In his first 100 days on the job, State Ports Authority Chief Executive Officer Jim Newsome has learned this:
He likes when the cranes at the Wando Welch Terminal fold out of sight from his Mount Pleasant rental home window because that means they're at work, loading and unloading containers from ships.
That even the top man at the agency can't escape certain bureaucratic lay-ups. It took him two-and-a-half months to get a Transportation Worker Identification Credential badge, which allows him to visit the terminals without an escort.
And that this work, unlike his previous role as an executive with German shipping line Hapag-Lloyd, requires that he plan for events that won't happen for a decade or more.
"In container shipping, everything is very short-term," Newsome said, sitting in the board room at the SPA's Concord Street headquarters. "The most long-term project is a ship, and it takes three years to get. Terminals take 15 years."
Newsome jumped into this job Sept. 1, at a time when developing a new container terminal on the former Navy base was only one of several colossal priorities waiting on his desk.
The Savannah native has tackled them systematically, in each case crediting those absent from the press conference podiums but who helped establish the foundation.
On day 17, he joined an excited group of politicians at Waterfront Park to announce the port's first year-round cruise contract. On day 52, during his first State of the Port address, he shared with a celebratory maritime community that the SPA had landed an extended contract with Maersk Line, the world's largest container carrier and the port's biggest customer, with which the agency had been doing a negotiations dance for the better part of a year.
Waterfront business leaders had raised eyebrows when Newsome stated in October that he would announce a yet-to-be-reached resolution with Maersk in time for the annual gala a few weeks away. Some called it a mistake.
"Did people say that?" Newsome said in the recent interview.
"When I said 'resolved' I didn't necessarily mean favorably resolved," he added. "I'm a bit of a risk-taker in life. I felt, based on the tenor of the dialogue, it would be resolved."
He described that night, when the shipping community clinked glasses over $95-a-plate dinners, as the most fun he's had here. But even with those accomplishments under his name in a little more than three months on the job, Newsome keeps his eye fixed on the biggest task yet.
"I can't get away from that single-minded focus," he said. "Our volume is really down: 40 percent from 2005 levels."
Often stressing that he's not an economist, Newsome knows this economy won't rebound as fast as it fell. And so, while container volume remains dreadfully low, he hopes to continue to broaden the SPA's cargo base, pulling in more bulk and break-bulk contracts that bring in less cash but require more labor and keep the terminals buzzing.
He wants to enlarge BMW's car-shipping operations, perhaps taking some of its business to the North Charleston Terminal and refocusing that facility away from containerized cargo. And though it's early yet, he hopes Veterans Terminal can handle giant offshore wind turbines as North Charleston emerges as a test bed for the alternative energy source.
The SPA also recently developed with the Department of Commerce a list of potential distribution centers to court. And the agency might soon launch a rail-transport subsidy with the goal of reducing train costs for shipping lines and getting some truck traffic off local roads and highways.
"My initial time here I spent trying to engage the community," Newsome said. "It was really critical to convince people that this is a good port."
He remembers the industry of his father's era "when it was a lot less collaborative" and his previous life as an executive in a business that mostly shunned publicity.
"It's difficult for me because I was in the private sector before," he said. "We didn't talk about things, even when they were great."
But Newsome recently found himself extending the Union Pier cruise terminal planning so the agency and its design firm could incorporate public suggestions.
Outside of recovering volume, he looks toward the Port of Georgetown, a terminal in dire need of deepening to keep new business and lure additional contracts.
"I hope that's one of the things in the next 100 days we might have fixed," he said. "I call that a 'high-class problem' when you have more cargo that you can handle."
At the helm
Name: James 'Jim' L. Newsome
Job: Joined the State Ports Authority as president and CEO on Sept. 1, succeeding Bernard S. Groseclose, who resigned earlier this year.
Work background: Newsome was previously president of Hapag-Lloyd (America) Inc. Prior to joining Hapag-Lloyd in 1997, he was with Nedlloyd Lines from 1987-97. He was executive vice president of the Americas for Nedlloyd Lines and president of Nedlloyd Lines (USA) Corp. based in Atlanta. Before that, he spent 10 years with Strachan Shipping Co., where he was president of their Hoegh Lines Agencies subsidiary in Jersey City. He held other positions in Houston, Texas and New York City with Strachan.
Education: Bachelor's degree in transportation and logistics (1976) and a master's degree in business administration with a concentration in transportation and logistics (1977). Both degrees are from the University of Tennessee.
Source: State Ports Authority
Reach Allyson Bird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5594.