Features

Marc Marling – CMA CGM North America

Call him the captain of multitasking

There’s an old line that goes if you want something done, give it to a busy person. A busy person who might even consider sleep an essential waste of time, more than adequately getting by on a couple of hours a night.

That, in a nutshell, describes Marc Marling who always seems to have projects pending and eager to accept another. “The least corporate, corporate attorney,” he calls himself. Maybe that’s why the North American operation of French container shipping and logistics heavyweight CMA CGM made him its chief legal officer for a second go-around, Marling having held the post from 2005 to 2009.

Marc Marling | Chief Legal Officer | CMA CGM North America

Marc Marling | Chief Legal Officer | CMA CGM North America | Photo Credit: Lianna Pevar

After all, he could allot the company 40 to 50 hours of his weekly time and still find room for another 30 in his worldwide networking arrangement, Corporate Thought. He’d also budget enough quality time for advising startups and the maritime industry as president of Vanmarc Shipping. Even find some family time that likely will include long-distance biking, such as a recent 375-mile trek with a daughter, from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi—during which he listened to three audio books.

“I can’t be just a lawyer,” the excitable Marling tells Vanguard in April. “I’ve too much creative juice.”

Never a no-show

For example, the industry’s biggest annual event is the Trans-Pacific Maritime Conference that, until COVID-19, was held each year in California. While shipping executives worldwide were well-represented, lawyers were a rarity with Marling a conspicuous exception.

“I want to understand the business and others should want to understand maritime law,” he says. “If all I am is your legal scribe, you’re not getting good value from whom I am. I’d rather be a businessman with a law degree or a lawyer who understands business more than the others do.”

It’s that mindset that’s helped him counsel CMA CGM, and the maritime industry in general, on the many COVID-19 issues that have arisen since he returned to the company last August. CMA CGM’s ambitious agenda continues, even with health and safety protocols on the docks and in the warehouses and with breakdowns in supply chains. But volumes of product are being moved, the pandemic’s consequences including so many people housebound with unspent money and buying online.

Marc Marling | CMA CGM North America

Photo Credit: Lianna Pevar

He hasn’t been shy about giving sometimes unsolicited advice to other departments and corporate clientele. Chances are it’ll be appreciated.

“If we ignore the needs of our external customers, we jeopardize the business as a whole,” Marling says. “We can’t be the ‘no department.’ Let’s all talk about what you’re trying to achieve.”

After all, he implores, now’s your chance to be a 21st-century thought leader. Being one, he has ideas to share and wants to absorb others. If you’re a kindred soul, he just might invite you to join one of the groups he assembles for what’s called an A-HA! Dinner.

Food for thought and more

Those dinners—intended to inspire A-HA! moments—are among the gatherings planned by Corporate Thought, which Marling calls a resource for entrepreneurs and business leaders to build professional and personal relationships. You needn’t be a Fortune 500 CEO to attend, though you can be. You could also own an automotive garage, art gallery or hair salon.

Just access the website and tell Marling about yourself, and you might be invited to one of these events that’s likely to be catered in a non-restaurant setting. And leave your smartphone and business card in the car because, in his mind, such items isolate as much as connect.

“Everyone’s a ‘most’ at something,” Marling says. “This is about connecting people with people and less about power and control. No ‘business-card dance’ at these events. Just 12 to 16 unique people in disparate industries connecting.”

Marc Marling | CMA CGM North America

Photo Credit: Lianna Pevar

COVID-19 having put the dinners on hold, along with other Corporate Thought events, he looks forward to their return but has other activities to pursue. There’s Spectacles, his multimedia project, that includes the wide-ranging podcast Corporate Thought, including interviews with thought leaders, and the 31 Minutes episodes in which Marling talks books, business and whatever other subject arouses his passion on that day.

One book he recommends is “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose,” by the late Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. It’s a 277-page stream-of-consciousness on how a blend of passion and prudence fosters a happy and healthy corporate culture in which all employees are welcome to share and sustain.

Marling will add something to that moral: Whatever your role in a company, think like a customer.

“My goal for this year at CMA CGM: Build and retain a team of exceptional people,” he says. “I want the best legal department in a multinational enterprise and want for us to be the example on how other legal departments should be built by helping business do business. We’ll make customers for life.”

Wherefore and the Wi-Fi

He’s been proficient in that pursuit since graduating Rutgers Law School in 1997 and spending his first eight years with firms, first with Lamorte Burns & Co. and then with HunterMaclean. While at the latter, he partook in a two-year leadership program in Savannah, Georgia, close to the site of the 30th G8 Summit hosted by then-President George W. Bush.

Marc Marling | CMA CGM North America

Photo Credit: Lianna Pevar

Wi-Fi yet to go mainstream, Marling liked the idea of people working with laptops while sitting under Savannah’s fabled Spanish moss. He helped create a free wireless network called, appropriately enough, Savannah Spanish Moss and served as its first chairman.

“Other cities were studying it,” he says with pride. “But we did it.”

Marling’s done a lot more since then, and, while he’s obviously proud, he keeps humble in his own unique way. The title he’s bestowed upon himself at Corporate Thought: Chief cook and bottle washer.

It might bemuse some, but those acquainted with the 50-year-old Marling fathom the logic.

“Remember,” he reminds. “I can’t just be a lawyer.”

Published on: June 3, 2021

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