A Pink Ship Across the Oceans
“A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), diplomat, human rights advocate and wife of US president F.D. Roosevelt.
The logistics universe as a whole remains a man’s world, to a great extent. The shipping lines galaxy within it isn’t an exception to this general assertion. Many a gentleman regrets the fact that, unfortunately, our industry isn’t sufficiently interesting for gentlewomen yet. This state of affairs makes it all the more exhilarating to read the testimony of one of our sector’s ‘Grandes Dames’.
I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Cecilia Eckelmann Battistello’s autobiography, Il sogno de Cecilia – Una Nave Rosa Attraverso l’Oceano. So far, it’s been published in Italian and English (Cecilia’s Dream – A Pink Ship Across the Oceans). It was compiled together with the Milan-based film writer Aldo Innocenti. Cecilia Eckelmann Battistello’s nigh-on 50 years of experience in the transport and logistics industry undoubtedly make her one of the pioneers of her generation.
A star may be born – but then it also has to be discovered. Angelo Ravano, founder and owner of Contship, established in 1969, was the discoverer of Vicenza-born Cecilia. (We’ll go along with the book’s first-name terms.) There’s magic in every beginning. A great man lets rip during a coincidental encounter, and after Cecilia reacted with poise he promptly made her a job offer. In the 1970s the industry’s employers and employees both still took the time to learn the ropes from scratch – and sometimes to enter new markets with youngsters. This wasn’t a walk in the park, however, as the book shows.
After just two years Cecilia, now Contship’s Jane of all trades, was asked to earn her spurs by re-organising the company’s business in the Eastern Mediterranean. She was expected to conquer niche markets neglected by larger players, organise transports under frequently war-like conditions, and uncover and stamp out some local agents’ unfair business practices.
These were the pioneering decades of a relatively small shipping line and terminal operator that was transforming itself into a global player. The book looks at the establishment and expansion of European, trans-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific trades, with sideways glances at original concepts, such as Il Punto, the line’s own restaurant boat in the English port of Ipswich. It wasn’t easy to conduct negotiations as the chairwoman of the UK, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh Shipping Conference or with New Caledonian rebel leaders in the jungle. Meeting Mother Teresa was a bit less demanding – whilst establishing the line’s role in the new Indian container market.
Readers gain insights into the benign – and stern, occasionally erratic – leadership of a genuine old-school patriarch, for whom employees are family. The account – the personal story of a modern woman, who doesn’t skirt around taboos such as a miscarriage – doesn’t make a wide berth around the complex sale of Contship Containerlines to CP Ships in 1997 and Eurokai in 1999 either.
Cecilia, who comes across as very likeable, shows that a woman can fashion a career in a man’s world without leaving her femininity behind. She has reserved a permanent space in her cupboard for clothes she wore on important days. Many of us probably also remember Contship’s first containership – painted entirely pink on her initiative. It underlined that a woman’s hand was on the tiller in 1992 – and was simultaneously free advertising for the line.
This highly readable book doesn’t hark back nostalgically to the good old days of yore, but rather paints a vivid picture of a life and career in the shipping industry lived fully. Cecilia’s personal philosophy and international reminiscences tell the story of a life full of variety and hard work.