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The Road to Success Is Paved with Professional Development

Taking the time to invest in career growth might seem to fall at the end of a very long to-do list. The payoff, however, can be deep and extend well beyond that next career move. Follow these up-and-coming leaders sharing these personal and insightful stories.

* By Sandy Smith *

Port leaders – whether departmental leaders or at the top of the organizational chart – have a lot to juggle these days. Budgets. Hiring. Community involvement. Stakeholders. Tenants. And, of course the ever-changing responsibilities of their own port.

So taking the time to invest in career growth might seem to fall at the end of a very long to-do list. The payoff, however, can be deep – and extend well beyond that next career move. These up-and-coming leaders talk about the keys to their personal development.

There is no longer a direct Point A to Point B career plan for the next generation of port leaders. Some come to the industry from other careers – and some of those moves are far afield. Lisa Lefeber, deputy executive director, Port of Everett, was a news reporter covering the port. In 2004, when the executive director created a community relations position, he suggested Lefeber apply. Anticipating the difficult road ahead for print newspapers in the age of the internet, Lefeber thought it worth pursuing. “It was the best career decision I have made.”

Shannon McLeod also came into ports from communications about 15 years ago. Now a senior planner in WSP’s Maritime Division, McLeod jumped when her company’s planning department sought help and offered to train. “It was a little scary, completely switching a career path.”

That set her off on a learning journey, to Old Dominion for a master’s degree in port management, and more recently into the AAPA’s Professional Port Manager (PPM®) program, where she is part of the class of 2023.

Patrick Blair, director of engineering, Port of Tampa Bay, brought his construction skills into the port industry after the recession in 2010. He was working as a structural engineer on buildings and other structures including work at Orlando theme parks. “I saw an opportunity at the port and I was looking for change.”

He thought he would eventually end up in construction again, after the economy settled down. “After a few years, I realized this never got old. You start designing buildings and structures repeatedly and things can get repetitive. But this job never got boring.”

Others have had a more direct route, like Nick Vandenheiligenberg, assistant business development manager for Port Everglades. He grew up in a family that imported flowers into the United States and split time between their native Holland and the United States. He never thought he would be on the port side of the import/export world, but “took a chance.” These days, that chance is paying off. “I do enjoy working on the government side and see myself as a future leader in the industry and want to continue to work toward that.”

That willingness to invest in learning more – and making the connections needed – is an important key to success, especially for those who come to the industry from outside.

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