Agency under new leadership

Paul McClintock

With fewer than five months on the job, State Ports Authority chief commercial officer Paul McClintock shared with a truckers group Thursday how his agency has reformed its way of doing business.

Charged with selling and marketing the SPA, McClintock said he began that task over dinners with maritime leaders. He spoke candidly at Thursday's Charleston Motor Carriers Association lunch meeting about the SPA's previous shortcomings and its game plan to recoup business.

"Some of the overriding messages were the ports authority lost sight of its real aim. ... We were focused not on business development and growing jobs. We were focused on making money," McClintock said.

He identified breakbulk, or cargo not shipped in containers, as one way to generate more work for truckers, longshoremen and others, if not the SPA. And then he said he realized that the current bulk and breakbulk sales structures within the agency proved "dysfunctional."

He reorganized and set a goal: Employees must increase breakbulk business by 10 percent this year.

Approaching containerized cargo, McClintock said, amounted to asking, "What are we going to do to stop the bleeding?"

He knows as well as anyone just how hard that will be. He most recently worked as vice president of North American sales for global multimodal transportation company MOL (America) Inc. and said the "dire shape" of the shipping industry in part drove him to find a new job.

He said the top 20 container carriers expect individual losses this year ranging from $400 million to $2 billion. "To predict who is going to go out of business is really to predict who runs out of money first," he said.

Instead of focusing only on SPA customers, McClintock urged his team to reach out to companies that hold title to the freight, known as beneficial cargo owners. As he put it, he asked them to "skip a few sales calls and actually bring business here."

McClintock remembered joining the SPA team in the midst of negative publicity, new port restructuring legislation, an unresolved contract negotiation with the agency's top customer and an ongoing search for a new chief executive.

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He said maritime leaders told him, "It was almost like the ports authority was arrogant and didn't care about generating business."

McClintock said the agency works aggressively now to get out the word about its naturally deep harbor, an asset as the Panama Canal expansion in 2014 draws nearer.

He also spoke about the collaborative statewide effort to lure the company known only as "Project Neptune" as the anchor tenant in a new distribution center cluster.

After McClintock's presentation Thursday, Motor Carriers Association President Stan Nutt likened the SPA to a football team.

"Before there wasn't enough blocking and tackling going on," he told the group. "I get upset when I see people ruin blocks and tackles. I don't think we'll be seeing that from this team."

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or