Steamship Authority Board Offers Top Job to Veteran of Marine Transport Company
By JULIA WELLS
In the end they decided to offer the job to the guy with the battered briefcase.
"There's that case again," mused Falmouth Steamship Authority governor Galen Robbins as Fred C. Raskin set the scarred, antique leather case on the table in front of him, just before his final interview with the boat line board.
But if Mr. Raskin's briefcase was an object of tongue-in-cheek amusement, it was certainly no deterrent, because Steamship Authority governors voted without dissent last week to hire him as the first chief executive officer of the 40-year-old public boat line. The decision, reached last Friday morning at the boat line meeting in Hyannis, followed a five-month national search led by headhunter John Jay of Executive Resources International in Boston.
Contract negotiations with Mr. Raskin went on throughout the week, and are expected to be complete sometime next week.
Former SSA general manager Armand Tiberio left the boat line in September to return to his home on the West Coast and take another job. Authority treasurer Wayne Lamson has been acting general manager since then, a job he has held before during top management transitions at the SSA.
In August the SSA board of governors decided to change the top management post from general manager to chief executive officer. The salary range for the job is between $100,000 and $200,000; because negotiations were still incomplete at press time, the details of Mr. Raskin's contract are not yet known.
Mr. Raskin, who is 53, has extensive experience in senior management in the marine transport industry. From 1998 until 2001, he was the president and chief operating officer of Eastern Enterprises in Weston, a company that operated Boston Gas as well as a large marine transportation operation. From 1997 to 1998 he was president and CEO of Midland Enterprises in Cincinnati, Ohio, a company that operated barges up and down the Mississippi River. He has a law degree from the New York University School of Law and a bachelor of science degree in accounting from Syracuse University. Last fall he lost his job at Eastern when the company was acquired by KeySpan in a merger. Since then he has been teaching finance at Boston University and devoting time to charity work. He currently lives in Andover.
He told the boat line board during his interview that his work in the barging business was by far the favorite job of his career.
Mr. Raskin was a late arrival on the scene as a candidate. The boat line board had already completed the process of interviewing six final candidates; as they prepared to winnow the field, two candidates dropped out, including a Coast Guard admiral who was a leading contender for the job. Coincidentally, Mr. Raskin submitted his resume that week to Mr. Jay, and the boat line board interviewed him.
Last week Mr. Raskin returned for a second interview along with Jean-Ives Ghazi, a senior executive with Spirit Cruises in Norfolk, Va.
Mr. Ghazi and Mr. Raskin both had strong interviews and both displayed considerable agility on financial matters. Each candidate also had a markedly different personality. Mr. Ghazi was soft spoken, but his answers to questions were delivered with razor-sharp precision and he fired back his own set of blunt questions that appeared to catch the board off-guard at times. Mr. Raskin was equally nimble in his answers to questions, projecting the easygoing nature of a seasoned marine transport executive who is as comfortable in the engine room as in the board room.
Mr. Raskin said the employees are the most important asset of an organization.
When questioned about cost-cutting, his answers were deft. "You can't cut your way to success," he said. "You can cut costs all day long and it will never make an organization successful if it isn't providing a valuable service." But he also said: "When you cut costs you get better; when you are watching costs carefully, the quality of service gets better."
He also gave the board a glimpse of his own work style, which he described as informal. "I tend to be a wanderer," he said. "I get in early in the morning, I do my work and then I wander around the office bothering people," he said.
The interviews were conducted in public except for a brief period when the board went into executive session with each candidate to discuss collective bargaining issues.
In the end the boat line board agreed that while for all intents and purposes it was a dead heat, Mr. Raskin's solid experience with collective bargaining gave him the edge. The boat line has five different unions covering eight separate bargaining units, plus a group of employees who are not represented by a union.
"They are both top-notch candidates, but I feel Mr. Raskin has perhaps more experience than Mr. Ghazi," said Nantucket governor Grace Grossman.
Other board members agreed. Barnstable member Robert O'Brien, who has voice but no vote on the boat line board, had developed a rating system for the candidates that showed the two candidates were exactly even. But Mr. O'Brien agreed that Mr. Raskin's experience with collective bargaining tipped the scale in his favor. The two members of the financial advisory board who attended the interviews also said Mr. Raskin was their choice.
Robert Murphy, the Vineyard financial advisory board member, did not participate in the interview process and has not attended a boat line meeting since January.
"I am sorry that Bob Murphy was not there to help me," said Vineyard boat line governor Kathryn Roessel later.
New Bedford city solicitor George Leontire, who did not attend the meeting, later told some members of the regional print press that he believed the board violated the open meeting law; Mr. Leontire said he planned to file a complaint in Barnstable superior court. But the complaint never materialized and Mr. Leontire said a few days later that he had decided to drop the issue.
Mr. Leontire has been the point man in the city's efforts to open up New Bedford as a full-service ferry port to the Islands and to change the boat line enabling legislation by adding voting seats for Barnstable and New Bedford on the board. The city is also suing the SSA in federal court claiming that it violates interstate commerce laws.
SSA general counsel Steven Sayers, who is known for his meticulous attention to open meeting law issues, said he is confident that there were no violations.
"None, absolutely," Mr. Sayers said.
At one point during the interviews last week, Mrs. Grossman quoted Adlai Stevenson: "We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the past which has led to the present," she said.
Just before the vote, Ms. Roessel quoted Mary Chapin Carpenter: "We would almost flip a coin, we'd be a winner either way," she said.
Mr. Robbins took note of the generation gap. "In one meeting we've mentioned Adlai Stevenson and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Pretty diverse group here," he said.