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Paul Hendriks: ‘As leaders, we should always remind ourselves of what it’s like to stand in the shoes of the people who do the work.’

As Foss Maritime’s Director of Marine Assurance, it’s Capt. Paul Hendriks’s job to make sure the people doing the work in the fleet have what they need to do their jobs safely. It’s a task that’s both straightforward and, at times, anything but.

“One thing you should know about me—I wear steel-toed shoes to work every day. Even my dress shoes are steel-toed. As leaders, we should always remind ourselves of what it’s like to stand in the shoes of the people who do the work.”

An education at sea

Hendriks is a first-generation American, the son of immigrant parents who left the Netherlands in favor of the liberty of living in the United States.

“Dutchman love fish,” he laughed. “We ate a lot of fish while I was growing up. When I was about nine or ten, my father encouraged me to go out on a sportfishing boat with some of his friends and bring home some fish. I did, and while I was on the boat fishing, I looked up into the wheelhouse. I knew then and there that I wanted to be a captain someday. So that’s the trigger that got me going toward a career on the water, that lit me from within and made me aware of the industry and that there were opportunities out there for people who wanted to work on the water.”

As Hendriks grew older, he spent more and more time on the water working on fishing and excursion boats, which gave him the resources to put himself through college.

“I started working for pay under the table when I was eleven. After that first fishing trip, I continued to fish on the local docks, piers, and boats. The crew on one of the boats that I frequented let me go out with them and fish for free as long as I scrubbed down the boat for them so they could drink beer at the end of the day.”

Eventually, they started paying him.

“It was really good money. Once I was finally at the legal working age, I made way more money than any of my friends working at fast food or grocery stores. I was able to buy a car, go out to dinner, and go on trips and save up for school.”

But despite his early love and recognition of the maritime industry as a career, he said that as a teenager and young adult, he never made the connection that it was something he wanted to do forever.

“My father insisted that I get an education, so I did, but it didn’t have anything to do with maritime,” he explained. “I majored in history. My intent was for it to either broaden into some sort of poli-affairs career or possibly serve as a precursor to law school. But while going to school, I kept working on the boats as a Captain on sportfishing, whale watching tours, and dinner cruises.

Introduction to Foss

Due to his early start on the boats, Hendriks gained enough sea time to be eligible for an Ocean Operator’s License when he was just 19 years old.

“Working as an Ocean Operator provided the opportunity to gain early experience operating vessels of increasing size and larger routs, which, as it turns out, opened the door for me. Things finally clicked. Between my junior and senior years at university, I decided I wanted to do something maritime-related. I thought about transferring to Cal Maritime but decided to stay and finish my bachelor’s degree at UC Irvine before applying.”

Hendriks graduated from UC Irvine in 1987. The summer before his senior year, he’d gotten a call from the Long Beach Pilots Organization asking him to come to work as a Pilot Boat Operator.

“They offered me a job, but I told them I really wanted to finish school,” he explained. “Then, shortly before I graduated, I got another phone call from them. It was an even better offer than the one before. I took it, leaving the notion of attending Cal Maritime behind.”

Hendriks worked for Jacobsen for 12 years and was organically exposed to the world of tug boating.

“It took a lot of work and time to get from my base-level license to earning the sea service required to upgrade my license so that I could work on tugs—nine years.”

Hendriks had just qualified to work for Wilmington Transportation when Foss Maritime purchased the company.

“While learning to operate tug boats, I focused on the newer technologies. ASD (Z Drive) tugs were just starting to enter the Los Angeles Long Beach harbor, and Foss, as usual, was at the forefront of introducing this new type of vessel. But very few people knew how to operate them.”

Because he had experience operating ASD tugs, Foss hired Hendriks on the spot in June of 1999.

“I knew the new tech, so Foss gave me the opportunity to jump on some of the newer tugs they were making,” explained Hendriks, who’s now coming up on his twenty-third year with the company.

A passion for safety

Hendriks sailed for Foss for seven years. When a customer approached Foss to take on a new line of business, the company needed someone to lead the operations side. Hendriks was invited to come ashore and work as a manager. After succeeding in this first management position, Hendriks became Port Captain for all of Southern California. He was soon asked to apply for the Regional Operations Manager position in Snake River. He got the job and moved his family to Portland. Two years later, he was promoted to Director of Operations for all of the Pacific Northwest, then GM for Southern California. He transitioned into the HSQE Marine Assurance role last year.

“We’ve seen a significant decrease in fatalities over the years. However, a recent drowning in Hawaii reminded us to stay grounded in the fleet. The work that’s done out there is risky. It requires a lot of attention to detail for those who do that work.”

It’s Hendriks’s experience in operations, he said, that makes him so passionate about safety.

“On the leadership side, it’s about how we cheer on our mariners and support and encourage them to do the right thing and look out for themselves and each other. The work they do is risky. The best we, as management, can do is to give them resources to help reduce the risk and support them in any and all ways possible, and most of all listen to their feedback promoting improvement.”

“We encourage them to bring things up, as they’re the ones who are there doing the work.”

One of Hendriks’s recent projects emphasizes crew readiness to respond to onboard emergencies.

“We place emphasis on our crews’ readiness to respond to a crisis on the vessel. The only way you’ll be ready for an emergency on a vessel is to drill and exercise as if there is an actual emergency on the vessel.”

Hendriks said his department is also gearing up to support new wind operations. He said he’s lucky to have joined Foss.

“You have to find the right company to work for, and I did.”

For more stories featuring Foss leaders and mariners, click here!

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.