• Saturday , 25 May 2019

After 35 years, Foss COO retires

Scott Merritt retired from Foss on Jan. 4.
Scott Merritt retired from Foss on Jan. 4.

Scott Merritt helped navigate the company through the waters of a challenging industry.

If Scott Merritt regrets anything about his 35 years at Foss Maritime, it’s his attitude as a cocky, self-assured young Cal Maritime graduate during his first 10 years at the company.

“I wish I’d done a lot more listening and a lot less talking,” Merritt said, noting that he was working with and for some great people with a wealth of experience at the time. “I spent a lot of time trying to prove what I already knew.”

But Merritt, who rose to become the company’s Chief Operating Officer, got over his youthful hubris and helped lead Foss for more than three decades, successfully navigating the waters of a challenging industry.

He was succeeded as COO by former Chief Commercial Officer Will Roberts on Sept. 25 and worked as an acting senior vice president until his official retirement on Jan. 4.

Merritt, 58, joined Foss in 1983 as a dispatcher in Seattle and served in a number of positions until 1993 when he opened the company’s San Francisco Bay Operation as its first manager. Later, as regional director on the Bay, Merritt oversaw the growth of the region from a one-tug operation to a full-fledged provider of maritime services, including tanker escort, ship assist, sand dredging, and ship bunkering services.

He returned to Seattle, and in 2005 became Senior Vice President for Harbor Services and Regional Towing, and then Senior Vice President of Operations, before being named COO in January of 2017.

“Foss has a unique ability to reinvent itself and adapt to change in the marketplace,” he said of the company’s greatest accomplishment during his tenure. “There are a lot of tug-and-barge companies out there with 100-plus year legacies, but I haven’t seen another one that has been able to think outside of the box and seize opportunities in emerging markets the way we have.”

“Foss has a unique ability to reinvent itself and adapt to change in the marketplace,” he said of the company’s greatest accomplishment during his tenure. “There are a lot of tug-and-barge companies out there with 100-plus year legacies, but I haven’t seen another one that has been able to think outside of the box and seize opportunities in emerging markets the way we have.”

When Merritt started at Foss, 60 to 70 percent of the company’s revenue came from the wood products industry. While still in that business, it’s greatly overshadowed today by growth in the petroleum industry.

Foss performed five sealifts during the past 15 years to a number of oil development projects on Sakhalin Island in the Siberian Arctic, and routinely escorts and assists tankers in Puget Sound, the San Francisco Bay, and in Southern California. The company also operates the first U.S. Flag LNG Bunker Barge and a “Rocket Ship” that moves satellite launch vehicles from a factory in Decatur, Alabama to launch sites at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“Our owners have been willing to let us take risks and re-invent ourselves,” Merritt said. “That’s why I’ve worked 35 years for one company. There’s always a new opportunity, and we haven’t been afraid to go after them.”

Perhaps his biggest challenges and most rewarding experiences as a manager at Foss have been creating opportunities for an employee group he describes as “incredibly talented, hardworking, and smart.”

“It’s not always easy to maintain that energy and excitement while recognizing the contributions of people to the company, but I think Foss, as well as any company, has provided opportunities for people to shine,” Merritt said. “We’ve had some of the best-quality people you could ever work with – mariners, tankermen, shipyard workers, and the people in the office. I don’t carry a lot of friends around in my personal life, but I’ve always had a lot of friends at work, and I enjoyed coming to work every day. On our website and in our ads, we talk about our great equipment and big projects, but nothing ever leaves the dock without good people.”

Foss President and CEO John Parrott congratulated Merritt on his decades of service:

“I’ve always thought that a true measure of a person’s character is not only how they conduct themselves every day, but also how they act as the curtains are closing. True to his 35 years at Foss, Scott has worked his tail off since announcing his retirement. He has been a tremendous help on a number of things at Foss, crisscrossing our regions from Hawaii to Jacksonville, with a little California thrown in for good measure. He (truly gave) it his all, right up until his very last day. I salute Scott for his years of dedicated service, for his help and counsel, and I look forward to crossing paths with him again – presumably within our industry and in the very near future.”

Merritt’s retirement comes at a time when he and his wife, a teacher, committed to a more self-directed lifestyle. The timing, he said, seemed right, with Foss going through a reorganization and with Roberts having what Merritt says is a “perfect skill set” for the redefined COO position.

“It’s a good time to make that jog left when the company is going right.”

(This article first ran in Tow Bitts. It has been adapted for People of Saltchuk.)

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