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Profile: Prof Gordon Shirley – New man at the helm in Kingston

In the last issue of Caribbean Maritime we interviewed the outgoing chairman of the Ports Authority of Jamaica, the Hon Noel Hylton. This issue we have chosen to undertake a Q&A with his able successor, Prof Gordon Shirley.

Professor Gordon ShirleyCaribbean Maritime: It must be difficult to fill the shoes of a man who previously headed up the Port Authority of Jamaica with such distinction for more than 40 years. How are you coping with the challenge?

Prof Gordon Shirley: Yes, it is a challenge to take over the management of the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) following four decades of excellent stewardship by the Hon. Noel Hylton. Under successive governments, Mr Hylton was instrumental in establishing the structure for the operation of Jamaica’s shipping and cruise ship ports.

I have had the benefit of his thoughts and ideas during the transition period; and I am confident that going forward they will serve me in good stead.

In my short time on board, I have already established that the PAJ has highly skilled and professional senior and middle management personnel as well as a cohort of experienced personnel at all levels. Therefore, my approach to the management of the PAJ in the short term will be to:

• Take full advantage of the skills that are already available; and continue to upgrade and attract skilled personnel as necessary.
• Continue the refinement of our internal reporting systems.
• Encourage innovation.
• Pursue all relevant opportunities to grow the business of the port.

Caribbean Maritime: Do you plan to do things differently going forward or do you see yourself as purely maintaining a continuum?

Prof Gordon Shirley: Naturally, going forward the things that are working will be part of the continuum. However, the times are changing and the remit of the port is also changing. We are in the process of privatising the Kingston Container Terminal; and with the advent of an expanded Panama Canal it is necessary to reposition the port as a major regional entity to take full advantage of the larger and increased shipping lines traversing the region.

Caribbean Maritime: What differences have you encountered moving from academia to one of Jamaica’s highest-profile business positions?

Prof Gordon Shirley: I have a background in engineering and management; and while port management is a new category for me, I have always maintained that the basic management principles are no different from one sector to another given that the main objectives are to determine workable strategies and initiate plans to implement those strategies.

During my 23 years at the University of the West Indies my role was not restricted to ‘education’ per se. I was principal and served as head of the Department of Management Studies; executive director of the Mona School of Business; and facilitated the Mona Institute of Business to become a ‘self-sustaining school of business with endowments for research and entrepreneurial studies’.

At the international level, I have served as the Jamaican Ambassador to the United States of America from 2004 to 2007. In addition, I have served on several public and private sector boards, including: chairman of Grace Kennedy (current); chairman of the National Task Force, Logistics Hub Initiative; and I have been a member of the boards of the PIOJ [Planning Institute of Jamaica] and the JPSCo [Jamaica Public Service Company].

Caribbean Maritime: What are your views in regard to the privatisation in 2014 of the Port of Kingston?

Prof Gordon Shirley: The government of Jamaica through the port authority is seeking to grant a long-term concession to operate and expand the Kingston Container Terminal to be able to capitalise on the expansion of the Panama Canal which is expected to be completed by mid 2015.

In fact, the KCT is already regarded as a major global transhipment hub in the Caribbean; and, with the proposed improvements at the port, its position can be maintained and enhanced.
This privatisation will generate new capital for expansion and will provide the requisite expertise to expand the business to take advantage of emerging trends to attract east-west trade, which is expected to flow through the Panama Canal.

We believe that the port provides an exciting opportunity for an experienced terminal operator to acquire an existing business with a record of performance, opportunities for expansion and good growth potential. And, at the same time, the partnership with the port authority will provide opportunities for expanding the business to include logistics.

Caribbean Maritime: On the other hand, what happens if the Port of Kingston is not successfully privatised?

Prof Gordon Shirley: Based on the current strategy for privatisation, we anticipate that we should have a concessionaire in place by the end of the year. In the event that this does not materialise, we have to keep all options open as we need to ensure that the KCT continues to operate as a viable entity.

Caribbean Maritime: The Port Authority of Jamaica has for many years prided itself on its excellent labour relations. Do you aim to maintain these and could the proposed privatisation of the Port of Kingston put these under threat?

Prof Gordon Shirley: The labour relations in the Ports of Jamaica have been excellent and continue to be so. And the proper mechanisms are in place to ensure that this continues. We do not anticipate that this will change with the privatisation of the Kingston Container Terminal.

Caribbean Maritime: The opening in 2015 of the enlarged Panama Canal changes the dynamic for several Caribbean container ports. Where do you think Port of Kingston currently stands in the race to maintain existing business and in its quest for additional throughput?

Prof Gordon Shirley: Both Jamaica and the Port Authority of Jamaica are poised to take full advantage of the business generated by the enlarged Panama Canal. We are positive that our current port expansion and enhancement strategies will place us in a position to benefit from this expansion and the resulting increasep in traffic within the Central American and Caribbean regions.

We are in the process of exposing corporate Jamaica and the wider public about the requisite infrastructure, business activities and skills that are required to create a logistics hub; while at the same time inviting external participation in its development. Caribbean Maritime: In your view, where does Kingston face its biggest competition, and why?

Prof Gordon Shirley: We do not perceive of other ports in the Caribbean as being competitors in respect of the business to be generated by an expanded Panama Canal. Instead, we see regional ports as being part of a wider network of highly efficient port facilities working to the benefit of Caribbean states, shipping lines and other businesses.

Caribbean Maritime: Jamaica has been very successful in the cruise shipping sector. What does Jamaica need to do to maintain its pre-eminence in this market?

Prof Gordon Shirley: The Port Authority of Jamaica is particularly pleased with the operations of its cruise shipping sector; and we are in the process of expanding and upgrading our ports, particularly Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. And the cruise pier at Falmouth has set the standard for the kind of development we anticipate.

Therefore, we are also exploring new marketing strategies to expand our fledgling home-porting facilities and attract new cruise shipping lines to call at our ports.

Caribbean Maritime: Do you support the plans to redevelop Port Royal as a cruise terminal and broadly along the same lines at Falmouth?

Prof Gordon Shirley: Yes, I support the plans for the redevelopment of Port Royal as a cruise terminal as this will enhance the country’s profile as a significant cruise shipping destination within the region. Port Royal has great possibilities, given its history, and would certainly add diversity to the cruise ship market.

And, we are fully aware of the initiatives that have been made to redevelop Port Royal as a cruise destination, with its historic and other attractions.