A new chief at port's helm

Sun Staff

State officials promised a new era of cooperation in announcing theappointment yesterday of F. Brooks Royster III as director of the port ofBaltimore, but the longtime maritime industry executive comes into the jobmindful of the messy public spat that forced the departure of his predecessorthis year.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanaganpraised Royster for his experience and commitment to teamwork, drawing acontrast with James J. White, the former port director. Though highly regardedby the state's maritime community, White resigned in February after a disputewith Flanagan over promotional expenses and personnel decisions at the port.

"Jim White did a terrific job. ... Obviously, there were issues between BobFlanagan and Jim White," Ehrlich said after yesterday's formalities at theDundalk Marine Terminal. "The reason this port will do better in the future isa very fundamental understanding of working in the same direction."

Former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a White supporter who led the search fora new director, endorsed Royster as the best candidate because of hisexperience and connections in the industry. And in a key piece of symbolism atthe announcement ceremony, the administration seated next to the podium Capt.E. Lorenzo Di Casagrande, the head of one of the largest shipping lines at theport who wrote a letter critical of Transportation Department interferencejust days before White resigned.

Before accepting the job, Royster spoke with White and had what Flanagantermed a "long and very candid conversation" with the transportation secretaryabout the circumstances of his predecessor's departure. He also negotiated ahefty raise over what White made and a guarantee that he will have hiring andfiring authority at the port.

"This is a remarkable opportunity for me, and I'm excited for what's aheadof us. There are some great opportunities," Royster said.

Royster, who most recently was chief executive officer of the Port of MiamiTerminal Operating Co., which operates the largest terminal at the Port ofMiami-Dade, has experience in both port operations and marketing. He hasworked extensively in containerized cargo and cruise ship operations, twoareas that Baltimore port officials have been working to expand.

In the past three years, he guided the terminal operating company through acomputerization of its cargo tracking systems, major structural upgrades atthe port, a work stoppage by truck drivers and four major hurricanes, allwhile increasing the company's business by more than 10 percent a year.

"He knows the business. He has the contacts. It's not a training period -he's ready to roll right now," Bentley said. "He was in the Port Commissionmeeting this morning and he was able to offer a lot of good points. He wasable to chime right in."

Royster is still negotiating his contract but expects it to last five yearsand pay him $225,000 annually, up from the $174,000 White earned. He alsoexpects to retain power to hire his own staff. White says he did not have thatpower. He also did not have a contract.

"I regret that their relationship deteriorated," Royster said about Whiteand Flanagan. "While they're both professionals, these things happen.Secretary Flanagan and I discussed it, and we've pledged to work together. Onthe occasion that there needs to be additional staff, the responsibility willrest with me."

Flanagan said he believes the days of troubled relations between the portand the administration are over. They were due to no structural problem in therelationship but were the result of "a lack of teamwork," Flanagan said.

"The reason why we're going to succeed is there is a positive emphasis onteamwork, open communication, on being candid with each other, getting issuesout on the table and trying to work through them," Flanagan said. "We agree onalmost everything,and I'm sure when we find areas of disagreement, we're goingto work through them."

Royster, 54, a Gulfport, Miss., native, began his career in 1971 as a truckdriver and forklift operator in Mobile, Ala. He studied businessadministration at the University of South Alabama and attended the TulaneInstitute for Port and Terminal Operations in New Orleans. He worked for morethan 20 years for Ryan-Walsh Stevedoring Inc., where he rose to be vicepresident for operations for South Carolina and Mississippi.

He has also served as chief operating officer for the Mississippi StatePort Authority and as president and chief executive officer of RioMar AgenciesInc., a maritime corporation based in Houston and New Orleans.

In his last position, Royster focused on the container business, which hasbeen relatively flat in Baltimore.

The port is a day's trip up the Chesapeake Bay, and port managers say it'sa hard sell to shipping lines and those who import goods in containers. Thebig metal boxes are by far the most common method of shipping cargo.

With the influx of containers to the United States from Asia and backlogsat ports in the West, some of the traffic is making its way to East Coastports. Baltimore invested recently in new cranes so workers can stackcontainers at the Seagirt Marine Terminal, doubling the space there.

"Now's a good time to focus on containers here," said M. KathleenBroadwater, deputy executive director of the Maryland Port Administration andinterim executive director since March 4.

Baltimore has focused on building its niche cargo business, such asautomobiles, paper products and so-called ro-ro such as farm and constructionequipment that can roll on and roll off ships. In recent years, it has becomeone of the largest ports for this type of cargo.

Royster said he has experience in other types of commodities and welcomesthe challenge in working in a more diversified shipping environment.

"This will be a challenge, and that's a reason I wanted the job," Roystersaid.

Industry officials expressed optimism about Royster yesterday but said theywere still nostalgic for White, who had a long career in operations at theport of Baltimore before becoming director.

Even Bentley, who proclaimed at the Royster announcement, "In my 300 yearsaround the port of Baltimore, this is one of the most exciting events," saidshe will probably always consider White her favorite port chief.

Di Casagrande said he is still sad about White's departure but wants togive Royster a chance.

"I don't know him, but he has a good reputation," Di Casagrande said. "Sofar, I feel comfortable, but it's the first day. We'll talk again in a year.Helen Bentley recommends him, and I believe she is very focused on protectingthe port."

Carlos Arocha, a senior vice president at Eller-ITO Stevedoring Co., one ofthe companies that owns the Port of Miami Terminal Operating Co., said heknows White and Royster well and thinks there are many similarities betweenthe two in terms of experience and ability.

Arocha said Royster knows how to keep a port running smoothly and has aheavy background in marketing, which is a skill White was known for inBaltimore. Royster knows port politics and will be no pushover when the statewants to do something he thinks isn't in the port's best interests, Arochasaid.

"Brooks has a lot to follow. I think Jim did a very good job up there,"Arocha said. "But Brooks is a strong personality, has a lot of marketingbackground, is definitely an operations guy, knows the business, knows themarketplace, knows the carriers. I think he's going to be a good thing."

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