Fred C. Raskin: Meet New Head of the Boatline

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

Two days on the job - actually not even two days - and already the message slips have begun to litter the desk like fallen leaves.

But on this morning, the new chief executive officer of the Steamship Authority appears unconcerned about the growing pile of fresh paper on his desk. In fact, his main concern at the moment is figuring out how to find his way out of the office. A newspaper photographer wants to shoot his picture in front of the ferry Martha's Vineyard, and he barrels headlong through the labyrinth of cubicles and hallways that occupy the second floor of the boat line terminal in Woods Hole.

"I really haven't figured out where the right door is yet," he confesses.

Meet Fred C. Raskin, the 53-year-old marine transport executive who just stepped into the top spot at the boat line.

Actually, he is an accountant-turned-lawyer-turned-marine transport executive.

By now half the world knows about his briefcase - the battered leather case that caused a minor stir when he came in front of the boat line board for an interview last month. The other half knows about his $170,000-a-year-plus salary, a subject of enduring interest to the regional print press.

But here is something that's not on his resumé - Fred Raskin has the gift of gab. He has a natural affinity for telling stories, and as he talks about his own career and business background, the stories sort of spill out along the way.

He admits that of all the jobs he had, he loved the barging business best.

"I miss the people. As the dispatcher used to say in our barge business: ‘You call, we haul, that's all.' But here, our cargo is even more valuable - it's people," he says.

His own story? He shrugs a little. "It's actually pretty dull."

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Raskin grew up in Queens and attended public school at Forest Hills High School. He later went to Syracuse University where he earned a degree in accounting, and then got his law degree at New York University Law School. His first job in 1973 was at the Industrial National Bank of Rhode Island - better known today as Fleet Bank. He later worked at Bank of Boston and eventually found his way into Eastern Enterprises, a utility company that owned Boston Gas and a barging operation, among other things.

He stayed at the company for 23 years, starting out as general counsel, but he recalls the day when a friend and colleague took him aside to whisper in his ear. Mr. Raskin's own voice drops to a whisper as he tells the story. "He said, ‘You're not that great a lawyer; why don't you be treasurer?' "

So he did.

He later moved to Pittsburgh, Pa., and took over the coal division of Eastern. From 1987 until 1998 he lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, working for Midland Enterprises, another division of Eastern, still in the barge business. At Midland he began as executive vice president but quickly melted into president and chief executive officer.

In 1998 he returned to Boston and became president and chief operating officer for the entire company. Two years later Eastern was sold to KeySpan in a merger deal that Mr. Raskin says no one could refuse.

The coal business he describes simply as a tough business. "I became known for my skills in cost-cutting, but you couldn't reduce costs enough to make money in the coal business. You can be as clever as you want, but you will still have a hard time making money," he says.

He is married and has two children, a daughter who is 23 and in law school - also at NYU - and a son who is 19 and a student at Alfred University.

He likes to read English history and is currently reading a book about Richard the Second but he can't remember the name of it.

He and his wife enjoy bicycling. "It'll probably surprise everybody here but I think I'll bring my bike in - that shining sea bike path in Falmouth looks pretty nice, I can do that," he says. He says they do a little snowshoeing in the winter and they also, frankly, like to stay home in front of the television with a bowl of popcorn.

After Eastern was sold he had a little extra time off, and this year he did some traveling with his wife. They had planned a trip to Italy but canceled it after Sept. 11 and ended up going to Las Vegas instead. They saw Wayne Newton.

He does volunteer work and serves on the board for the Boston Heart Foundation and the Greater Boston Diabetes Society. He is a Weinfield Associate for the NYU School of Law.

He teaches a course in finance at Boston University and will finish it up this spring. He is currently commuting to Woods Hole from Andover - it takes an hour and 45 minutes each way. He and his wife plan to move to the Cape, but they don't know where yet and he says they have a longstanding arrangement: She gets to do the house-hunting.

His first priority at the Steamship Authority? "I think the way you do it is to just start," he says. "Go to everything you're invited to, listen to what people have to say and then take it all back with you." Pointing to the computer, he says: "Getting started is a lot easier than it used to be."

He thinks public exposure is good for the boat line and he says he learned something about that in the barging business. He thinks community involvement is a good thing.

"It is obvious that people care about this a lot and that is a good thing. New Bedford? Yeah, that's a peach," he says. "But I am really looking at everything with a clean slate. For me the people are the attraction to the job. And I know this is one of the strong points of the Steamship Authority. Here everything is real-life. And I like that."

He concludes:

"You know, everyone talks about my background in finance and I do believe that I bring something to this job. So you've got this company and it's worth about $64 million, and you want to talk about the financials. Well, you want to see the financials of the Steamship Authority? It's simple - our financials are the ticket prices."