From the sea of ​​Sorrento to the Italo trains, the epic story of MSC owner Gianluigi Aponte

The entrepreneur from Campania, today at the head of the first cargo line management company in the world: 760 ships, 300 routes, 520 ports of call in 155 countries, 180 thousand employees

“Post nubila phoebus” is the Latin writing that appears under the coat of arms of Sant’Agnello, a small town on the Sorrento peninsula of over 8 thousand souls. It means that after the clouds the sun will shine again and it is a phrase that encompasses all the desire for independence expressed by the inhabitants of this jewel of the Gulf of Naples, nestled between Sorrento and Piano di Sorrento and located on a tuff terrace overlooking the the sea from a height of about 50 metres, until its districts obtained permission from King Vittorio Emanuele II in 1866 to form an autonomous municipality. That sea, the same one that bewitched Lucio Dalla, inspiring him in the composition of ‘Caruso’, and that profound desire to be the architect of one’s own destiny and one’s own fortune have accompanied him since a young age the shipowner Gianluigi Aponte, founder and owner of MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company SA)born in Sant’Agnello on 27 June 1940.

“After the rain, the sun” also seems to be the hope for good navigation: a motto that has certainly brought good luck to theentrepreneur from Campania, today head of the first cargo line management company in the world. 760 ships, 300 routes, 520 ports of call in 155 countries, 180 thousand employees: MSC’s numbers are mind-boggling. The logo of this shipping giant – which has also operated in the cruise sector since 1988, with the acquisition of the fleet belonging to commander Achille Lauro – stands out this year as the main sponsor on the shirt of Napoli, champions of Italy. After the victory of the third championship, Aurelio De Laurentiis’ team wanted to strengthen the partnership that has linked it to MSC since 2011 under the banner of the claim “From Napoli to the World”, another slogan that can very well summarize the entrepreneurial epic of Aponte and its international inspiration.

For generations the Apontes have breathed the sea air and found their source of livelihood in the sea: in Sant’Agnello and Sorrento there are those who remember them as owners of small boats that shuttled between Naples and the Peninsula transporting people and goods. But Captain Aponte’s route was troubled right from the start. The entrepreneur’s childhood was marked by a serious loss: his father died in Mogadishu in Somalia, where he had moved with his wife and son, when Gianluigi was only five years old. The loss of his father forges the character of the young Sorrento, who returns to the Peninsula together with his mother and as a teenager begins to develop a passion for life at the seaside. Before him he graduated with excellent marks from the Nino Bixio nautical institute in Piano di Sorrento (the same school where Achille Lauro studied), then at the age of twenty he began his career as captain of passenger ferries on behalf of the family.

In that period, on board a ship of which he is the captain, he meets Rafaela Diamant, a Swiss girl of Israeli origins and daughter of a wealthy bank manager. The two get married and go to live in Geneva (where Aponte currently resides). Two children will be born from the marriage: Diego Aponte and Alexa Aponte Vago, today respectively president of the group and financial director of MSC. Having moved from the land of lemons to that of chocolate, Aponte began a “break” from the world of maritime transport during which he worked for a long time as a banker.

Switzerland, United Kingdom, Belgium are the stages of an entrepreneurial journey which in 1970 led him to purchase his first ship and start his business. The rest is history. MSC is born, which from a company with a single vessel becomes one of the largest shipping companies for the transport of containers in the world, totaling revenues of 86.4 billion euros in 2022. A giant that after having dominated the seas has chosen to bet also on the rail transport business, purchasing half of Italo thanks to a 4 billion euro operation finalized at the beginning of October. And there are those who, in Roman circles, have made no secret of liking the MSC hypothesis for the purchase of Ita in the event of failure of the negotiations with Lufthansa.

Meanwhile, Commander Aponte governs his empire from Switzerland, without forgetting his homeland. In 2014 the shipowner donated the ‘Club House Msc’ to the city of Sant’Agnello, a 14 thousand square meter structure equipped with a multi-storey car park, tennis court, multi-purpose field, five-a-side football pitch, swimming pool and gym: the complex can now be used both by the citizens of Sant’Agnello as a wellness center and by the young officers of the MSC ships for training. Aponte’s bond with Sorrento remains strong even when it comes to choosing employees and collaborators. In fact, many young people from the area have moved to Swiss soil to work for Aponte and MSC, to the point that today some people on the Peninsula ironically define Geneva as “a Sorrento surrounded by the Alps”.