“I started in the marine business in June of 1981. I had no idea what the marine industry was about, but I answered a job ad with The Ohio River Company for a crew dispatcher that included tuition assistance. I was going to get my MBA and then find a real job. Never dreamed 39 years later I would have the most wonderful journey anyone could have ever hoped for in the maritime business. I was blessed with a number of mentors over my career.
I was on the job during my first week when a gentleman by the name of Dick Hand asked me to stop by his office. Dick was working shoreside in the engineering department, but had worked on the boats as an engineer for a number of years before coming to the office. Dick wanted to offer some advice to help me dispatch crews. Dick said that I would experience crew needs that would require employees to come back to work early, it was just part of the business. Dick explained that I should always tell them the truth about how long they would be required to work and never tell the employee just a few days and then keep them on the boats for weeks on end. Dick also said the cook was a very important member of the vessel team and I should make sure a good cook was on the boat. Dick explained that the boat was a home away from home for the vessel employees and crew morale was very important to a successful boat crew. Dick didn’t need to offer to me those words of wisdom that made my crew dispatching very successful, but he cared enough to take the time to help me learn. I think this sums up why I ended up loving the maritime business. Over the years, I have had so many positive relationships I could never detail all of them in this short summary.
Another gentleman by the name of Jackie Demint, who was a long-time fleet mate for The Ohio River Company, educated me on the inland waterways facilities and ended up teaching me how to install fleets on the various rivers to ensure barges would not breakaway. ‘No two facilities are the same,’ he stressed to me. In 1985, we traveled from St. Louis to St. Paul, MN, and stopped at every facility on the river when The Ohio River Company acquired Federal Barge Line and its subsidiaries (United Barge Line, Heartland Transportation and a small southern operation called Triangle Fleeting Corp). Jackie would show me how eddies would develop at different river levels and how fleets would react during the river level changes. He taught me barging 101 to help me manage the facilities in a safe and efficient manner for the company. I was a young kid and Jackie felt it was important that I would understand the importance of taking care of the customer’s product and company equipment. He didn’t need to go the extra mile, but he did. It was because he cared so much for the industry. We ended up traveling every river on the system at that time, except the Arkansas. Safety was always stressed to me along the way and turned out to be my number one priority during my career.
I was blessed to have a number of jobs throughout my career. I was involved in vessel crewing, labor negotiations, facility management, coal and phosphate terminals, financial planning, human resources, sales, operations and eventually held senior level positions at a number of companies. I used to joke at Ohio River Company that I was misfit and they couldn’t find a place to put me. I would take jobs that nobody wanted and learn as much as possible. I believe that same opportunity that I had still exists today in the marine business. In addition to Dick and Jackie, Dave Hammond, Ray Paquin, Bill Ferguson, Steve Frasher, Scott Noble, George Anderson, Craig Philip, Doug Ruschman, Bruce McGinnis and Peter Stephaich have all had a helping hand in making my maritime career a wonderful experience.
I believe the real message is that maritime business has so many great people who are willing to pass on the secret sauce of the business. All you need to do is be willing to learn, be a good listener and stay humble along the way. You should always be willing to tap other people for ideas and opinions. No one is smarter than all of us working together. At the end of day make sure you pass on the secret sauce when the time is right to keep our wonderful tradition going! We have fantastic people in the business. As Paul Book once told me if my car breaks down anywhere near the inland waterway system I will have a friend willing to come help me along the way. What a wonderful tribute to the business.”