Achille Lauro (1887-1984), II Comandante (The Commander), had a rich business and political life. His fleet of ocean going vessels was spread over the waters of the world for 50 years. He was a deputy in the Italian parliament and mayor and political boss of Naples.
Achille Lauro was born in Piano di Sorrento (near Naples) on June 16, 1887, to a sea-faring family. As a youngster his father sent him on transatlantic trips on sailboats that he owned. When Achille was 20 his father died, leaving him in charge of the family—his mother and three sisters—three sailboats, and a huge debt. He managed to stay solvent until the beginning of World War I when the government requisitioned his sailboats and eventually lost them.
When the war ended, Achille Lauro was without money and without boats. His strategy was to create a company with limited participation (societa in accomandita) by having all his personnel invest their savings for a share of the profits and a guarantee of employment. It was this type of investment that brought Lauro's financial success. By having his employees participating in the profits of his ventures he avoided union problems and obtained the greatest productivity possible.
Between 1923 and 1928, when large shipping companies were abandoning their boats, Lauro found another expedient by leasing boats that he used effectively. He succeeded in having these boats loaded both ways—coal from England to southern Italy and grains from Romania to Rotterdam. As his fame for service and punctuality spread, he had no problems in increasing business volume. With the profits made this way he increased his fleet so that by the 1930s he owned the largest private fleet (in tons) in the Mediterranean basin.
At Italy's entrance into World War II (June 20, 1940) Lauro had 57 boats with over 300,000 tons, but by the next day all his boats were confiscated again for the war. Since he supported the war effort, Mussolini granted him 50 percent of all Neapolitan newspapers (they were previously 100 percent owned by the government through the Bank of Naples).
When the war ended he was imprisoned by the Allies for almost two years, only to be found at the end not guilty of fascist collaboration. Like others, he was ready to purchase Liberty boats that the United States government put on the market. During the huge Italian migration to Australia and South America Lauro crowded thousands of migrants on his ships for whom the Italian government was grateful to pay the fare.
This was also the moment he chose to enter politics. He did not care where. When the left and center parties rejected him as a fascist collaborator, Lauro financed the decaying Monarchist Party and became its local leader. As such, he was elected mayor of Naples in 1953. At the time Lauro also was the owner of the largest private fleet in Europe.
Over the next five years Lauro through his wealth and populistic politics succeeded in becoming the hero of the local people as well as the enemy of the establishment in Rome. He never hesitated to mix his business affairs with the affairs of the town hall—not so much for financial gains as for power and political gain. By 1958 the central government, fearing the spread of fascist-like populism and loss of central government control, dismissed the Lauro administration and named a receiver for the city of Naples. Lauro was elected again as mayor in 1960, but by 1961 he was outvoted by the city council and he resigned.
While in the 1960s business became better and Lauro could expand his fleet, he would never again regain absolute political power in Naples. He took the reins of the business from his sons who, he felt, mismanaged it. Upon the death of his wife of a half century, in 1973 he married a 35 year old would-be actress and tried to restructure the future of his newspapers. Until the end Achille Lauro remained the supreme master of the fleet, the Commander of a greedy family and of the people that alternately adored and hated him.
The best sources on Achille Lauro are in Italian: Pietro Zullino, II Comandante (The Commander) (Milan, 1976); Perey Allum, Potere e societa a Napoli nel dopaguerra (Power and Society in Postwar Naples) (Turin, 1975); Achille Lauro, La mia vita e la mia battaglia (My Life and My Battles) (Naples, 1958); Francesco Compagna, Lauro e la Democrazia Cristiana (Lauro and the Christian Democrats) (Naples, 1960); and Centro Studi Leanardo da Vinci, Achille Lauro, Scritti e Discorsi (Writings and Speeches) (Rome, 1958).