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Georgia native JP Marcantonio accepted the position of VP of Marine Services in February.

By Hilary Reeves

During his 13 years at Foss Maritime, JP Marcantonio’s motto was, “Happy to be here. Proud to serve.”

“I never had a bad day at Foss,” he continued, “and now I feel the same way about TOTE Services. I’m honored to be part of (President) Jeff Dixon’s team. His simple motto resonates with me: ‘to be a company of integrity that cares deeply for our people.’”

Marcantonio joined TOTE earlier this year as Vice President of Marine Services. Growing up on Tybee Island off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, he and the sea became friends early on.

“I had summer jobs as a busboy on the island every summer beginning when I was 13,” he said. “When I was 16, I worked in a fish market. On Saturday afternoons, the owner assigned someone to clean out the giant reefer, sort through all the fish that were getting ready to turn bad, re-ice all the fish, and scrub the reefer with a high concentration water bleach solution. I wanted to be respected by my older co-workers, so I always volunteered to do the job.

“By the way,” he continued, “if you’re wondering what we did with the fish that was getting ready to turn, sometimes we made chum for fisherman. Most of the time, we produced crab cakes for one of the most visited restaurants on Savannah’s River Street. Another of my mottos is, ‘Never eat the crab cakes.’”

Marcantonio also spent a lot of time out on the water.

 “My love of the sea led me to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.”

‘Mission first; people always’

After Marcantonio graduated from Kings Point, he accepted a commission in the United States Army as a Transportation Officer with a maritime specialty.

“The Army has an extensive maritime mission, including tugboats, landing craft, causeway companies, and stevedoring units,” he said.

During his five years in the Army, he served in Korea as a trucking company platoon leader and executive officer, the Presidio of Monterey as the installation logistics officer, and completed two tours supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Serving in the Army taught me invaluable leadership lessons, primarily the Army’s principle of ‘mission first; people always’ and the saying that ‘no one cares what you know until they know how much you care.’”

Following his service, Marcantonio spent a year as an operations manager at Schneider National Trucking. He realized he wanted to pursue an MBA and was planning to attend school full time until he met Steve Scalzo, former President of Foss and Chief Operating Officer of the Marine Resources Group.

“Steve offered me a position working for him in operations, and to this day he continues to be my mentor,” said Marcantonio. “I spent more than 13 years at Foss in a variety of roles, including Designated Person Ashore and General Manager of the West Coast.”

Black and white photo of a wall filled with charts whiteboards and detailed information.

Always Safe’

Perhaps Marcantonio’s most significant contribution to Foss Maritime was born of tragedy.

“Following a tragic incident in 2007 when one of our most beloved mariners was killed in an accident, our leadership team made the bold decision to change our 120-year-old motto from ‘Always Ready’ to ‘Always Safe.’”

To compound the company’s challenges, Marcantonio said that with a Lost Time Injury rate above six at the time, Foss couldn’t qualify for work with the oil majors.

“We needed to demonstrate to our mariners that we cared about them and that the new vision would make Foss stronger,” he said. “I was given the honor of establishing the Marine Assurance Group.”

The Marine Assurance Group introduced the first KPI reporting system for leading indicators, a software system to ensure compliance with safety systems, Near Miss reporting, a Job Safety Analysis Program, and a Behavioral Based Safety Program.

“Working with the operations and engineering teams, we were able to drive our Lost Time Injury Rate to below one,” Marcantonio said. “I cherished everything about Foss Maritime, including the mission, people, vessels, and rich history. I miss my friends and the leaders at Foss, especially Jeff Horst, Jennifer Campbell, Paul Hendriks, and Ron Costin, my dear friends Will Roberts, a mentor who spent time developing me and encouraged me to challenge myself, and Jeanne Louie, a true servant leader. Nevertheless, when Jeff Dixon offered me the opportunity to work for TOTE Services, I felt as if I had won the lottery.”

Black and white photo of Marcantonio smiling in the passenger seat of a car, wearing a safety vest.

LNG history in the making

At Foss, Marcantonio established the LNG Operations Team that operates the LNG Barge Clean Jacksonville.

“By the time I joined TOTE Services, I’d already had the opportunity to serve with quality leaders like Jim Wagstaff, Ben Christian, Dennis O’Meara, and Lisa Gee,” he said. “I joined the team in February, and I am impressed with the cohesiveness of the TOTE Services team and the quality of our mariners.”

During Marcantonio’s first week, the company conducted its Quarterly Safety, Quality, and Environmental Meetings hosted by Patty Finsterbusch and Lauren McCollum. During the meetings, all the Captains and Chief Engineers called in to discuss significant Near Misses and incidents that occurred aboard their vessels during the quarter.

“The stopping of work to sincerely discuss safety through the sharing of lessons learned throughout a fleet spread out across the globe from the Far East to the Middle East to the Western Hemisphere reassured me that I joined a company that shared my values,” he said. “I later had the opportunity to sail aboard the Isla Bella on a voyage from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico.”

The Isla Bella and her sister ship, the Perla Del Caribe were the first LNG-powered containership ever built, both Marlin-class containerships made at NASSCO for TOTE.

“I was amazed at Captain Andy Mayher, and Chief Engineer Matt Barker’s dedication to their crews’ training.”

Home in the South

While Marcantonio was serving in the Army, stationed in Korea, he volunteered at Star by the Sea Catholic Orphanage in Incheon.

“I learned about the stigmas of being an adoptee in Korea, and I knew I wanted to adopt from the country,” he explained. “Fortunately, my wife shares my values, and we adopted two boys, now eight and four. In the United States, my sons will be able to pursue their dreams and passions without restrictions, just like I was able to do.”

According to Marcantonio, TOTE Services’s future is also bright.

John Marcantonio, left, with Greg Stuart. Marcantonio looks at a screen that Greg gestures at.
Marcantonio, left, with Greg Stuart, Chief Engineer of Perla Del Caribe.

“We’ve proved that our ability to innovate is second to none in the maritime industry,” he said. “TOTE was the first in the world to build an LNG-fueled container ship, and we’ll be the first in the world to convert a cargo ship to an LNG-fueled vessel. TOTE’s initiative is not only the first in the country, but also the only project that encompasses every aspect of Maritime LNG, including building LNG-powered vessels, converting LNG-powered vessels, partnering to build small-scale, on-the-water LNG liquefaction terminals, and building the first LNG Bunker Barge in the Western Hemisphere. Our continuous improvement culture drives our desire to achieve perfection, and our values drive our devotion to our mariners, office team members, and ultimately our customers.” 

Marcantonio said he’s honored to be involved in what he describes as TOTE’s game-changing endeavors. He also excited to be back overlooking the salty, marsh-laden landscape of home for the first time since he was 18 years old.

“I thought I left the South when I left for Kings Point,” he concluded. “My family established deep roots in Seattle. I never dreamt I would end up working in Jacksonville, two hours driving distance from where I grew up. I’m still in shock that my wife agreed to it, and I feel extremely blessed.”

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.