The CEO says he focused on reorganizing, adding top management and growing jobs during his first year on the job.
Ted Fick stepped into the chief executive role at the Port of Seattle amid steep global competition for containerized cargo that led the state’s two largest ports to end a decades-long rivalry, and just before stalled contract negotiations caused slowdowns along the entire West Coast.
After 15 months on the job, Fick says he is getting his bearings and making the top spot his own.
“There was a steep learning curve,” said Fick, whose entire career was spent in the manufacturing sector. “Coming from the private sector to a public agency, dealing with elected officials, trying to recognize all of the different stakeholders that exist, [it] was very different.”
Ted Fick, CEO Port of Seattle
Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Washington, master’s degrees in management from Stanford University and business administration from the University of Puget Sound
Career: President and CEO, Polar Corp., 2009-2013; president and CEO, CPI Card Group, 2007-2008; president, Thermo King Americas brand of Ingersoll-Rand, 2004-2007; vice president, commercial tire systems, Goodyear, 2001-2003; senior vice president, Hino Diesel Trucks unit of Toyota, 2000-2001; Paccar, 1983-2000; and Fick Foundry, 1977-1983.
Family: Wife, Cheryl, of 33 years. Son Teddy, 24, and daughter Stephanie, 21.
Hobbies: Running, skiing, golfing
You didn’t know: He has run 15 marathons and 35 half-marathons, competed in one Ironman and is training for another Ironman in September.
Source: Port of Seattle
In an interview this week, Fick says he spent much of his first year building a foundation and meeting mayors, city mangers and economic-development leaders. He reorganized the Port’s management structure, creating new departments and hiring members into his senior leadership, all of which he said will help make the Port more efficient, grow operations and increase jobs throughout the region.
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Fick’s reorganization includes three lines of business: Aviation, maritime outside the cargo-shipping alliance with the Port of Tacoma and economic development.
“The Port of Seattle had become a heavily siloed organization where the three different lines of business were somewhat self-contained,” Fick said of the airport, seaport and real-estate divisions. “They had a lot of redundancies.”
Fick says now that he better understands the job, he will work toward his bigger vision of creating “one Port” that shares resources, mobilizing across departmental and divisional lines.
He says he knows there was suspicion around bringing in an outsider who would “slash and burn,” but, he says his end goal was and is growth. With all the reorganizing and spinning off the seaport alliance, Fick says there have been no layoffs, although some employees may have new roles, and others may have left on their own.
For example, the managing director of the seaport left to run the Puget Sound Pilots organization immediately after the seaport alliance was formed.
Fick says he has not finished tweaking his senior management. One of the upcoming changes will be the addition of two departments: environment and sustainability, and public safety, which will include Port police, fire and security.
One thing Fick says he has emphasized is speed. He wants the 25-year century agenda to be accomplished in 10 years and he wants to streamline processes within the Port, “instilling a sense of urgency and high expectations” on everyone.
And that, he says, is one thing that worries him.
“The economy is really strong right now, and I don’t want us to take too long to get on with the impacts the Port of Seattle can have,” he said.
As for this year, Fick says the biggest accomplishment was the formation of The Northwest Seaport Alliance, which now manages Tacoma and Seattle’s cargo divisions. Plans were set in motion in October 2014 and it was finalized in August 2015.
The second biggest accomplishment, he says, was the public-private partnership between the Port and Norwegian Cruise Line announced in August. It is an unprecedented, 15-year lease with the two splitting an estimated $30 million in facility upgrades at Bell Street Cruise Terminal’s Pier 66.
Fick says other events were more challenging to manage.
When contract negotiations between dockworkers and terminal operators stalled last year, leading to the West Coast port slowdown, the Port of Seattle was on the sidelines.
The Port leases its terminals to operators. As the landlord, it had to stand back and ask for a federal mediator to step in, which didn’t happen until January. Even after a tentative agreement, the Port took months to eliminate the container backlog.
Fick says he realizes the importance of having a strong relationship with all the labor unions that have collective-bargaining agreements with the Port, and those that don’t, like the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which was involved in the slowdown. This is part of the role of the senior director of the new labor-relations department.
The protest by some to the lease with Foss Maritime that allowed Shell’s oil rig to moor at Terminal 5 before exploring for oil off Alaska’s North Slope was distracting, Fick says. While he says the Port chose legal cargo that would bring jobs and create revenue while the terminal becomes big-ship ready, he adds that perhaps it should have had more public comment or more outreach sessions.
“You are not going to please all the people all the time,” he said. “This is what ports do … When you start judging cargo on its political merits, it is a very slippery slope.”
Looking forward, Fick knows there is a lot to get done. One of his top priorities is to finish the real-estate strategic plan, he says.
Fick says real estate, which is within the economic-development division, is a job creator because building out the Port’s real estate will give businesses a place to grow. He also wants to look for opportunities to acquire property.
Also within economic development, the Port doubled down on the budget for workforce development for 2016 to help technical trade schools and labor create a pipeline of talent, such as welders and construction workers. These maritime jobs, Fick says, pay more than $15 an hour and do not require a degree.
“We are more interested in quality jobs, living-wage jobs, than just jobs,” he said.
Next year will bring more work on infrastructure projects. Pier 66 will be redeveloped with the help of Norwegian. Terminal 5 will be going through environmental review. The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has the north satellite to complete as well as the international-arrivals facility.
Also at the airport, the sustainable master plan, which will help the airport as it continues to outgrow its current space, should be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration by the first half of 2016. FAA approval may take a year, Fick said.
“We need to be steam-shovel ready with construction equipment idling, waiting for the document to arrive from the FAA, so that we can begin to move forward,” he said.