* Jacques Saade set up the firm in 1978
* Saade's son Rodolphe named CEO last year (Adds detail, background)
PARIS, June 25 (Reuters) - Jacques Saade, the Lebanese immigrant who founded French shipbuilding firm CMA CGM and oversaw its rise to become a leading global player in its sector, died aged 81 on June 24, the company said on Monday.
Saade set up the group in 1978 after leaving Lebanon during the civil war in that country, starting off with four employees, a single ship and only one maritime service between Marseilles and Beirut.
In 1983, he sent his first ships beyond the Mediterranean and had them pass through the Suez Canal. Over the next decade, he launched a service linking northern Europe to Asia and opened the company's first office in Shanghai in 1992.
CMA CGM, which is the world's third-largest container shipping group, said last year that Rodolphe Saade would succeed his father as its new chief executive.
In March the company reported a $701 million net profit for last year, confirming its turnaround after a shipping downturn in 2016 when it suffered a $452 million loss.
Container shipping lines, which transport everything from televisions to fresh fruit and dominate global freight volumes, are emerging from a severe downturn that culminated in the 2016 collapse of South Korea's Hanjin Shipping.
The sector has also undergone a wave of consolidation, with world leader Maersk acquiring Hamburg Sud, while CMA CGM bought Singapore-based APL in 2016. (Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Jason Neely)