Trade and Transportation by Dr. Thomas O’Brien

Strong Leadership Provides
Blueprint For Moving Forward
Trade And Transportation By Tom O’Brien

December 3rd, 2013 - It hasn’t been the easiest of times of late for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Both ports have interim executive directors, a common enough occurrence in an industry where port leadership reflects the changing nature of local politics. But it’s also an industry that dislikes uncertainty, and the recent unrest at the Long Beach Harbor Commission in particular has elicited a fairly vocal response from industry leaders and some elected officials who have offered a cautionary reminder about the impact of that uncertainty on our region’s competitiveness and the port’s reputation.

But the direction of North America’s largest port complex should involve difficult discussions. And the examples we have of strong leadership from both ports’ 100-plus year history should provide a blueprint for moving forward, no matter the messiness currently being played out in public. In fact, we can be proud of the role this region has taken in developing the kinds of innovations that provide new models for the way goods can and should move in a global supply chain. This includes technological innovations, infrastructure projects like the Alameda Corridor, and operational changes like evening and weekend gates at the ports which, while seemingly logical, didn’t happen until terminal operators found a way to make PierPass work. There are also homegrown policy innovations that have allowed us to define what makes both a port and a supply chain “green.”

I’d like to add educational innovations to the list. While it is now common for schools to offer supply chain management and logistics degrees, and for those programs to feature internship opportunities for students to see the supply chain at work, this was not always the case. And programs that engage industry experts in both curriculum design and instruction were even less common. Historically, goods movement had a bias against classroom learning. It was an industry where you learned on the job. That has changed over the past few decades.

I have my own biases. I think that the role that CSULB has played in forging a new path forward in logistics education is another model of which our region can be proud. Programs like the Global Logistics Specialist (GLS) Program, which has provided a skilled workforce for the trade and transportation industry for more than 15 years, has changed the relationship between the university and all sectors involved in moving goods. Past and current students have included harbor commissioners, port directors and a Federal Maritime commissioner. I’m proud to be part of it.

I’m also proud to have worked under the founder of the program, Marianne Venieris. She is the executive director of CSULB’s Center for International Trade and Transportation and a prime example of the ways in which bold thinking and some risk-taking can redefine how an entire industry can and should operate. Marianne is retiring at the end of the year and she is leaving our center, the university, and the industry in better shape than the way she found it.

The GLS program has continued to provide a unique educational setting in which those new to the industry and those looking to advance their existing careers can learn about all facets of global goods movement from those who actually do it. In the process, they develop a network of fellow professionals that provides continuing support beyond the life of the program. In 2007, GLS was recognized by the University Continuing Education Association as the country’s outstanding professional development program. And out of the GLS grew other industry: university professional development partnerships focusing on masters-level education and specialized training in areas like marine terminal operations.

Marianne Venieris also knew that the audience for reliable information on the goods movement industry extended beyond the classroom. Before the establishment of CITT’s annual Town Hall meeting, there were few forums where the broader community could come together to discuss issues of concern and shared purpose in the spirit of education.

But she had a unique vision to create a place where the best efforts of the university could serve an industry that was so vital to the local economy. And it was revolutionary to think that you could bring ports, terminal operators and labor together at the same educational forum and have them meet regularly around the same table (apart from negotiations, of course). She understood that even those who worked along the global supply chain, whether as a longshoreman or terminal operator, warehouse operator or government official, had something to learn about the way the rest of the industry operates while contributing their own unique perspective to the dialogue.

For her contributions, she was recognized with the 2005 Stanley T. Olafson Award from the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the highest honor an individual can receive from the local trade community. The fact that an educator received an award usually reserved for leaders of this region’s most important global industries (past winners include Walt Disney) or promoters of trade like former L.A. mayors Sam Yorty and Tom Bradley speaks volumes about her impact on the trade sector and the respect she has earned both inside and outside the walls of the university. This is quite a legacy and a reminder of the leadership that exists in our industry, no matter the headline. She deserves our thanks and our best wishes for a well-deserved retirement.

(Dr. Thomas O’Brien is the director of research for the Center for International Trade and Transportation at CSULB and associate director for Long Beach Programs for the METRANS Transportation Center, a partnership of USC and CSULB. For past articles in this series, please go to www. ccpe.csulb.edu/IndustryArticles.)