Recognizing Opportunity: Insights from a Storied Career


I have been extremely fortunate to have spent over 46 consecutive years as a vessel agent. My Dad was a Group One telephone repairman (Ma Bell). My Dad’s father was a railroad worker, whose job entailed using a very steady steel bar (lining bar) to literally hand pull rail tracks to redirect train traffic. My Mom’s father was a Cleveland fireman. The women had the hard jobs of running the households and raising children. Obviously, times have changed. With a background such as mine the idea of spending your entire adult life working life in a single career was probably to be expected.

I can assure you that a long career in a single industry does not mean you are stuck in a rut or that you have serious talent deficiencies and are unwilling to diversify. To the contrary, a successful and focused career will be fraught with numerous growth and diversification opportunities.

I began my shipping career on March 18th, 1970. I had parted ways from Kent State University (on good terms) but had tired of being a broke English major with no real career path in sight. The job market was pretty good in those days. I was hired by a Steamship Agency with a downtown Cleveland office (Great Lakes Overseas, Inc.) as an assistant to an Operations Manager. None of this meant anything to me at the time; but it was a job, and I needed one of those.

My credentials were apparently sufficient enough, and the fact that there was only one other applicant for the position. The other job applicant was a former seminarian studying for the priesthood. I was told that the language on the dock was quite colorful, and a seminarian may not be up to that. In short, I was hired because I looked like someone you could swear at.

The start date was nearly perfect. An Irish kid from Cleveland just might have other plans for March 17th. I soon learned that my job had an actual designation. I was “water clerk”. I didn’t relish the thought of being any kind of clerk. It would become incumbent of me to take whatever future steps that would be needed to eradicate the “clerk” moniker from this job description.

I believe I pretty much achieved that. One should have an accomplishment or two in a career that spans 46 years. My early years in the business were quite frantic and never boring. The Cleveland branch of Great Lakes Overseas was charged with the responsibility to look after the interests of some of the largest International Steamship Lines operating through the Seaway into the Great Lakes. Our principal base included the likes of Fjell Line, Scanlake Line, Med-lakes Line, Mitsui O.S.K. line, Black Star Line and others.

The ships back then were generally Fortune Type, Freedom Type or even converted WWII Liberty Ships. These were far smaller than those that ply the Seaway today. These ships never had cranes but were all equipped with winches and derricks. The vessels’ lift capacity maximum limit was typically about 10 tons per lift. Heavier lifts had to be made using shore cranes. Many of these shops remained in service from the time that the Seaway opened in 1959 (before my time). Thank you, President Dwight Eisenhower.

The cargoes, flag states of the ships, and nationality of the crews were far more varied then, and hence even more interesting compared to what you will find today. The cargoes mix was not limited to the steel in/grain out description (an over simplified refrain) that is commonly used to describe the Seaway trade today. The cargoes we “worked” back then were commonly categorized as general and bulk cargo. We handled wine in cardboard boxes often hand stacked on wooden pallets, boxed machinery, steel drums, bales of sisal twine, wooden kegs of nuts and bolts, bales of rags, natural rubber in one hundred pound bales and much more. We would even fill entire cargo holds with fresh, bloody, fly infested cow hides. Obviously, life was good and this “water clerk” had found himself on a path to a long career.

Allow me to fast forward to the second half of my career. The last 23 years where I had the honor and privilege to serve as Vice President Vessel Operations at the independent, Cleveland based Steamship Agency/Transportation and/Logistics enterprise. It was at World Shipping that I was granted the opportunity to capitalize on all my maritime experience, which included cargo handling, principal relations, etc.; a jack of all trades kind of thing. Regardless of where I worked I learned early on that in business, just as in life, that it is all about the people.

Everybody has an important role to play. No one knows it all. You can and should learn every day from your bosses, principals, vendors, co-workers, family members and friends. World Shipping is where we would continue to identify the needs of our valued principals and pursue the growth opportunities that would open by filling those needs.

I did actually learn a lot over the course of a 46-year career. One of the most important lessons learned was: “friends will always continue to do business with friends”— thought I should leave you with at least a touch of insight.

– Dennis M. Mahoney, Vice President of Vessel Operations (Ret.)



SOURCE: Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation 

Originally posted here