The Port of Oakland pulled off a major coup Thursday with the announcement that Chris Lytle, who heads the Port of Long Beach, will move up the coast to become its executive director in late July.
The news came as a surprise to many in the maritime industry because Lytle held the prestigious position of running day-to-day operations at the second largest container port in the nation and, along with officials at the adjacent Port of Los Angeles, was at the center of national policy discussions about goods movement, infrastructure development, environmental mitigation, and trade because of Southern California's importance as an international cargo gateway touching more than 40 percent of the nation's containerized imports.
Oakland is the fifth busiest container seaport in the United States, with 2.2 million TEUs routed through its terminals last year compared to more than 6 million TEUs in Long Beach.
Lytle will receive an annual salary of $325,000, which is below the average for similar port authorities on the West Coast with seaport and airport jurisdiction, such as Seattle, spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur said in an e-mail. Lytle will have the additional responsibility of managing Oakland International Airport. He lived in Oakland between 1992 and 1995 when he worked for the former liner carrier Sea-Land Service, Inc.
The hiring of a big-name port director appears intended to restore credibility to the port authority's damaged reputation following a major fraud scandal. Oakland was thrown into turmoil last year when it was revealed that top managers had skimmed travel expenses for their own benefit going back to 2008 and that the port didn't have adequate controls in place to monitor its finances. The resulting investigation led to the retirement of former director Omar Benjamin, the departure of Maritime Director James Kwon and the naming of Deborah Ale Flint as interim executive director. New policies financial accountability and transparency were also implemented.
"The port commission set a high standard for its next leader and has successfully achieved this goal with the selection of Chris Lytle, who has a proven track record of growing business while engaging the community and ensuring leading environmental stewardship,” Board President Gilda Gonzales said in a statement.
The Board of Commissioners, which conducted a four-month search for a new port director, said Lytle's immediate priorities will be to transform the port's maritime business, continue to grow aviation and cargo volumes through the airport, rebuild public trust, restructure the port to be more responsive to markets and the community, complete major projects such as the Oakland Army Base redevelopment into a logistics park, and enhance the port's 18 miles of waterfront.
Lytle took the helm at the Port of Long Beach in November 2011 following the retirement of Richard Steinke. Lytle served as deputy executive director and chief operating officer from 2008 to 2011. He joined the port in 2006 as managing director of trade relations and operations. Lytle came to port management after a career in the maritime industry. He was vice president of West Coast operations for French carrier CMA CGM, which has significant maritime and terminal operations at Long Beach, Oakland and Seattle. He has also held executive positions at P&O Ports North America and APM Terminals.
Under Lytle’s leadership, the Port of Long Beach convinced global container lines Mediterranean Shipping Co. and CMA-CGM, to establish the port as their Southern California hub. The resulting realignment of terminals and services for those lines gave the Port of Long Beach an additional 900,000 containers and an estimated $22 million per year. He also worked closely with Hong Kong's OOCL to negotiate a $4.5 billion 40-year lease with the Port of Long Beach – the largest lease in U.S. container terminal history. When completed in 2019, the Middle Harbor Terminal will be the most state-of-the art container terminal in the world.
He has been closely involved in the Port of Long Beach's transition into a "green" port and its $4 billion capital improvement campaign.
Long Beach and Los Angeles have led the nation in efforts to clean up exhaust from diesel trucks, cargo handling equipment and vessels. POLB initiatives have resulted in 75 percent reduction in diesel particulates in five years.
The POLB also works actively to explain the importance of the port to the surrounding community, including through harbor and rail tours, and community meetings.
Ale Flint will continue as a senior port executive after Lytle's arrival, the Port of Oakland said.
The Port of Long Beach said it will move quickly to find a new executive director.
"The board, port staff and our customers will miss Chris, and we wish him well in his next endeavor,” Susan Anderson Wise, president of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, said in a statement. “He has served admirably in all his roles here at the Port, and a lot of great things have been accomplished while he’s served as our executive director. - Eric Kulisch