Quest for Quality award cements the two-vessel operation’s status as the best ocean carrier in the world.
By Hilary Reeves
Bill Crawford has a favorite story that encapsulates his years at TOTE Maritime Alaska. Predictably, it involves some heavy lifting.
“I was doing project sales in Anchorage before I moved back to Washington State, and there were a couple of joint projects we were working on with Carlile (Transportation Systems) and Lynden that required several heavy lifts,” he said. “We were initially told it was not possible to do these lifts on the Orcas due to the weight constraints on the Anchorage dock. After several meetings with officials from the Port of Anchorage and a survey crew, we were able to find a solution for the customer and location on-site where this work could safely be performed. In the end, these were highly profitable moves for both TOTE and Carlile, and the lesson was clearly: make sure all options are considered before making a decision. It would’ve been easy to pass this off to the barge, but it was very rewarding for our project team to pull something off that was so complicated and had such a large contribution to our organization.”
Crawford joined TOTE 15 years ago as an Account Executive in Anchorage, and now serves as the company’s Vice President of Commercial. He grew up in Lake Tahoe, but moved to Redmond, Washington – a Seattle suburb located just a short drive away from the company’s current headquarters – in 1980.
“It was just a few months after Mount St. Helens blew,” he said. “I was 10 years old at the time, and in the fourth grade. I had lots of questions for my parents about volcanoes. I had no idea what to expect.”
Crawford’s childhood passed in wooded duck blinds, lakes and rivers across the Pacific Northwest. His father was an avid fisherman and bird hunter.
“I was basically his sidekick,” he said.
After graduating from Washington State University, he joined Roadway Express, a National LTL carrier, as a management trainee.
“I worked the swing shift, which started at 11 a.m. and finished when the work was done – usually no earlier than 11 p.m.,” he said. “This was at the Everett (Washington) terminal. I was there when Microsoft, one of our accounts, released Windows. It was unbelievable the amount of freight we pushed across that dock over the next couple of months. I’ll never forget it. Pallets and trucks forever. I didn’t think it would end. Although it was a very difficult and demanding job, it was a tremendous learning opportunity and a great way for me to break into this business.”
Crawford also spent time as a TOTE customer before joining the company, managing the Alaska operation for Roadway Express.
“At the time, I wanted to stay in Alaska, and I thought that working for TOTE would provide more opportunities for me in the long term,” he said. “TOTE was not only a great company, but seemed much more stable in terms of where I would lay my roots down.”
Though Crawford eventually moved from Alaska back to Washington State, he said the company’s incredible service allows him to focus on company growth and team development rather than “fighting fires.” The biggest challenge of the past year, he said, has been our LNG conversion.
“We’re currently in week eight of nine, and when it’s over, we’ll have run nine consecutive weeks of single sailings, which has had a big impact on how our customers move their freight,” he said. “We’ve minimized customer impact as much as possible, and I expect it to get easier during the next phase later this year. It’s caused a lot of stress, both internally and to our customers, but I’m proud of how we’re handling it.”
Crawford estimates he spends about half of his time on the road meeting with customers. He’s been married to his wife, Rebecca, for 11 years. The couple has a nine-year-old son, Gabe.
“He’s an incredible kid, very kind and thoughtful,” said Crawford of his son. “It can be tough on both of them with me gone so much.”
But the seeds planted by Crawford, his team, and other branches of TOTE Maritime Alaska continue to bear fruit. Winning the 2017 Quest for Quality award cemented the company as the best ocean carrier in the world – amazing considering its modest two-vessel operation.
“To go from not even making the charts to winning is something we’re all proud of,” said Crawford. “It’s not just the award that makes people feel proud. My team knows this business better than anyone else in the market from a commercial perspective. We also have amazing customers, almost all of whom have been with us for many years. A lot of these customers are also personal friends. When you get to work with people you respect and enjoy being around, and your customers are also your close friends, it makes this a pretty special place.”