On the same call, Maersk CEO Søren Skou assured analysts that the remaining operations leaders have 20-40 years of experience each.
With Toft at the helm, MSC could further advance its business and give Maersk a real run for its money. As ShippingWatch put it, "the hiring of Toft would be close to the best catch MSC could make, as it would gain insight into the business processes at the shipping company it has been striving to topple since its creation in 1973."
"Søren Toft was on the leadership team at Maersk during a period of unprecedented change for the shipping giant," Nick Chubb, founder of ocean shipping tech firm Thetius, told Supply Chain Dive. "Maersk has always been known as an innovative business, but during the last five years it has completely reinvented itself as an end to end logistics supplier, pioneered the use of blockchain in trade and committed to becoming a net zero emission operator by 2050."
Toft played a large role in many of the Danish carrier's sustainability initiatives. Last year, Maersk pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, which Toft acknowledged would require significant investment and resources, particularly over the next five to 10 years. He also said Maersk "cannot do this alone," noting the container line has tapped dozens of engineers to develop energy-efficient means for shipping.
Toft may bring his expertise in this area to his new role, advancing MSC's path to sustainable operations and perhaps even carbon neutrality. The Swiss carrier has already said it will avoid using the Northern Sea Route due to environmental concerns.
Maersk also took several significant steps toward digitalizing ocean freight during Toft's tenure: launching a digital customs clearance platform and the Maersk Spot digital booking platform, among others.
"Though credit for these innovations cannot be credited to Toft alone, it will be fascinating to see what happens when he brings a new attitude, ideas, and direction to an organisation that is already poised to topple Maersk’s long held position as the world’s leading container shipping business," said Chubb.