Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani Explains Port’s Leadership Role in Washington’s Economy
“The port’s operations create nearly 200,000 jobs and $7 billion in wages throughout Seattle-Bellevue and Washington State.”
~Tay Yoshitani, CEO, Port of Seattle
Tay Yoshitani joined the Port of Seattle as its CEO in March 2007. He carries out policies set by the Port Commission. He leads the Port’s operating divisions, including the 6th largest container port in the nation, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which welcomed more than 32.8 million passengers in 2011.
From 2004 to 2007, Yoshitani served as Senior Advisor to the National Association of Waterfront Employers, providing industry expertise on port security and environmental issues. From 2001 to 2004, as Executive Director of the Port of Oakland, he led a significant expansion of both the seaport and airport, overseeing environmental permitting and planning that enabled the airport expansion to use “green building” technology. He served as Oakland’s Deputy Executive Director from 1998 to 2001. He is credited with creating the first master plan at the Maryland Port Administration, where he served as Executive Director from 1995 to 1998. As Deputy Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles, 1989 to 1995, he oversaw the creation of the West Coast’s largest dry bulk export terminal.
Yoshitani is a US Army veteran and Bachelor of Science graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He earned his MBA at Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. He serves on the National Center for APEC Board and on the boards of Seattle civic and trade-related organizations.
Q: What are the primary business lines of the Port of Seattle?
A: Founded in 1911, the Port of Seattle has both air and sea transportation-related business lines. The Port owns and operates Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, four container cargo terminals, two cruise ship terminals, four public marinas, a grain terminal, and manages a number of real estate assets.
To enhance that, under my leadership, the Port has opened a new runway at Sea-Tac Airport, a new cruise facility at Smith Cove Cruise Terminal, and reopened Terminal 30 as a container facility.
As a strategic decision, we created a Real Estate division to better manage the organization’s real estate holdings and consolidated the Port’s many capital development projects into one division that oversees all construction and procurement. We also implemented successful air quality initiatives, invested in environmental remediation projects, and put in place several ambitious energy-saving and recycling programs.
Q: How has the recent hurricane disaster on the East Coast made you think about the role of the Port of Seattle and its vulnerabilities?
A: One thing most people don’t understand well is the role of “sourcing” in the global economy. However, everyone feels its impact when there is a sourcing problem. We learned it dramatically when Japan’s Fukushima disaster occurred. Hurricane Sandy’s impact on New York, New Jersey, and other ports in that region will be a similarly large impact.
When a major logistics hub has its business disrupted, the rest of the global system has to pick up the responsibility to keep people and goods moving through the entire system. That’s a challenge, but we plan for this and all work together during a crisis. Ports, carriers and all other related businesses take part in assessments of damage, adjustments, and activating redundant systems and re-routing.
Q: Does it cause you to think about improvements you need to make at the Port of Seattle?
A: The Port of Seattle is already state-of-the-art. For example, our cranes are the best in the world, manufactured by ZPMC of Shanghai, China. The latest technology is ingrained in everything we do. This technology allows all the players in the logistics chain an ability to communicate, to integrate or interface their information where needed, to provide top flight services, efficient loading and adjustments as ships stop in five different ports on their journey.
The technology gives us the means to establish rules and protocols that make the global network a true system. The software operating system is from Microsoft. Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) and others provide the programming.
The global network and technology that backs it up is sophisticated but also complex. There are so many variables to consider. Raising standards for the unseen emergency is a challenge.
Most importantly, the goal is to save lives in the event of a disaster or emergency. It is much more about human lives than it is about protecting assets or recovery.
Q: How did you come into this business?
A: I didn’t envision this as my career when I was younger. I was recruited while working in the commercial real estate business in Los Angeles to work for the Port of Los Angeles. It was a good fit. As I understood then, managing a port is basically a real estate business. We design, build, market, and manage real estate, including terminals, parking, concessions, and all the other elements we coordinate.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: I encourage my staff to think about the nature of the business and, of course, what value we provide at each end of the business. Then, the challenges are to create a fair balance between competing interests and to better grow businesses and the region whose success is part of our success. We strive to do this as objectively as possible. I work hard to put the right people in the right roles. With the correct rules and procedures, businesses can trust the decision process and system of allocation.
That is also the reason we established the Port of Seattle’s Office of Social Responsibility. It works to ensure equal opportunities for small, minority and women-owned businesses to work with the Port. It is a key accomplishment of my time as CEO.
Q: How would you explain the importance of the Port of Seattle’s leadership or its role in Washington’s economy to someone from China?
A: The Port of Seattle acts as economic engine for not only the Puget Sound region, but the entire state of Washington. We are unique among North American ports in that we have many lines of business; the seaport, an airport, cruise business, home to the North Pacific Fishing Fleet, and a grain terminal. Few ports handle so many different businesses that have international trade implications.
We are also the closest major US port to China. COSCO, China Shipping, and Hanjin Shipping (Korea) use the Port of Seattle. Delta and Hainan Airlines operate direct flights to China. We expect more carriers to add more flights to China in the next five years. Our business relationship with China grows stronger every day. Two years ago, China surpassed Japan as our number one trading partner and now accounts for 53% of container activity.
China’s growth is tied to our growth. We need strong economies on both sides of the Pacific to maintain jobs and prosperity in our respective countries. We seek many ways of strengthening those ties. For example, that is why the Port of Seattle and City of Bellevue both signed trade cooperation agreements with Dalian in 2008.
The port’s operations create nearly 200,000 jobs and $7 billion in wages throughout Seattle-Bellevue and Washington State. The ultimate standard is jobs. Just as with emergency and disaster situations, the test of our success is how we affect human lives.
Q: What are your priorities in growing the Port of Seattle?
A: Over the next 25 years, the port’s Century Agenda seeks to create an additional 100,000 jobs through economic growth while becoming the nation’s most environmentally “green” and energy-efficient port. We will also grow our region as a premier international logistics hub.
In order to achieve this goal, we need to accomplish several things:
- Grow seaport annual container volume to more than 3.5 million TEUs (one TEU represents the cargo capacity of a 20-foot intermodal container).
- Advance our region as a leading tourism destination and business gateway for international travel.
- Promote small business growth and workforce development.
- Meet all increased energy needs through conservation and renewable sources, reducing air pollutants and carbon emissions.
In order to grow, we need to compete, and that means having the infrastructure in place to move freight. The Port of Seattle is ‘big ship ready’, having one of our terminals, SSA’s T-18 taking delivery of six Super Post Panamax cranes, that can handle the new class of container ships coming on-line in the next 10 years.
However, we keep an eye on other West Coast and North American ports. We constantly need to understand their capabilities and growth plans, so that we understand our roles in the global system and stay the most competitive port possible. For example, it’s important to understand that Mexican and Canadian ports want to increase their market share as North American trade grows.
West Coast ports also face challenges from other US ports: East Coast ports have been growing at a rate faster than US ports as a whole. When the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2015, it will improve the ability of ocean carriers to deploy larger ships in the Asia – East Coast trade lane. East Coast ports then will seek to compete with West Coast ports for cargo destined for markets in the Midwest and eastern US.
Q: What else would you tell someone about the advantages of the Seattle-Bellevue region?
A: The natural beauty is matched by the international diversity of cultures here. This luxury of comparative perspectives of living and business opens up a world of opportunity.
In addition, businesses and government work together as partners, by investing in education, transportation infrastructure, new technologies, trade cooperation, and business development. For the Port of Seattle, the Century Agenda shows how much we want to be a leading investor in that partnership.
I think we have incredible resources, technology talent, and promise in this region. Our incredible richness of assets, including our international diversity, makes many things possible.