Newsome has top credentials

Newsome

The State Ports Authority's likely pick for its new chief executive comes with a certain familiarity to those within the Southern shipping community.

To them, 53-year-old Jim Newsome is more than the upwardly mobile president of Hapag-Lloyd's America division outside New York City. To them, he's Jimmy, the Savannah native and namesake of a Georgia maritime leader who worked for the ports authority and with organized labor.

He's the child who spent every Saturday on the docks tagging along with his father. He's one of those who took a slight Southern accent to shipping-line outposts across the country.

Ron Brinson, a port consultant and former president and chief executive of the American Association of Port Authorities, remembered telling recruiters while chief executive of the Port of New Orleans, "Go see if Jimmy Newsome is available."

"The bottom line here is they could not have done better," Brinson said. "Anyone who has been in this business the last 30 years knows who Jimmy Newsome is."

What makes him special, according to Brinson, is that Newsome picked the transportation business at an early age, studied it and then stuck to it as he built a career.

Brinson compared Newsome to Don Welch, a previous SPA chief executive who, like Newsome, earned a master's degree in Logistics and Transportation from the University of Tennessee.

"He is a Don Welch with a maritime background," Brinson said. Welch, who retired in 1997 and died in January, was credited as the architect of the state's modern port system by focusing on containerized cargo.

Before heading up German-based Hapag-Lloyd's America division, Newsome served as the company's southern area senior vice president for more than a decade.

He previously served in executive positions with the company then known as Nedlloyd Lines, and before that worked his way up with Strachan Shipping Co.

"The success of this port or any port is understanding what's going on with steamship lines these days," Brinson said. "It's a huge focus on what kind of service you can attract to your port. There might be some people out there equally adept at this, but no one more so."

If named chief executive, Newsome will take charge in the midst of a port restructuring debate in the Statehouse prompted by turmoil within the agency.

The SPA's largest customer, Danish-based container carrier Maersk Line, announced in December that it would depart the Port of Charleston after it could not reach a cost-saving arrangement on which maritime unions and the SPA could agree.

That news came on the heels of a nearly 10 percent drop in container volume last fiscal year, while prime competitor Savannah grew by about 10 percent. Weeks after the Maersk announcement, then-chief executive Bernard S. Groseclose Jr., Welch's protege, resigned during a performance evaluation.

Neither Newsome nor SPA officials would confirm whether he plans to accept the position. The SPA board next meets June 23, and search committee chairman Bill Stern said a new chief executive would be named by or on that date.

Larry Young, vice president and general manager of stevedoring company SSA Cooper, knew Newsome's late father, who served as director of operations at the Port of Savannah.

The elder Newsome later worked for the Savannah Maritime Association and the Carriers Container Council, and also served on the South Atlantic Employers Negotiating Committee, a bargaining association that deals with unions.

Young said father and son developed reputations as smart businessmen and straight shooters.

"If he's picked and takes the job, the Port of Charleston couldn't do any better," Young said. "I think he'll lead us back and on to new heights."

Billy Adams, executive director of the S.C. Stevedores Association, worked the Georgia docks under Newsome's father and said he supports the younger Newsome taking the helm in South Carolina.

"I see quite a change in the port right now in terms of attitudes," Adams said. "I think he'll just continue that uptick."

Newsome is married with two children. His 22-year-old daughter graduated in May with an English degree from the University of Georgia and plans to attend Richmont Graduate University. His 18-year-old son heads to the University of North Carolina this fall.