On Jan. 31, family-owned Hendry Marine Industries named Richard McCreary as president of its Gulf Marine Repair shipyard in Tampa, Florida.
The main activity of the shipyard focuses on the repair, conversion and modification of large ocean-going commercial vessels, tugs and barges, dredges, small vessels, harbor tugs and United States Coast Guard vessels, MARAD, Corps and NOAA. The yard, located on Ybor Ship Channel, sits on a 50-acre site and contains approximately 3,200 linear feet of fenced waterfront. The location has been used as a shipyard since the start of World War II.
McCreary joins Gulf Marine Repair from Vigor Works LLC, where he was vice president of business development, responsible for developing business relationships and providing market analysis in the ship repair and manufacturing industries. During a 50-year career, he also held leadership positions with BAE Systems, Marinette Marine Corporation, VT Halter Marine and other shipbuilders.
With these many years of experience in the ship repair and maintenance industry, Marine Log wanted to talk to McCreary about what he has observed over the years, some personal milestones and what he think there is still to come for the sector.
Marine Log (ML): You have a long history of leadership in some of the largest maritime companies in the United States. Can you tell us more about your career in the maritime sector and what led you to get involved in the industry?
Robert McCreary (MR): For a career, I was very lucky. During my high school years, I worked in a marina and always wanted to continue working in the maritime sector. I started in the shipbuilding and repair business in Lemont, Illinois, straight out of the University of Michigan, where I earned a BSE in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. While at Lemont, I earned an MBA from the University of Chicago because I wanted to pursue my career in maritime management.
After Lemont, I went to the Gulf of Mexico in 1982 and held various positions with marine management operating companies in New Orleans and Tampa for 17 years. I then returned to corporate shipbuilding and repair in 1997, holding leadership positions at Halter Marine in Mississippi, Marinette Marine in Wisconsin, BAE Systems in Jacksonville and Mobile, and most recently at Vigor Industrial. in Washington, DC.
With my transition to Gulf Marine Repair in Tampa, I am happy to be back in an operational role as it is my core skill and the job I love. Gulf Marine Repair has an excellent reputation with its customers for the quality of its service, its punctuality and its integrity. I am very pleased to lead this skilled set of ship repair professionals.
ML: What do you intend to accomplish at Gulf Marine Repair?
RM: Like most other commercial repair companies, we face an ever-changing environment. Our customer base is changing and our regulatory environment continues to tighten. Gulf Marine Repair must evolve and adapt to meet all of these ever-changing demands while remaining a quality service operation and continuing to make a profit.
Change is difficult and I look forward to the challenge of helping this organization continue to improve and evolve to the satisfaction of our customers, our regulators, our employees and our shareholders. Since Gulf Marine Repair is an ESOP company, the latter two are very much aligned.
ML: Is there anything new or upcoming there that you can let our readers know?
RM: Gulf Marine Repair is primarily committed to a process of continuous improvement initiated by my predecessor John Gallagher, who is retiring after a long and successful career in the marine industry. The journey must continue and will continue unabated under my watch. When I described the challenging and rapidly changing environment earlier, it heightens the need to change shipyard practices out of necessity. Gulf Marine Repair must expand its capabilities as new systems become needed and required.
We are currently in the cycle of installing ballast water treatment systems today and will be for some time to come. All stack emission requirements are looming on the horizon and will require the installation of other new systems, such as scrubbers. For Gulf Marine Repair to grow and prosper, we must be at the forefront of each of these new demands.
ML: In your opinion, what are the main obstacles that companies specializing in ship repair are currently facing?
RM: The main problem faced by Gulf Marine is well known and shared by the entire maritime industry. We have an aging workforce and we need to attract and retain a younger generation of workers to support our business. This presents a real challenge since most shipyards have only started to tackle this problem recently in the last few years.
I have argued for years that the model of education in the United States was unduly biased towards college. Many of our high school students would be much better off with greater job satisfaction and more money if they entered a trade such as welding, ship fitting, pipe welding, etc. I have seen too many of our young people come out of college with significant student debt to find that their degree is not commercially valued and end up in menial jobs.
Conversely, if they went to a vocational school during or immediately after high school and then came to our shipyard for an apprenticeship, within five to six years, working hard to progress with a few extra hours, they grout as great job satisfaction to be part of a team helping to move American commerce forward.
ML: How does Gulf Marine Repair plan to overcome these challenges?
RM: There are certainly challenges and a career in shipyards is not for everyone. Shipyards have improved working conditions and safety tremendously over the years, but our work is done almost entirely outside of the year with the constantly changing weather conditions. Our work is also often physically demanding and dirty, but it is very rewarding mentally when a job is done well.
We must continue to introduce technology smartly with a return on investment to help attract young, tech-savvy workers. We need to talk to them early in their high school years and educate them about the benefits of our industry. Finally, we have to mentor new workers for months to teach them the ins and outs of their job and ensure their safety. It’s a journey, not a sprint, but I believe we can structure that success here.