Gov. Parris N. Glendening reached inside the Maryland Port Administration to find its new executive director yesterday, naming six-year port official James J. White as the new head of the state's public marine terminals.
White, 49, is a former operations director for the port of Baltimore and has served as interim director since August.
"It's an exciting time in the port right now, and I'm excited about the opportunity," White said yesterday. "We've got a lot to sell."
White takes control of the MPA at a time when its future as a container cargo handler is very much in play. Two of the world's largest steamship lines are eyeing Baltimore as the site for a new cargo hub, a deal that could triple the city's containerized cargo business.
Maersk Inc. and Sea-Land Service Inc. have worked with White and other port officials since they first announced their search last summer. In December, White was in Copenhagen, Denmark, meeting with officials of the A. P. Moller Group, Maersk's parent corporation.
Port officials say continuity was a benefit of White's selection, given that he is involved in some of the port administration's most important negotiations in decades.
"I think it's a good move on their part," said Maurice C. Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association, which represents the major employers in the port of Baltimore. "Jim knows the port here, and he's already involved with the issues."
White replaces Tay Yoshitani, who left Baltimore in August for a deputy port director position in Oakland, Calif., after three years on the job.
When the search for a new port director began last summer, White reportedly asked not to be considered for the post. The executive director's position is among the most political and conspicuous of all port-related jobs in Baltimore, and sources say White -- whose career always has centered on port operations -- was leery of the transition.
But White was named acting director when Yoshitani left office, and after a few months on the job asked to be considered as a permanent replacement.
"He has the operations knowledge and the capability to negotiate," said Capt. Lorenzo Di Casagrande, local vice president of Mediterranean Shipping Co. "We prefer to negotiate with someone who has the knowledge and knows the requirements of a steamship line."
The Maryland Port Administration, based in the World Trade Center in downtown Baltimore, employs about 350 people and manages the state's public port facilities, including the Dundalk and Seagirt marine terminals.
The director's position in the port of Baltimore has been a difficult one in the past two decades, with few people remaining in the post more than two or three years. The maritime trade in Baltimore has largely been in decline, as port officials struggle to keep steamship lines from abandoning the port in favor of cities such as Norfolk, Va., which are closer to the open ocean.
White inherits a strategic plan from Yoshitani that calls for pursuing less traditional cargo such as automobiles, forest products and "roll-on, roll-off" cargo like farm and construction equipment. He plans to keep that focus, and will preside over the construction of a new automobile terminal this year.
Cargo shipped in sealed containers still constitutes about two-thirds of the business in the city's public marine terminals, however, and White said he will work to develop that business, too.
The Maersk/Sea-Land deal is an initial priority, he said, but is not the port's only opportunity.
"We've done most of the work at this point, and we're just waiting," White said. "Things are looking good for us right now, and not just there but in other areas as well."
Before joining the MPA in 1993, White held several jobs in the maritime industry, serving as North American general manager for Puerto Rico Marine Management and North Atlantic operations manager for Sea Train New York. He is the president of the North Atlantic Ports Association.
The salary for his new position will be set by the Maryland Port Commission, and will likely be higher than his $115,000 salary as deputy director. Yoshitani was paid $130,000.
A graduate of Wagner College in New York City, White lives in Bel Air with his wife, Carol Ann, and their two children.
Pub Date: 1/15/99