I have been blessed to have had some really great mentors during my (50) year career in the inland tankbarge industry. The one who really stands out particularly in my first (20) years is Howard Brent of Greenville, MS.
I took over as President of a small barge company known called Ole Man River Towing in 1974 at the age of (24) years old. My dad, Thomas Golding, had started this small barge company in the late 60's but he was doing it more as an investment with a group of other investors here in Vicksburg. The manager that was running the company had died unexpectedly. I was riding the M/V Martha May as a tankerman and as a licensed steersman at the time. After the death of our manager my dad called me and told me that my days onboard were over and that I needed to come in and make out payroll and figure out how to run the barge company. None of the (8) investors of Ole Man River Towing were actively involved in the management of this barge company. I had to come in and learn really fast or this company was simply not going to make it. It was just me and (2) other people in the office.
The Brent family of Greenville had been lifelong friends of our family. Howard and his brother Lea Brent along with their dad Jesse Brent ran a really successful barge line known as Brent Towing Company. I naturally leaned on Howard to give me advise on everything from crewing to where can I find a job for our (2) boats and a hand full of tankbarges. In football you hear the term of a "player's coach" well Howard was a "crewman's owner". He was a licensed mariner who had spent a number of years onboard as a pilot and he knew the river and its people. He also knew the business side of the industry and was well thought of throughout our industry from the 1950's on into the 90's.
I learned so much from watching how Howard ran his company. He had the kind of culture within Brent Towing that every owner would want to have but very few can achieve. His employees loved him because they knew he understood their jobs and that he "had their back." His Captains were extremely loyal to Howard Brent and they knew that if they were ever in distress or needed anything Howard was always there for them and their families. One of the other things that I learned from Howard is that is truly appreciated his customers and he would always go the extra mile to protect their interest at every turn. His customers truly loved Howard and their loyalty toward Brent Towing was the envy of every other tankbarge owner during those days. These are traits that I picked up from Howard and that are still carried on today within Golding Barge Line.
Howard also taught me that you need to develop some close relationships within this industry. You cannot make it by yourself and everyone at some point will need to call on a friend. I have been truly blessed with not only some really good mentors during my career but have also been blessed with some really good life long relationships. Some of my friends and mentors may also be my competitors but the great thing about the barge business is that we are able to put that aside and help our friends when needed. You will not find this type of fraternal order within any other industry today.
Howard is now (85) years old and is retired from the industry. He and I still talk on a weekly basis and he will always still ask me how is your business and how are the river conditions. In the river industry you never really get the river out of your blood and a true mentor will always be your mentor for the long run.