Steamship Authority Board Interviews Strong Field of Finalists for CEO Position

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

The key to success for the Steamship Authority, a Coast Guard admiral said yesterday, is to be clear in its own vision.

"I would set the vision for the organization," said Rear Adm. George Naccara. "But I also need to know what the board expects from me - what is your long-term vision?"

The comments came during an interview yesterday morning with Mr. Naccara, one of five finalists for the job of chief executive officer at the public boat line.

The other finalists are John O'Brien, the outgoing CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce; Jean-Ives Ghazi, a ferry business entrepreneur; Carolyn Kiley Moore, a marine consultant, and Thaddeus Jankowski, deputy city manager for the city of Portsmouth, N.H.

At a special meeting held Thursday morning in Woods Hole, the SSA board of governors began two days of interviews with the candidates for the CEO spot. Mr. Naccara, Ms. Moore and Mr. Ghazi were interviewed yesterday. Mr. O'Brien and Mr. Jankowski will be interviewed today.

Wearing the crisp blue and gold uniform of a rear admiral, Mr. Naccara talked about his background as commander of the Coast Guard first district, which includes New England, New York and New Jersey. He has been in the Coast Guard for 33 years.

Ms. Moore's background includes management work for Bay State Cruises and Fox Navigation. She spoke of her experience in developing and marketing high-speed ferry programs.

Mr. Ghazi was interviewed too late for the Gazette deadline, but board members said later that he had an excellent interview.

The governors asked an array of questions on topics ranging from financial management to consensus building to public relations.

"How do you feel about that camera over there?" Falmouth financial advisory board member Eric Asendorf asked Mr. Naccara, pointing to a camera for a local television station.

"I am not troubled by that at all," Mr. Naccara replied evenly.

The board could vote on the selection as early as today, but Mr. Robbins said yesterday he doubted that the vote would take place so quickly, given the high caliber of the candidates so far. Mr. Robbins said he was extremely impressed with all three candidates.

"After the interviews today, I think it is fair to say that this is probably going to take some more deliberation. Unless somebody floats to the top in the next 24 hours and the choice becomes clear, I would say that we are likely to take some more time to talk about this," he said.

The top post at the SSA has been vacant since early September, when general manager Armand Tiberio left after six years to accept a job in his native Washington state. He announced his resignation late last summer, during a turbulent period at the boat line following a failed eight-month campaign to develop a new service model. That campaign was led by Mr. Tiberio and J.B. Riggs Parker, the controversial Vineyard boat line governor who was not reappointed by the Dukes County Commission in a close vote in early December.

Mr. Parker attended the interviews as a spectator yesterday, sitting alongside Dukes County commissioners Dan Flynn and Leonard Jason Jr. It was his first public appearance since the commission voted 4-3 to replace him with Kathryn A. Roessel.

A formal search has been under way for a new chief executive since last August, when the boat line board voted to hire Executive Resources International to lead the search for Mr. Tiberio's replacement. Acting partly on the recommendation of John Jay - the managing director of the headhunting firm who has led the search - the board voted to upgrade the job title from general manager to chief executive officer. The salary for the position is pegged at about $109,000.

Mr. Jay said yesterday that the search screening process included interviews with some 150 people.

At its regular meeting last month, the boat line board went into executive session to read and discuss the resumes of 10 semifinalists. The five finalists were announced early this week. On the advice of boat line general counsel Steven Sayers, the resumes for the finalists will not be released publicly until the interviews are completed.

The interview session was attended by Mr. Robbins, Ms. Roessel, Nantucket governor Grace Grossman, Mr. Asendorf and Steve Tornovish, the financial advisory board member from Nantucket. Robert Murphy, the Vineyard member of the financial advisory board, did not attend the interview session.

Mr. Murphy could not be reached for comment, but one press account yesterday reported that he was unable to attend the sessions because of a previous commitment. The newspaper story also reported that Mr. Murphy was highly critical of what he described as a hurried interview process.

Yesterday Mr. Robbins countered any notion that the process was a rush job.

"I think we are just expediting what has been going on for the last several months - and I would not even use the word expedited, really," he said.

Mr. Robbins said the boat line began the search process late in the summer but was diverted this fall by the swirl of divisive politics around plans for a pilot high-speed ferry project between New Bedford and the Vineyard.

New Bedford city officials pulled the plug on the project after Mr. Parker was not reappointed.

In the last month a new calm has settled over the SSA board as the members turn their attention back to the business of running the boat line.

"There has been a great diversion and now are able to focus on the executive search," Mr. Robbins said. "We've got great candidates, so there was no reason to delay getting them in here for interviews."