Keeping Afloat During Turbulent Economic Times

Richard Wainio is the steward of Tampa, Florida's largest, most financially sound port. His maritime career has been a long one, having served over the last 35 years at ports in both Panama and the United States.

with Richard Wainio of Tampa Port Authority

Richard Wainio has had an illustrious career. In his nearly 35 years in the maritime industry, he has held high-level positions in the United States and Panama, including heading the Port of Palm Beach, Florida, and a short stint directing Manzanillo International Terminal, the largest container transshipment port in Latin America. Just as impressive as Wainio’s credentials is his family’s hundred-year history in the maritime industry. In the early 1900s, Wainio’s engineer grandfather immigrated to Panama from Finland to help the Americans build the Panama Canal and Wainio’s father ran customs and immigration in the former Canal Zone, while his uncle served as director of the ports and railroad. As current port director and chief executive of the Tampa Port Authority, Wainio continues to make a name for himself, maintaining the largest, most diversified, and financially sound port in the State of Florida. Here, the CEO shares business strategies that have contributed to the Port of Tampa’s success.

1. Position Company for Changes

In many ways, running a port is no different from running a large international corporation and just like large corporations, the port took a major hit when the economy began to backslide. As Wainio pointed out, it was also the first time since World War II that there was a back-to-back decline in world trade. For the CEO, it became a matter of figuring out how to operate successfully in the short term while also generating the revenue necessary to continue investing and preparing for long-term growth. Needless to say, this required some positioning. “Ports need to have a 10-20 year horizon and preparing for the future of a port is very expensive,” Wainio says. “Everybody’s crystal ball is a little unclear and the world of trade changes constantly. We can’t always anticipate those changes, so we’ve positioned the port for a wide range of possible market developments by investing in projects that will enable us to respond to opportunities as they arise.”

2. Maintain Financial Stability

Positioning is the perfect segue way to financial stability because according to Wainio, making sure the port is financially solid and healthy is what makes investing in maritime projects a possibility. “You have to make sure the house is in order financially in order to support capital investments,” Wainio says. “You have to run a port as a business in a financially successful manner.”

The Port of Tampa has grown to be one of the nation's premier home ports to cruise lines such as Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Holland America Line. “You have to run a port as a business in a financially successful manner,” says Richard Wainio, port director and chief executive of the Tampa Port Authority.

3. Diversify Lines of Business

“Something that has been fundamentally critical to our success has been diversifying our lines of business. Very few ports have so many people walking through their doors wanting to start projects because most of those ports simply do not have the land or the diversity of maritime facilities we have at the Port of Tampa,” Wainio says. The port director contends that the state of Florida has been slower to recover from the recession than the rest of the country, but a continually growing line of commerce has helped to insulate the port from downturns in certain cargoes. In 2011, the port’s cruise business experienced its second-highest year on record with Norwegian Cruise Line joining Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, and Holland America in Tampa, positioning the port to rank number six in the nation among cruise home ports in 2012.

4. Maximize Space

The Tampa Port can only be described as massive. Take this factoid into account: The Miami Port is 500 acres; the Tampa Port is 5,000 acres. One key reason the port has been so successful at diversifying is that it has the resources (i.e. space) to accommodate its business growth. Under the careful and strategic eye of Wainio, not only is the Port of Tampa actively acquiring new land, but it is also creating more land by filling areas of its bay for new cargo terminals. “We’re in an enviable position and we’re only going to continue to grow,” Wainio says.