There have been many key people I’ve worked with over my career that shaped the way I see the world, the industry, and other people.
Each phase of my career was influenced by some very special people. I started as a deckhand in the fleets of New Orleans and later in Alabama. I began running smaller boats on the Tombigbee, Intracoastal, Tennessee, and other tributary rivers. I moved from the smaller boats to line haul on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In 2005 I made a move shoreside as a Fleet Manager in the New Orleans area, then progressed to Port Captain and later Operations Manager for AEP River Operations southern fleets. Eventually, I moved into roles in Regulatory Compliance with AEP River Operations then ACBL and currently with Ingram Barge Company. I now serve as Ingram’s VP of Safety, Training, and Compliance as well as Chair for the AWO Interregion Safety Committee, Chair for the Greater New Orleans Port Safety Council, President of the Maritime Navigation Safety Association, and as a committee member on the USCG Towing Safety Advisory Committee.
As a boat captain, I worked with some amazing mariners. Captains Shawn Casey and the late J.C. Bonner initially convinced me to move from the deck to the wheelhouse. Capt. Jimmy Cazalas taught me the fundamentals of both running a boat and managing a crew. He reminded me to always remember that I started as a deckhand and to always hear out other people’s ideas even if I didn’t end up deciding to follow that plan. The late Captains Tom Flint and Vernon Sturgeon taught me the Mississippi in all her wonder in all her different states and stages, with infinite patience I may add.
My transition from working on towing vessels to a shoreside position lay specifically with a few key players as well. Captain Bruce Darst first planted the seeds that eventually led to my decision to venture shoreside. My confidant and person I always went to when things got tough in my early days shoreside was Captain Jeffrey Stover. He had more faith in me sometimes than I think I had in myself at times. He kept me at it when I thought things were getting out of hand.
My early days shoreside were very hectic in the process of standing up a new division of the company, at the time AEP River Operations in Convent, LA. Terence Gomez, John Byers, Tom Reeves, and Marty Hettel all had significant roles in not only teaching me about what I had already learned about running boats but also how to delegate responsibility, keep an eye on the business side of the house and definitely make sure we were having a little fun and not getting completely lost in the work.
Probably my most significant mentor for my career so far has been Jeff Kindle, who I worked with at both AEP River Operations and later at ACBL. Until I worked with Jeff, I had always focused on my microcosmos. On the boat, I worried about my boat. As a fleet manager, I worried about my fleets and the boats servicing them. As an operations manager, I focused on my division and the needs of the business and the mariners working for me. Jeff urged me to look past the immediate world around me and to get involved in the larger industry as a whole and to utilize the knowledge I had gained so far in my career to make a bigger difference industry-wide.
Jeff encouraged me to get more involved with AWO as well as the Maritime Navigation Safety Association and TSAC. All the while he prompted me to speak up when something wasn’t right, to be heard and understand that I had something to offer. By nature, I tend to be a quiet person. Jeff helped develop the confidence I needed to have faith in my opinions and to hold my ground when I saw something that didn’t quite set well with me. Jeff not only taught me, but he also leads by example. He showed me how to spot and develop talent in others, and to let them do their thing and not micromanage. He always respected my opinion even if it wasn’t what he wanted to hear and I‘ve seen him steadfastly hold is ground in the interest of safety over business concerns. In certain circumstances that can be an uncomfortable position, but the safety of people must be the primary focus above all else and is a tenet of how I view the world.
The things that I would have to pass on, that I was taught by some very wise people:
- Never forget where you came from, regardless of your position in the company.
- Always listen to other people’s ideas, even if you don’t decide to do it that way, you at least had the information.
- Never tell someone who is trying to share information that you know all of that already. Even if you’ve heard the story before, the ending may be different this time.
- Be honest with your opinions, especially where it affects business, you may have to live with the results of a bad idea if you don’t speak up. It may not always be popular, but you may know something others don’t.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt. There are several sides to every story. Hear all sides before passing judgment.
- Don’t make the steer before you get to the bend. This was a reference to starting a steer too early on the river but the reference carries through life. From patience with people and situations to driving a car. I probably have repeated this in my head more than anything over the last 20 years.
- And the final lesson from Jeff Kindl—all the stuff you’ve done and learned over your career matters and is very valuable. Use it to make things better. Share your knowledge.