Fratelli Cosulich is a family-owned shipping group founded in 1857. Now run by the family’s fifth and sixth generations, Fratelli Cosulich retains its customer focus while obtaining rapid development and geographical expansion.
The company operates in several sectors, including ship management, liner agency, tramp agency, yacht and cruise agency, ship owning and insurance broking amongst others. Today Fratelli Cosulich is a diversified group operating in 15 different countries, including Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Turkey, United Kingdom, Brazil and USA. We spoke to family CEO Timothy Cosulich to hear his journey in the family business.
What does your family business do?
We are a diversified Shipping Group dating back to 1857.
How did you get involved?
After spending 6 years in consulting working for PwC and 3 years working for Maersk – another large shipping group – I was asked to join the family business and after a bit of ‘negotiation’ I decided to embark in this new adventure.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A tennis player!
What are your first memories of the family business?
I clearly remember, as a 5 years old boy, going to the office with my father and spending hours playing with telex machines, stamps, and bothering the employees asking them if they wanted to play with me!
What values are important in your family/family business?
Integrity, first of all. We identify ourselves a lot with our name and we make sure that our brand remains a synonymous of outstanding service. The other aspect we particularly look after is our people: I am aware that it is a fairly common thing to say… “our main asset is our people”… nothing new. What I realise more and more is that, over the years, a special relationship has developed between the Company and its people. We take care of each other and we don’t let each other down.
What is the best thing about being a family business?
The legacy and the attachment to the Company are something truly special, but what I like the most is the entrepreneurial spirit.
And The Worst?
The lack of pure meritocracy that sometimes affects many family businesses, including ours.
What is the best thing about your working day?
There are two moments I particularly enjoy: the morning when I come into the office and I get started with meetings – this usually comes after a hard training session and I am still energised by it.
The other moment I like is the evening, when most people have left the office and I can focus on my to-do list.
What is your proudest family business achievement?
The turn-around of the Singapore office that had been under-performing for 8 years before I took over the management and that in 3 years has increased its volumes by 430% and turned back to profitability.
More importantly, I was able – with my colleagues – to build a very solid team that I am confident will continue to perform strongly.
Is there a next generation waiting in the wings to take over?
The sixth generation – my two cousins and myself – are the ‘young generation’ and we already manage a relatively large chunk of the business. Fortunately the senior generation is still there though as we still have a lot to learn from them.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing family businesses?
Implementing full meritocracy in their management structure while – at the same time – maintain the special attachment that people have in a family business. Striking the right balance between being a fully professionalised company and preserving the legacy will be the key to success for most family businesses going forward.
To face a difficult challenge such a this one, the support of an organisation like YPO can be vital: I personally find it extremely useful and enriching to be able to discuss very sensitive and complex issues with like-minded peers who – most of the times – understand my situation very well.
What words do you associate with family businesses?
Legacy, tradition, entrepreneurship, integrity.
Words of wisdom – What piece of advice would you pass on to someone thinking about joining the family business?
If it’s a young family member thinking about joining his/her own family business my advice is twofold:
1) get significant and relevant outside work experience first – this will give you great confidence and credibility within the company;
2) once in, don’t get tempted by trying to change things for the sake of changing them. Spend time understanding why things work in a certain way and only then suggested the changes that – in your opinion – are necessary. In addition to this, I cannot but recommend joining YPO for the value it adds both on the professional as well as on the personal side.