Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Challenges and opportunities await Port of Tampa's next director


The next director of the Port of Tampa faces a world of opportunity — and risk.

The port, Florida's largest, takes in 40 percent of the state's seaborne cargo. It has a diverse portfolio, handling fertilizer, fuel, cargo containers and cruise ship passengers. Last year it generated a record $42 million in operating revenue. The future holds promise: $320 million in improvements are planned for the next five years.

A new rail line and roadway connecting Interstate 4 and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway will make it faster to move cargo out of the port. Tampa also hopes to lure more cargo when the Panama Canal expansion is complete in 2014.

But as Tampa Bay's economy has suffered, so has the port. Total tonnage has fallen for six straight years. The phosphate market has diminished, the housing bust crippled construction shipments and coal has disappeared from its docks. There's also trouble on the horizon: The port fears losing its cruise ship business because the new megaships won't fit under the Sunshine Skyway bridge. And if the economy doesn't recover, how can the port?

The next director has to navigate all this and more as the head of a public agency that serves the interests of citizens and industry alike.

The successful candidate will take over for Richard Wainio, who abruptly resigned last month after seven years at the helm. Wainio, who makes $251,118 annually, had his contract renewed last summer despite opposition from a coalition of port industries.

The governing board criticized Wainio for his poor relationship with port businesses and tenants but praised him for guiding the port through the economic downturn and loss of international shipping.

The Tampa Bay Times asked the port's public and private stakeholders what skills and traits they want to see in the next director.

"We're going to do a worldwide search, and we're going to get the best person to run the port," said William "Hoe" Brown, the recently elected chairman of the port's governing board. "There is no hurry in this."

Candidates for Tampa Port Authority's next director must have a master's degree related to business, administration or engineering. They must have spent at least 10 years in operations and seven years in management of a major seaport. They must pass an extensive background and security check and have a valid driver's license.

The job itself, though, is a bit more complicated than that.

The next director must run the Tampa Port Authority and oversee the port's operations, finances and marketing. The director will have to be a business executive and a politician, an accountant and a salesman, a caretaker and a visionary, all at the same time.

This public servant will not only have to deal with local, state and federal agencies (and comply with the laws of all three, as well) but also work with the area's private maritime industry — and help companies expand their businesses, their clients and their profits.

The search hasn't begun yet. First the governing board, made up of seven commissioners, must hire an executive search firm to find viable candidates. The board will meet three finalists and then select the next director.

"I think you need to look for a person who can establish a good rapport," said Allen Thompson, executive director of the Tampa Bay Pilots Association, "who has solid credibility in the maritime arena, who has a solid financial background, a person who can manage complex organizations and deal with complex situations."

But the next director cannot be a master of just one or two or even three areas, he said.

"I think you look at their leadership and expertise across a broad spectrum," Thompson said. "I think you can focus on one (area) over the other and maybe lose some substance."

Port Commissioner Lawrence Shipp said the next chairman must also keep an eye on the purse strings: "It's got to be someone who realizes they're stewards of the public's money."

Bill Kuzmick, president of the SS American Victory, the maritime museum and World War II cargo ship docked at Channelside, wants to see a leader with imagination.

"The bottom line is I think it's an exciting time to bring in a guy who's an innovator," Kuzmick said, "who has some vision."

Commissioner Patrick Allman, general manager of Odyssey Manufacturing Co., said that usually ports bring in the No. 2 executive from another port to become their No. 1. He finds that too limiting.

"If you've run a shipyard, if you've run a shipping company, if you've run a cruise ship (business), you absolutely have maritime CEO experience," Allman said. "I'm not looking for anything in particular. But I want to make sure we don't lock ourselves in with someone who's just been a deputy port director at a smaller port. I would like to broaden the search and think outside the box and maybe get someone whose experience may not be the perfect match."

Allman, a captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve, would even consider a high-ranking military figure: "Anyone who has served at a high level in the military knows it's a lot more political than you could know."

Shipp said the next director faces a balancing act: running the port for today while keeping an eye on tomorrow.

"A new guy coming in here is going to have to learn what's going on," he said, "and also have his vision for what's going to happen."

Shipp added this to his list of requirements: "Someone who can help us in bad times as well as good."

That's because these have been tough times for the port. Total tonnage has been falling since 2006, before the Great Recession even started in December 2007.

The port peaked at 48 million tons of bulk and liquid cargo and general goods in 2006. But last year that number fell to 34 million tons. That's 29 percent and almost 14 million tons less of everything from phosphates to petroleum to cargo containers.

Job one for the next director, stakeholders told the Times, is reversing that trend.

"I want him to recognize that is the No. 1 problem we're facing, and you're the man willing to take that challenge on," Allman said. "To me, that's it in a nutshell. Every one of these (port) businesses does better when there's more tonnage.

"… We need somebody who is more of a sales and marketing type who is going to get out and get that business."

That's what Commissioner Stephen Swindal, chairman of Marine Towing of Tampa, wants to see. He favors hiring a director who has already made inroads into the world of international shipping and can use those connections to benefit Tampa's port.

"I would also like to see somebody internationally known, that gives us a competitive edge to bring business to this port," Swindal said. "I think it's important to have those contacts. It may not necessarily give you the business, but it gets your foot in the door."

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who serves on the port board, said the next director must figure out how the port fits into the greater Tampa Bay area.

"I want to see somebody that has a good vision for the port and our community and just this whole region," she said.

Dennis Manelli, the vice president of the Gulf Marine Repair Corp. shipyard, said many see Tampa International Airport chief executive officer Joe Lopano as a role model for the port's next CEO. Lopano was hired 17 months ago to re-energize the airport and bring in more international and West Coast flights.

"I think the port has suffered from the economy like everyone else," Manelli said. "The (airport) is getting back on track, and we need to do the same thing here. We need someone who has a track record of working with the community and a number of different parties to get results. Someone who is collaborative."

But Manelli said the next director cannot be solely judged on the success of the Tampa Port Authority. They need to be judged on the success of the entire port community, which comprises more than 100 businesses who operate at the port and dozens more that do business with the port.

"That includes private businesses in private facilities, not just private businesses on public land," Manelli said. "The port community is more than just the Port Authority. It's pretty diverse.

"We lose sight of the fact that it is an economic development entity. You have to look at all the other stakeholders at the port and see how they're doing. When you go out and market, you can't just do it for the port authority. You have to market for the whole port."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404.

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