Facing steep global competition and the prospect of collaborating more closely with Tacoma, the Port of Seattle commissioners have tapped a business executive with no shipping or aviation experience as its next chief executive.
The Port announced Wednesday it selected Ted J. Fick, 55, to succeed Tay Yoshitani, who is retiring as CEO next month after seven years.
The commission plans to formally vote on Fick on Sept. 11 and, if approved, he will make $350,000 a year.
“Ted has the right combination of skills and dynamic leadership to help the Port of Seattle thrive in the globally competitive environment ports face today,” said commission Co-President Courtney Gregoire in a statement. “He brings the fresh perspective and breadth of experience we need to help our region generate new jobs and economic growth,”
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Founded in 1911, the Port of Seattle supports 200,000 jobs across Washington and owns and operates Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and the seaport. Sea-Tac has a $13.2 billion economic impact on the region, while the maritime industry represents a $30 billion industry for the state.
Fick holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Washington and master’s degrees in management from Stanford University and business administration from the University of Puget Sound. He spent many years working in the Puget Sound region’s manufacturing and industrial sector, beginning at his family’s Tacoma-based company, Fick Foundry.
He worked at the Kenworth truck division of Bellevue-based Paccar for 17 years. In 2000, he left the Pacific Northwest and most recently served as CEO of Polar Corp., a $475 million tank-trailer and component-parts manufacturer based in Minnesota.
“I am honored to join the Port of Seattle, an organization I’ve depended on, worked with and admired throughout my career,” Fick said in a statement.
The Port of Seattle has faced challenges over the years as the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to the south have continued to invest heavily in their megaports, and to the north Port of Prince Rupert, B.C., has built up its container capacity with a mainline railroad to the middle of the United States. The wider Panama Canal also will allow large container ships to bypass the West Coast to reach Gulf of Mexico and East Coast ports.
In response, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma announced a plan in January to scale back fierce head-to-head competition and work cooperatively, with federal government oversight.
A Tacoma native, Fick will replace Yoshitani, a Japanese immigrant who landed at the Port of Seattle in 1954 as a 7-year-old aboard a ship that sailed from Yokohama. Yoshitani took the CEO job in 2007 with decades of port experience in Los Angeles, Baltimore and Oakland.
Yoshitani’s predecessor, Mic Dinsmore, CEO for 15 years, had previously been the Port’s seaport manager and chief operating officer.
Although Fick’s experience is not in the maritime or aviation sectors, Port commissioners believe he will bring a fresh perspective.
“Ted’s experience across multiple facets of the supply chain, coupled with an ability to manage organizations through growth and change, make him the right leader at the right time,” Commission Co-President Stephanie Bowman said in a statement.
Bowman and Gregoire both joined the Port in 2013.
Kenny Down, CEO of Seattle-based Blue North Fisheries, worked closely with the Port and other industry leaders on a recent maritime-industry study.
Down said Yoshitani’s administration realized the importance of the fishing industry and was very receptive to working with them to keep the industry alive. He said he hopes Fick will follow suit.
“From shipbuilding, to chief engineers on board the vessels, all the way to oilers and deckhands, we’ve found we have an aging workforce, and many young people aren’t really aware of the opportunities available,” Down said. “The greatest need is outreach from the Port in support of proper training and working with local schools and community colleges.”
Joe Sprague, senior vice president of external relations with Alaska Airlines, said people tend to focus on the maritime industry when thinking of the Port of Seattle.
He said he hopes Fick will recognize the importance of Sea-Tac and the impact the airport and the Alaska Air Group has on the economy.
“As one of the Port’s top customers — we view the Port as a critically important partner to us,” he said. “We’re not some out-of-state company — we are headquartered right here. So we’ll want to work with Ted to help him understand how significant that is.”
Mike Evans, president of Polar Service Centers, worked with Fick for two years before Fick left Polar Corp. in March 2013. He said the two remain friends and ran the Twin Cities Marathon together last October.
“My time is not nearly what his is, but he stuck with me to the finish,” Evans said. “That just exemplifies Ted — he’s always been there to help out a friend when they need it.”
Fick did not respond to requests for comment, but Evans said he spoke to him a week ago and Fick was excited to be moving back to Washington.
“Ted makes good decisions. He thinks everything through very much and is very conscientious,” Evans said. “He’ll represent the city of Seattle and the Port very well.”