Aye, Aye, Captain!

“I was surrounded by ‘captains’ of the industry, and here I was still trying to figure out which side of a vessel was starboard.”

Those were the self-effacing words of Don Kusel when he was elevated to chief executive at the Prince Rupert Port Authority back in 1992. He’s got it figured out now, though, and he’s done a lot of figuring ever since. In those learning years, Mr. Kusel was able to study the positive and negative developments of container terminal operations with a determined and open mind. Too many of those ‘captains’, however, in comfortable surroundings, continued to live in the past, and although they know which side of a vessel is starboard they’ve added little more to their store of knowledge.

“Ten years ago,” Mr. Kusel reminds us, “Prince Rupert was dismissed as incapable of participating in the container trade because the thinking was that container ports required a local market to be successful and therefore needed to be located in a major metropolitan center. That perception changed when the existing business model was severely strained a few years ago under the tsunami of containers that overwhelmed the West Coast transportation system.”

Referring to Maher Terminals’ decision to develop Prince Rupert’s Fairview Container Terminal, Mr. Kusel concedes that it was difficult convincing people “to think outside the box and recognize the value of our new business proposition — the value of a non-urban container port on an uncongested rail corridor with the shortest and most direct routing to the marketplace.”

Mr. Kusel wisely observes that, “The real threat to the industry is a systemic one that will impact all of us if we are not able collectively to build additional capacity into the entire system to sustain growth. Our system may create some discomfort with those ports featuring more traditional models, but it’s certainly going to make a lot of North American importers happy.”

Tommy Stramer and Ron Widdows couldn’t have said it better. Nor could we. Consider Mr. Kusel’s thoughtful observations again:

• “Major metropolitan centers” such as LA/Long Beach, NY/NJ, as well as New Orleans, have all been inundated in one way or another, and validate the development of those “non-urban port on an uncongested rail corridor …” just as Mr. Kusel states.

• “The real threat to the industry” is not the inability but the unwillingness of our “captains” … “to build additional capacity into the entire system to sustain growth.”

• The creation of “some discomfort with those ports featuring more traditional models …” Malcom McLean faced this kind of opposition for almost twenty years, you may recall.

• Mr. Kusel emphasizes our constant theme; “… the shortest and most direct routing …” Coach Vince (Run to Daylight) Lombardi couldn’t have said it better. Nor could we.