In the year following his appointment to port director and CEO in January 2018, Port of Galveston’s Rodger Rees proved that with the right kind of leadership, significant operational changes can be quickly implemented without compromising the quality of production. When Rees first joined the port’s team, he immediately recognized areas in dire need of change–and quickly. Without wasting time, Rees took a step back to analyze the best way to continue operations while maximizing resources. A testament to Rees’ first year success is through the nearly $6 million profit the port recorded for 2018, when the original budget forecast anticipated breaking even.
“The port wasn’t operating at its fullest,” Rees explains. “Over the past year, we’ve really made a lot of strides. We’ve restructured our operations on the water front and our administration. To me, that’s an example of allowing people to do their jobs. Many times, people have been held back in positions and when I came here, I said, ‘Here’s your chance’ and people excelled.”
When Rees evaluated the company’s operational structure, he identified stagnation as one of the root issues hindering the port from performing at its highest capability. Tackling operational inefficiencies started with improving senior management’s operations approach, ultimately enabling and motivating workers to do their jobs without obstructions from leadership. These changes directly impacted the level of quality delivered to customers.
“We’ve been very customer-oriented since I got here,” Rees says. “Our customers are the cargo companies, the stevedores, all those people. As a port, we are really building those relationships because that’s the long-term piece that really brings in the businesses–they’re confident the port can perform.”
Beyond tackling the structure and operations of the Port of Galveston, Rees saw an immediate need for automation implementation and successfully implemented an entire software platform in just three months.
“When I came here, we had a very old operating software and accounting packages,” he recalls. “I was very familiar with a company that had a software package that had a very robust port management module built into the software. In September, we said, ‘Can we do it?’ and our staff said, ‘Let’s go!’ and we implemented a brand-new software package in 90 days.
“We have also been able to get out of the paper parking business and have installed an automated parking system. That all ties into the new accounting system as well as we’ve automated our ERP back office systems, and now our new parking systems.”
Rees stresses the importance of internal operations and pride as the company attributes a lot of its success to its employees and their “can-do” outlook.
“We are able to self-perform and that’s helped our bottom line,” Rees says. “We’re excited by the fact that these guys have stepped up and taken pride in their work, and we’re doing a lot of tasks and jobs that ordinarily would’ve been done with a third party. The two biggest things have been the total revamping of our back-office ERP system as well as the implementation of a fully automatic parking system.”
Looking at Rees’ history, one might find it surprising to learn that he did not start his career in the Ro-Ro port industry. He boasts 25 years managing his own security business before switching gears as a consultant to smaller public companies. At the time, Rees lived about four miles from Port Canaveral, which he socially frequented. Through the social relationships developed over time, Rees sought the opportunity to provide his expertise when the port expressed the need for a chief financial officer.
“The good fortune from my standpoint was they were looking for non-port personnel,” Rees says. “In other words, the CEO there was a developer and Port Canaveral was heavily into new cruise terminals and renovations of old terminals, and he was looking for a financial person who understood the financial markets. I spent five years over there in the financial business.”
Bringing it all together, Rees identified what the future holds for the Port of Galveston and where the potential lies.
“This port is perfectly located for the cruise business. The cruise business is going to be what enables this port to really enhance and revitalize the infrastructure in the cargo business here. Since I’ve been here, we’ve signed deals with Royal Caribbean, which is going to build a $100 million terminal here, and we’ve extended our partnership with Disney Cruise Lines, which we just confirmed a 10-year deal with for them to expand. They’ll be doubling the number of cruises out in Galveston.
“What I see is the cruise business really complementing our cargo business, simply because this will enable us to do some things that we weren’t able to do to really grow our cargo business. We’re the only ones in the western Gulf, out of the 13 ports in the Houston complex, that has cruise business.”