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CSL and a long-term approach to industrial transportation

CSL and a long-term approach to industrial transportation
A general arrangement diagram of a self unloading bulk carrier, of which CSL Group, based in Montreal, is the world’s largest owner and operator, provided the starting point for a highly informative presentation at the Connecticut Maritime Association (CMA) monthly luncheon.

CSL’s president, Rod Jones, who actually logged time in Connecticut back in the 1980s with Van Ommeren and Navios, offered a combination of practical business insights tied together with a personal view.

On the commercial side, the point was made that CSL, with roots in the Great Lakes trades, is an international company serving customers from a network of worldwide offices that stretches to Singapore and Sydney. Beyond the traditional self-unloaders, CSL fleet includes cement carriers and specialist transhipment vessels.

The privately owned company, formed more than 100 years ago, operates vessels in pools with well known owners Egon Oldendorff and Jebsen. Jones, who opened CSL’s US office in the Boston area in the early 1990s, is well schooled in the business end of shipping - his MBA is from the Tuck School, at Dartmouth. During the talk, he stressed the importance of a long term approach when dealing with industrial transportation, without position lists of open spot vessels. After noting the lack of asset trading, he told the audience: “we are not trying to position for an IPO”.

Jones’ discussion of strategy provided a segue into the personal side of his presentation- which set it apart from the more common “death by Powerpoint” affairs at roadshows or conferences. He explained that he was born into a “shipping family” with his father, whose career began with Great Lakes ore boats, being one of the founders of Navios Corporation-originally part of US Steel, in the 1950s. However, after getting the shipping bug, he used his MBA lessons on strategy to seek out a less commoditised part of the maritime business for himself, one where it was possible to differentiate a particular company from another. Indeed, in one notable quote, Jones pointed out that, in commoditised shipping, “the freight rate for cargo on a brand new ship is the same as it would be on an old clunker”.

The differentiation within dry bulk - to bespoke versus homogenous - is critical to the CSL story, and to that of Jones personally. His pursuit of the self-unloader sector was an example a careful strategic analysis. The family stories got even better when Jones proudly showed off pictures of his grown children, one of whom, in attendance at the luncheon, is an Associate in the Maritime group at lawyers Blank Rome. Also in the audience was a mentor of sorts to Jones, C. Sean Day, who had much to do with shaping the modern-day Navios, 60 years on.

The speech also revealed a very principled shipping company. CSL is a member of Green Marine, a voluntary coalition of maritime companies in North America whose members strive to improve their environmental performance- “reducing their footprint beyond regulatory compliance”. Jones also underscored CSL’s membership in the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network, alongside a number of leading shipowners who seeking to promote a strong posture against bribery and other forms of corruption.