‘Everyone has a season’

by Derek Clouthier

VANCOUVER, Wash. – After a four-year stint as CEO of the Port of Vancouver USA, Todd Coleman stepped down May 19. Despite some media reports indicating that Coleman’s resignation was ‘unexpected,’ Port of Vancouver USA commissioner Jerry Oliver told Truck West that the former CEO had no apprehensions about taking the position and he made it clear when he did that there would be a term limit on his tenure.

Todd Coleman
Todd Coleman

“He looked me in the eye and said, ‘This is not my last job,’” Oliver said Coleman had iterated during a breakfast four-and-a-half years ago after he had been ‘tapped’ for the position. “’Four to six years is all you get.’”

“I believe everyone has a season,” said Coleman. “I committed to leading this amazing organization for four years, and we’ve accomplished so much in that time. We’re on a great trajectory, and we have talented people and the right assets in place to continue achieving great things for our port and community.”

Oliver said Coleman was adamant about some of the goals he wished to accomplish during his time as CEO of Port of Vancouver USA.

“The first thing he mentioned was resolving the CRANE (Columbia River Alliance for Nurturing the Environment) issue,” Oliver said, explaining that CRANE referred to an agreement that gave third party control over development of 450 acres of heavy industrial land on the Columbia River channel. Oliver said Coleman negotiated a settlement in March 2016 for around $7 million that lifted the restrictions of the ‘gateway project’, and that the original cost for the port to buy its way out would have been more than $40 million.

Under Coleman’s leadership, the port more than doubled its acreage, growing to over 2,100 acres of industrial and ecological land along the Columbia River, as well as conserving over 500 acres on the river for migratory birds, opening up 450 acres of industrial land for future development.

Oliver said Coleman also managed to complete the port’s rail expansion project, expanding the 14 miles of internal track to nearly 45 miles, all the while coming in at approximately $80 million under budget.

“This includes our Terminal 5 (loop track) project, which has positioned the port to be in an advantageous position to move bulk commodities via rail,” Oliver said. “It will conclude on time in 2017.”

Finally, Coleman was able to develop a portion of the port’s waterfront, which Oliver said was outside of their ‘usual box’ and not their area of expertise.

“Mr. Coleman guided the port in the selection of world class consultants like (Seattle-based) NBBJ to assist us,” Oliver said. “We have now selected a master developer and hotelier to carry out this vision.”

Abbi Russell, communications manager for Port of Vancouver USA, said that when it comes to the trucking industry, the port’s customers and tenants contract with trucking companies to move cargo to and from the docks and industrial areas, while the port ensures drivers can get in and out safely and securely.

“There can be congestion when there’s a lot of cargo moving,” Russell said, “but we work with our stevedores to strategically manage labour and move trucks in and out as quickly and safely as possible.”
Russell added that the port would be launching a comprehensive process to search for a permanent CEO to take over sometime in late 2016.

“The process will include interviews with port staff and tenants and community leaders, and will help us determine the next steps to advertise internally and/or externally for the right candidate,” Russell said. “Our board of commissioners directed staff to provide a short list of qualified candidates for their consideration, and they may interview and appoint someone from that list.”

In the meantime, Julianna Marler, who has worked at Port of Vancouver USA since September 2008, will act as interim CEO until a permanent replacement is found.

“Julianna has exactly the skills we need right now,” said Oliver. “She is a well-respected leader with the right perspective for the projects and issues at hand, and she has the support of the port’s leadership team. I have every confidence in her ability to keep us moving forward.”

Oliver said he expects the new CEO to continue the port’s Terminal 1 waterfront development to its conclusion, as well as form a strategic plan to develop the new marine area at Gateway.

As for Oliver’s personal opinion of Mr. Coleman, his admiration for the former CEO could not be overstated.
“I have been privileged in my career to meet many remarkable individuals,” he said. “Men and women whom you know to be exceptional when in their presence. A few stand out: my mentors of 20 years who were refugees from Hitler Europe and without so much as a diploma started a business and employed a hundred Americans; a friend who rose from the rank of private to Colonel. He had a command presence and I would have followed him across any battlefield. Todd Coleman is such a man.”

With such high praise, Coleman’s shoes will certainly be difficult ones to fill. Coleman worked at Port of Vancouver USA for 15 years. Some additional accomplishments of Coleman’s include increasing the port’s annual operating revenue from $32 million to $38 million; improving the depth and breadth of cargo the port handles, which is now nearly seven million metric tons per year; and deepening relations with domestic and international trade partners.

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