South Carolina Chamber’s 2014 Public Servant of the Year – James I Newsome, III – South Carolina Ports Authority
SOUTH CAROLINA — On the same day South Carolina Business visited the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Public Servant of the Year, Jim Newsome’s company, the South Carolina Ports Authority, was making a huge announcement. Newsome was very pleased to announce that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had just released the long anticipated, four-year Draft Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement for the Post-45 Harbor Deepening project. It recommended that the Charleston Harbor be deepened to 52 feet, making it the deepest port on the East Coast. Currently, the port is the ninth largest port (behind Tacoma, Washington), and the fourth largest on the East Coast. Simply speaking, the growth of the South Carolina’s commerce, and especially its manufacturing sector, has necessitated a deeper harbor and a stronger port system. Jim Newsome has answered the industry’s call, and then some. He has doubled the port’s growth (tracking 8-9 percent growth while the rest of the U.S has seen approximately 4 percent growth), ensuring South Carolina’s export dominance well into the future. “We have ten more years of really hard work left,” says the tireless president and CEO, with a calm certitude.
Who is Jim Newsome?
“I am not a politician,” Newsome says quickly of his nomination. He describes himself as a contrarian, always quick to challenge current thinking with a glimpse of what it means for the future. “I’m always looking to do something a bit different than what everyone else is doing.” Both a metaphorical sprinter and a marathon runner, “I am always trying to see a little farther ahead on the horizon,” he explained. “The first movers in business get the advantage.” And so the race to the top began for South Carolina.
A self-described information junkie, he says he would much rather read an e-mail from a colleague than meet face to face. “That bothers people,” he adds in a moment of self-recognition. He’s always scanning the trends to see where things are going. “I like to stay ahead of the pack and anticipate trends faster.” He can do this easier with the written word, he explains.
The South Carolina Ports Authority is a major strategic asset for the state. Port leaders call the 52 feet a game changer for South Carolina. Newsome prides himself on running the port as a business, and not as a typical public trust. He craftily refocuses each question about himself onto the port, but not in a bashful way. It’s strategic. “We [at the port] have told a clear, consistent story.” The opposite of aloof or absent, the regimented and reliable Newsome does not shy away from mentioning that he has been married to his wife Kathy for 30 years or that he’s proud of his daughter Rachel, 28, and son Matthew, 23. “They’re good kids. My wife did a good job raising them.”
The early life of the protege
“I was pointed in the direction of a shipping career at a fairly young age,” explains Newsome. “I was born in Savannah, Georgia. I still actually own the home I was born into. I liked all sports: football, baseball and basketball. I was interested in being a good student.” A proud University of Tennessee/Knoxville graduate, Jim Newsome, who skipped a grade in elementary school, graduated with a MBA at the age of 21. He said his father (and his father’s friend Don Welch, a previous SCSPA president and UT alumnus) boasted that they conspired to get him into Tennessee’s transportation program. “He also said that he helped me get into the University of Tennessee. That was not true,” laughs Newsome.
“I was really interested in the shipping industry. My father was with the Georgia Ports Authority in Savannah. I used to go to work with him on Saturdays – every Saturday, in fact. It piqued my curiosity about shipping, ports and things of that nature. That was what we did. That was the time we spent together. My dad didn’t have a lot of hobbies. He worked all the time. So the time we spent together was [spent] going around on Saturdays running errands [and] going to work with him. I would help him with his work. We’d go get a hamburger afterwards at the Crystal Beer Parlor and watch a football game or something,” reminisces Newsome. “He took me when he went on some business trips, even as a young man.”
“I watched him pretty intently. He was a hard worker,” continues Newsome. “He was an honest guy and very focused on relationships with people. He was fair with people, but he was tough. He didn’t play any favorites. [A] real simple guy. Not a high flyer. Down to earth. Conservative in terms of finance. Never really took on a lot of debt. Very reliable.” History tends to repeat itself with this father’s namesake.
“My mother was a worker,” adds Newsome, who was an only child. “In fact she worked full time until she was 82 years old. She worked 50 years for one company called Chatham Steel in Savannah. She was a fast-paced Bostonian lady [combined with] slow paced Savannah. I grew up in what you’d call a real working family. I was pretty much a latchkey kid. Between the two [parents], they fostered in me a true since of independence. I’ve always been pretty independent, which is different from the kids today.”
A summer college job at Strachan Shipping Company in Savannah crystalized his interest in a shipping career. After college, he had a job offer from Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio and surprised the recruiter when he said he was going to work for Strachan in Houston, Texas. Again, it was his father’s guiding hand that pointed him toward Texas. After Houston, where he met his wife, he went to the shipping capital of the world: New York City. “It was the best thing that I ever did. The shipping industry is all about contacts and relationships. And that was a place where I could build a lot of relationships,” says Newsome.
“After my Strachan Shipping time, I was an American working for two major European shipping companies. It was critical that I have a mentor from the home country. So I had a Dutch mentor. I had a few German mentors.” After New York, the family eventually landed in Atlanta, Georgia which was their home for 22 years.
The victories go to the bold
“The best part is that the port works extremely well,” says Newsome. “The port’s not a difficult business. What do we do? We load ships and we load trucks.” This hardworking chief who’s directly responsible for 500 people’s careers (and even more jobs indirectly in his extended maritime family of those who make a living off the port), emphasized speed above all other measures. “I measure by the watch, not the calendar.” That isn’t always easy in a public bureaucracy.
When asked about his chief competition, he was careful not to bash the Savannah Port. He sees them as allies in the South Atlantic brand. Perhaps it’s his father’s guiding hand once again. “I’ve seen it all in this industry. It’s a small industry,” he concludes.
Photo courtesy of South Carolina Chamber
Source: South Carolina Chamber