Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A.

Cycling a few miles from the hustle and bustle of Geneva's city center brings me to a well-to-do area mixed with offices, apartments and houses. These though aren't regular houses but large turn-of-the-century homes on heavily-wooded properties. Many of these "homes" have been turned into company offices. It's in this area I find Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). Never heard of MSC? It's the world's second largest container company with over $3 billion in revenues and 20,000 employees. MSC also operates a cruise line (Mediterranean Cruise Lines).

Built in 2000, the five-story reflective glass head office building is a low-key affair. No big flashy splashy neon signs here as there's just a small sign outside the entrance door. Four receptionists sit behind a long curved desk. I explain who I am and how I sent a letter of introduction a month earlier to CEO Gianluigi Aponte. A receptionist says neither Aponte nor his secretary are in today and none of the receptionists are interested in finding someone else to meet with me. Disappointed, especially since I had to ride in the rain to get here, I leave background information and say I'll be back in a few days.

Returning a few days later I check in with the same four indifferent receptionists and am told to have a seat. It's a very nice reception/waiting area and could pass for the check-in area of a plush five-star hotel. Giving the place the once over I touch the various potted trees and shrubbery scattered about to see if they're real. Nope, all fake. The nice-looking flower arrangement on the coffee table–also fake. If you had no clue as to what business MSC was in, you could easily figure it out by looking around. Taking up a lot of room in one corner of the lobby is a scale model replica (1:100) of the MSC Diego, one of the company's container ships. In another part of the lobby stand's a huge ship's compass.

In a few minutes I'm meeting with Ursula Roethlisberger, secretary to CEO Aponte. Thanks to the friendly Roethlisberger it's a nice visit and I guess I should be lucky she's even talking to me as MSC is well-known for not saying much to anybody. Then again, I don't exactly ask tough or probing questions.

About 320 people work here. It's a good-sized building and owned by MSC but, it also contains apartments that are rented out. Why? That's part of the deal to build offices in mixed-use areas like this. Senior management gets reserved parking spots, smoking is optional, there's no formal dress code, no corporate aircraft, it's 20 minutes to Geneva's airport and a 10 minute drive to the nearest freeway. There are several break rooms but no on-site company cafeteria. So, where do employees go for lunch. Well, a few miles away is a company-owned private club for MSC employees where one can swim, play tennis or grab a meal.

The company was founded in Naples, Italy back in 1970 by CEO Aponte, who can also be addressed as Captain Aponte. MSC then moved to Brussels and ultimately Geneva. I ask, "Why did Mr. Aponte move the company here?"Roethlisberger lists a variety of reasons including Geneva's central location and the fact Aponte likes it here.

I don't get to see CEO Aponte's top floor office because "he's in a meeting". If I did Roethlisberger says I wouldn't find a computer. He can't have much of a view out his window either as this is a heavily-wooded area with tall trees.

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