On January 31, family-owned Hendry Marine Industries appointed Richard McCreary as president of its Gulf Marine Repair shipyard in Tampa, Fla.
The shipyard’s core business focuses on repair, conversion and modification of large ocean-going commercial vessels, tugs and barges, dredges, small ships, harbor tugs, and U.S. Coast Guard, MARAD, Corps and NOAA vessels. The yard, located on Ybor Ship Channel, sits on a 50-acre site and contains roughly 3,200-linear feet of bulkheaded waterfront frontage. The location has been used as a shipyard since the start of World War II.
McCreary comes to Gulf Marine Repair from Vigor Works LLC, where he was vice president of business development responsible for developing commercial relationships and providing market analysis in the ship repair and fabrication business lines. In a career spanning 50 years, he has also held executive positions at BAE Systems, Marinette Marine Corporation, VT Halter Marine, and other shipbuilders.
With that many years of experience in the ship repair and service industry, Marine Log wanted to talk to McCreary about what he’s observed over the years, some personal milestones, and what he thinks is yet to come for the sector.
Marine Log (ML): You have an extensive history of leadership at some of the top maritime companies in the U.S. Can you tell us more about your marine career and what got you involved with the industry to begin with?
Robert McCreary (RM): For a career, I have been very fortunate. During my high school years, I worked in a marina and always wanted to stay working with the marine business. I started in the shipbuilding and repair business in Lemont, Ill., straight out of the University of Michigan, where I earned a BSE in naval architecture and marine engineering. During my time at Lemont, I earned an MBA at the University of Chicago because I wanted to further my career in marine management.
After Lemont, I went to the Gulf of Mexico in 1982 and worked in various marine management operating company roles in New Orleans and Tampa for 17 years. I then transitioned back to the shipbuilding and repair side of the business in 1997, holding executive positions at Halter Marine in Mississippi, Marinette Marine in Wisconsin, BAE Systems in Jacksonville and Mobile, and most recently with Vigor Industrial in Washington, D.C.
With my transition to Gulf Marine Repair in Tampa, I am pleased to be back in an operational role since that is my primary skillset and the work that I enjoy. Gulf Marine Repair has an excellent customer reputation for the quality of service, on-time performance, and 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 are faced with an ever-changing environment. Our customer base is evolving and our regulatory environment continues to be more stringent. Gulf Marine Repair must evolve and adapt to meet all of these evolving requirements at the same time that we remain a quality service operation and continue to make a profit.
Change is hard, and I am looking forward to the challenge of helping this organization continue to improve and evolve to the satisfaction of our customer base, our regulators, our employees, and our shareholders. Since Gulf Marine Repair is an ESOP company, the last two are very aligned.
ML: Is there anything new or upcoming happening there that you can let our readers know about?
RM: Principally Gulf Marine Repair is on a journey of continuous improvement that my predecessor John Gallagher started, who is retiring after a long successful career in the marine industry. The journey must and will continue unabated under my watch. When I outline the challenging and rapidly changing environment earlier, this increases the necessity of change in shipyard practices out of necessity. Gulf Marine Repair must grow our capabilities as new systems become necessary and required.
We are presently in the cycle of installing ballast water treatment systems today and will be for some time to come. Looming are all of the stack emission requirements that will necessitate the installation of other new systems, such as scrubbers. For Gulf Marine Repair to grow and prosper, we need to be in the vanguard of each of these new requirements.
ML: What would you say are the top hurdles companies specializing in ship repair are facing at the moment?
RM: The principal problem that Gulf Marine faces is well known and shared throughout the marine industry. We have an aging workforce and must attract and retain a younger generation of workers to sustain our business. This presents a real challenge since most shipyards have only recently started to address this issue in the last several years.
I have advocated for years that the education model in the United States was unduly biased for college. A large number 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 youth come out of college with large student loan debt only to find that their degree is not commercially valued and end up working menial jobs.
Conversely, if they went to a vocational school during or immediately after high school, and then came and apprenticed at our shipyard, within five to six years, working hard to advance with some overtime, they coulis as great job satisfaction being part of a team helping to keep American commerce moving forward.
ML: How does Gulf Marine Repair plan to overcome those challenges?
RM: There certainly are challenges and the shipyard career is not for everyone. Shipyards have improved the working conditions and safety immensely over the years, but our work is almost entirely outside year around with the ever-changing weather conditions. Our work is also frequently physically demanding and dirty, but it is very psychically rewarding when a job is finished well.
We have to continue introducing technology smartly with a payback to help attract the technologically savvy younger worker. We need to talk to them early in their high school years and educate them on the benefits of our industry. Lastly, we need to mentor the new workers for months to teach them the ins and outs of their job and keep them safe. This is a journey—not a sprint—but I believe we can structure this success here.