New Boat Line CEO Launches Hopeful Era After Contract Pact

By JULIA WELLS

Calling it an investment in the lifeline to the Islands, Steamship Authority governors announced this week that they had signed a six-year, six-figure deal with a veteran marine transport executive to take over the top management post at the public boat line.

Fred C. Raskin will start work on Monday morning as the chief executive officer of the SSA.

"I'm excited - I have missed the marine transportation business," said Mr. Raskin yesterday in a brief telephone conversation with the Gazette. Mr. Raskin visited the SSA office in Woods Hole yesterday to introduce himself to the staff.

Mr. Raskin has extensive experience at the executive levels of the marine transport industry. From 1988 to 2001 he was president and COO of Eastern Enterprises of Weston, and from 1987 to 1998 he was president and CEO of Midland Enterprises, a $300 million marine transport company in Cincinnati, Ohio.

His ample experience will be matched by an ample contract package, including a $170,000 annual salary and a signing bonus of $35,000. The boat line will also pay for Mr. Raskin's expenses to move from Andover to the Cape area; the expenses are estimated to run from $100,000 to $125,000.

"Some may say we broke the bank, but I hope the people on the Islands feel that we have made a significant investment in the boat line that is their lifeline," declared Galen Robbins, the Falmouth boat line member and chairman of the board.

"As soon as we said ‘CEO,' we started climbing to a salary level north of $150,000 - this is the ballgame we are playing," he added.

The boat line board decided last August to change the title of the top post to CEO when it began a search to replace outgoing general manager Armand Tiberio. There was general agreement that the title reflects more accurately the responsibility of the position. Mr. Tiberio was paid a little over $100,000.

Among other things, Mr. Raskin's salary package includes a provision for the boat line to cover the brokerage fee on the sale of his home in Andover.

Mr. Robbins said the contract deal is the kind seen more commonly in the private sector.

"It's not outrageous, it's just different for this organization," he said.

The boat line governors voted to hire Mr. Raskin six weeks ago, and contract negotiations have been under way since then. The details of the contract were announced this week, following a special meeting of the boat line board on Nantucket on Tuesday. The vote to approve the contract was taken in executive session; there was no other business at the meeting.

The meeting was called on short notice and the SSA drew some criticism after it was revealed that no formal notice was given to the press about the meeting.

Ordinarily, boat line board meetings are posted in Woods Hole, and the press and a variety of public organizations are notified by mail. Agendas for the meetings are also faxed to the press.

The Tuesday meeting was posted in Woods Hole last Friday, but no notices or faxes were sent out.

Mr. Robbins later apologized and took responsibility for the blunder, although he said he had not in fact directed management to withhold notice from the press.

"I knew nothing about that and I assumed that the notices went out as they usually do. But I will take responsibility and I will also say that in the future, every meeting of the Steamship Authority board will be noticed in the same way," he said.

The hasty arrangements for the meeting caused a new flareup in the smoldering relations between Robert Murphy, the longtime Vineyard member of the financial advisory board, and the rest of the boat line board. Mr. Murphy did not attend the meeting Tuesday. He also did not participate in the interviews with the CEO candidates, and he was highly critical of the process.

This week he was also critical of the money attached to Mr. Raskin's contract. "I just think of the terrible loss of losing Armand for half the price, and he already knew the entire organization. I think he was the greatest CEO this organization ever had and I can't think what we have accomplished," Mr. Murphy said.

The boat line governors had another view.

"Mr. Raskin is going to be our CEO, not a general manager, and Armand Tiberio had not even been a general manager when we hired him," said Nantucket governor Grace Grossman. "Fred has been a COO of one large company and CEO of another. He is in a different league - and hopefully with his expertise we will go forward and have a better Steamship Authority," she added.

Vineyard boat line governor Kathryn Roessel called the contract a good deal.

"When you consider Fred Raskin's experience and his educational background and when your consider what he used to make in the private sector, the Steamship Authority just got the bargain of the year," she said.

Mr. Robbins said Mr. Raskin's salary is not out of line when compared with the top salaries at other state transportation agencies. He said the top salary at the MBTA is $195,000, and the top salary at Massport is $165,000.

Yesterday Mr. Raskin fielded questions about his contract without a trace of defensiveness.

"I would encourage people to not focus on the contract but to focus on whether I am doing what the people want. Whether we are successful will not be determined by a contract, but it will be determined by what we get done," he said.

Concluded Ms. Roessel:

"I could not be more pleased by the way this worked out, and I am very proud to be a member of the board that hired Mr. Raskin."