FROM THE PRESIDENT’S DESK: Ports Behind the Scenes
* By Kurt J. Nagle, President & CEO, American Association of Port Authorities *
As public port authorities, AAPA’s members are highly visible organizations. First, they are government agencies, which means they operate in the full sunlight of open meetings, live webcasts, public hearings and other opportunities for members of the public to see and engage with the port. Second, they are responsible for local and regional goals related to jobs and the economy, and increasingly areas such as environmental health as well – all of which speak to their importance as organizations. Third, by the very nature of facilitating global trade, they are interacting with multinational corporations and well-resourced financial partners in the facilitation of goods movement that benefit people everywhere in their daily activities as well as key economic sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture.
Because of this visibility, many port industry customers, community partners and others might think they know what a port does. But what often remains obscured by these very public faces of ports are the incredible machinations that take place out of the public eye – operations and processes that are not hidden or confidential but those that are simply overshadowed by the giant ship at berth being worked by impressive cranes, the hosting of a well-attended community movie night on the waterfront or the business deal with a new customer that is announced with flourish.
This issue of Seaports magazine is devoted to ports “behind the scenes.” What goes into those cargo movements and those business deals? How do ports end up with the right executives leading the organization at the right time?
Ports are often responsible for multimillion, or even billion, dollar capital projects that range from terminal developments to bridge replacements. When the stakes are so high for project delivery, ports have to be incredibly thoughtful about the process they use to manage capital projects and also the partners they work with to execute those projects. As part of AAPA’s deep dive into the issue of project delivery, Seaports magazine has a special feature highlighting the project delivery aspects of the third set of Panama Canal locks, with insights and reflections from key employees at the Panama Canal Authority.
As critical as the capital projects ports deliver are the business deals that drive them. Ports of the Western Hemisphere agree that while technology has added to the ability of individuals to communicate directly, face to face meetings and in-person negotiations are still critical to the success of reaching agreement.
But technology itself is changing port operations – and the way ports interact with their customers – in other positive ways. AAPA’s member ports are employing sophisticated technology solutions in a variety of areas to improve operations and increase the value of the port to their customers and industry partners. These solutions range from automating information that had previous been handled manually, employing wide use of GIS, creating apps to serve trucking industry needs and leading within their stakeholder communities to create technology solutions that benefit all the players in a port complex by making information more transparent and timely.
All of these behind-the-scenes operations and decisions are led by highly competent port executives, an increasing number of which are women. The industry has evolved away from an expectation of at-sea or maritime academy experience, and many port commissions are focused on finding individuals who bring a specific skill set to the table. The result is that women are serving in port leadership roles in record numbers, broadening diversity within the port industry and ensuring that executive positions are filled by the best possible candidates.
While I enjoy the public facing parts of ports as much as anyone in this industry – there is still something impressive and awe inspiring seeing a huge container or cruise vessel at berth – this issue of Seaports shines a spotlight on the parts of ports that I have grown to appreciate on a separate, parallel plane: the hardworking port executives and staff members who tirelessly deliver prosperity for the hemisphere, even when the work is all behind the scenes.