By Jonathan Van Dyke, October 31, 2013
HOW ARE YOU? Harbor Commission President Thomas Fields greets a crowd at the Hyatt Regency.
Port of Long Beach Harbor Commission President Thomas Fields says
he has seen the headlines — but don’t believe everything you read.
He specifically noted an article in the Journal of Commerce
called “Turmoil in Long Beach,” which talks about differences in opinion
between commissioners in how the port should move forward — mainly in
regards to the vacant position of executive director. He spoke during a
luncheon on Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency sponsored by the California
Trucking Association and the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.
The picture accompanying the article had ominous
clouds above the harbor. Fields juxtaposed the photo with the a still
photo of an alien ship above the White House from the movie
“Okay, so it’s not quite that bad,” Fields said
with a chuckle. “We’re a headstrong, independent lot. There’s absolutely
nothing wrong with that. Democracy is messy. Sometimes it’s like
letting a 2-year-old operate a blender without a lid, but in the end,
democracy works. It has for the last 200-plus years.
“Yes, we have problems … but we will get it right.”
Fields said that the discussion on who should be
the next executive director will be a public discussion, “not dominated
by a single voice or group,” and it will include stakeholders, city
officials and ordinary citizens.
J. Christopher Lytle left the position in the
summer after less than 18 months on the job. He had followed Richard
Steinke, who was executive director for 14 years.
“Both men were known throughout our industry as
people whose word were their bond,” Fields said. “They gave it and you
could take it to the bank. Each of them knew how to build and maintain
relationships to bring in business. I want our next executive director
to fit in that mold. If I could find a clone, that’s who I would hire.”
So far, the Harbor Commission has commissioned a
survey from stakeholders regarding the open position. Staff is expected,
at some point, to present the commission with some of the leading
executive search firms in the country.
Fields said that during the search he was
confident in the people in acting positions at the top of the port.
Acting Executive Director Al Moro was the Chief Harbor Engineer and
Acting Deputy Executive Director Noel Hacegaba was the Chief Operating
“There is no one better to direct our $4.5
billion infrastructure program,” Fields said of Moro. “And he’s been a
truly calming force for our staff.”
Fields said the port is paying about $2.5 million a day of the $4.5 billion, while only pulling in about $1 million a day.
“We can only do this because of a carefully
formulated financing plan, which is leveraged by the future revenues we
will receive from customers who have made long-term commitments to our
port,” he added, noting circumstances like a 40-year agreement with
In regards to market share, Fields said the port
wasn’t doing as well as it was about 10 years ago. He noted that Asia
containerized import share for the San Pedro ports market have declined
from 56.5% to 48% between 2003 and 2012. He also used WalMart as an
example — its shipping through the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports
decreased from 85% in 2003 to 15% today.
To combat those declines in marketplace share, he
said, it would take the continued building of strong partnerships, and
he vowed to travel to all of those potential partners in Asia and to
company headquarters like WalMart or Lowe’s.
“That’s scary, but it’s not hopeless,” he said.
Shipping companies Maersk, MSC and CMA CGM
recently agreed to form the P3 Alliance. Together, the world’s three
largest carriers have 14.7% of the total global container fleet.
“They (MSC and CMA CGM) told us in no certain
terms they would be drastically cutting down on the number of ports and
terminals they sent their ships to,” Fields said, noting it was
important to keep upgrading port facilities in the evolving market.
Finally, Fields said when he returns from a
two-week trip in Asia, he and staff will be proposing a special
committee to advise the board on what can be done to make the port more
productive, efficient and more competitive.