The Grimaldi Group is a private, family-owned Italian shipping company, which operates a large fleet of ro-ro vessels. The family’s link to the shipping industry goes back a long way – according to the company’s own history, the oldest written records linking the family to shipping dates back to the 14th century, when three Grimaldi forebears received a precious artefact as a guarantee for the chartering of three ships. However, the current Grimaldi companies were founded in the middle of the 20th century, when Achille Lauro, the head of one of the largest shipping companies in the world, took his nephew, Guido Grimaldi, under his wings, and this brought the family back into the shipping business.
“In 1947, Guido and his brothers Luigi, Mario, Aldo and Ugo Grimaldi set up their own business by purchasing a Liberty vessel, a type of cargo ship used by the US fleet during the Second World War that gave rise to the most important, privately-owned European fleets,” said Dr Eugenio Grimaldi, Director of the Grimaldi Group. “Post-war immigration was at its peak and Grimaldi’s shipping services focused on the Mediterranean and South American route. In the years that followed, as the passengers’ demands for comfort and quality increased, the fleet was upgraded to include new, modern liners.”
Dr Grimaldi explained that in the 1960s, the Group began to strengthen its freight operations with bulk freighters and tankers. “The expansion in the ro-ro sector and, more specifically, in the transport of vehicles came in 1969, when the Group started operating regular liner services linking Italy and the United Kingdom. The Grimaldi Group’s car carrier services rapidly won the trust of the major vehicle manufacturers, which needed to ship their vehicles between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. This development marks the beginning of the Group’s modern period: over the last 40 years, the focus on the ro-ro sector has in fact been the driving factor for growth.” At the same time, the Group expanded its service network to serve not only the Mediterranean and Northern Europe trade routes, but also the routes between Northern Europe and West Africa, and between Northern Europe and South America.
In the mid-1990s, the second generation of Grimaldi brothers decided to part ways when it came to business, and set up two separate entities. Grimaldi Genova is owned and managed by Mario and Aldo, while Grimaldi Napoli, which corresponds to today's Grimaldi Group, is owned and headed by Gianluca and Emanuele, and their brother-in-law Diego Pacella. “Now we are the third generation of Grimaldis who are participating in the company. We are six cousins even though, in truth, we feel like brothers, having grown up together,” said Dr Grimaldi, who is Emanuele’s son.
Dr Grimaldi affirms that being part of a family with such a multi-generational history of entrepreneurship certainly influenced his growth path. “From an early age, my brother Guido and I used to listen to my grandfather and father talking about business. To us, it was quite natural to be involved in family activities.” In fact, his first work experience as a teenager happened on board a Grimaldi vessel, with the added twist that nobody knew who he was. Even though he was tasked with carrying out some of the most menial and humble tasks on board the ship, it left an indelible and profound mark on him. “It was the most beautiful and formative work experience of my life,” Dr Grimaldi stated. “As a result of that, I deeply understood the sacrifices that our seafarers make every day. My grandfather and my father transmitted important values to my brother and I, such as respect for all the people who work at Grimaldi; the spirit of sacrifice – always being in the front line to face the struggles of labour; as well as humility and simplicity. These are the values I can always count on and trust.”
The company takes the ‘family’ aspect of ‘family business’ very seriously, and uses its members’ close bond very effectively to strategise, make advantageous decisions, and deepen their already strong familial ties. “Sharing in our family is everything. I share my office with my brother Guido, and my father still shares his office with my uncle Gianluca. Every day we have lunch together, discussing and sharing business strategies. This daily ritual is a source of great personal and professional enrichment, as well as consolidating our family union even more. At the same time, it gives us the opportunity to take important decisions quickly, putting Grimaldi at a competitive advantage position on the market. All of this can only be positively reflected in the company’s activity. Facing the challenges of the market with my family has made us even more of a cohesive unit over time.”
Since its establishment, the Grimaldi Group has always continued to work on its strategy of expanding its maritime services, as part of a wider long-term plan to provide global logistics companies with a strong maritime base. And Malta, with its proximity to Italy, and advantageous location in the middle of the Mediterranean, has ensured that the Grimaldi Group’s interest and investment in it has never waned. “The Grimaldi Group’s longstanding commitment to Malta has been uninterrupted and consistent for more than 60 years and is set to continue,” Dr Grimaldi said. “There is no doubting Grimaldi’s contribution and support to Malta’s industrial and commercial development through the provision of regular maritime connections, and through the operation of a Maltese company – Malta Motorways of the Sea Limited.”
Set up at the end of 2005, Malta Motorways of the Sea (MMOS) – which started operations to guarantee service continuity in the wake of the liquidation of Sea Malta, the state-owned shipping line – quickly established itself as an indispensable tool to support the industrial and commercial development of Malta and the growth of its economy. “Malta Motorways of the Sea offers multi-weekly links from Malta to Italian ports, and, through Grimaldi’s extensive EuroMed Network, to all the main ports in the Euro-Mediterranean area,” Dr Grimaldi explained. “MMOS is a member of the Malta International Shipping Council, and one of the sponsoring partners of the Malta Federation of Industry. It is also a founder member of the Malta Short Sea Promotion Centre.”
Furthermore, Malta Motorways of the Sea has committed itself to support the training of Maltese cadets in the process of making them young officers to be employed on the vessels sailing under the MMOS flag and other companies of the Grimaldi Group. The company has entered a permanent co-operation agreement with the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST – Maritime Institute), through which as many as 10 young cadets are currently being trained on-board the Grimaldi Group’s ships. Once their sea time is over, the students return to college to complete their studies; and yet another generation comes one step closer to making their living from the sea, on board a Grimaldi vessel.
Eugenio Grimaldi will be headlining the national conference ‘A Family Affair – Safeguarding Malta and Europe’s Beating Heart’, organised by the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry on October 1st.
This article originally appeared in The Malta Business Observer