Ports chief harbors hope for expansion

 In 2005-07

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People – July 2005

Ports chief harbors hope for expansion
By Joe Rauch

Given the choice, Tom Eagar would probably prefer to be elbow-deep in an engine block of one of the Corvettes — six, so far — that he restores. “My cars have won a few show awards, but the reward really is in the process, not any payment at the end.” Good thing, then, that he keeps his day job as chief executive of the N.C. State Ports Authority.

Bringing three decades of shipping experience, Eagar, 63, came to work for the Ports Authority as deputy executive director of operations in 2000. In March 2004, he became interim CEO after Erik Stromberg resigned at the request of the board of directors. Last August, the $150,000-a-year position became permanent.

His first job on the docks was behind the steering wheel of a delivery truck. After graduating from high school, he spent four years working in garages around his hometown of Torrance, Calif. Drafted into the Army in 1964, he spent two years as an infantryman and truck driver, including a tour in Vietnam. “It was then I resolved that I was going back to school.”

He graduated from California State University in Long Beach in 1970 with a bachelor’s in business administration. The G.I. Bill and driving a truck paid for college. “I was doing a lot of deliveries and work at the Long Beach docks. That’s when I really got interested in the process of the docks.”

After graduation, he took a job in Long Beach working for Elizabeth, N.J.-based Sea-Land Service, then a fledgling container shipper. He stayed 23 years, rising to direc-tor of transportation services. He then spent four years as a general manager for transportation at another shipping company, Jacksonville, Fla.-based Crowley American Transport. In 1998, he joined Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands North America, managing its port and transportation operations. “I got to see things from the perspective of a company that depends on these shipping companies and port facilities to stay in business.”

Those experiences have shaped his expansion plans for North Carolina’s ports, which employ about 4,000 at Wilmington and Morehead City. Why expand? Through April, tonnage was up about 25%, mostly because of a channel-deepening project completed at the Wilmington port in 2004. The authority hopes to add three container-shipping lines in Wilmington within three years. One will start in January.

He takes the long-range view. “If we just sat here in the office and didn’t actively push to make this the best possible port system on the whole East Coast, I wouldn’t feel like I was doing my job. Just like when I’m working on one of my cars — if it isn’t done properly, put together so that it matches the way it was the day it rolled off the assembly line, I’m doing that car a disservice. It’s the process that I find the most important.”

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