Foss manager found friends, fulfillment in maritime.
By Hilary Reeves
While Erin Pierson was still living in Seattle, working for Foss Maritime as a security officer, she connected with a Cal Maritime freshman through the school’s alumni association.
“She was interested in tugs,” said Pierson. “She’s now in her junior year, and we’ve been able to maintain a mentoring relationship. I really like being able to help shape the direction of someone’s career and set industry expectations early.”
Pierson grew up in Vacaville, a scant 26 miles from the California Maritime Academy in northern California, on a 23-acre cattle ranch.
“My parents still raise cattle today,” she said. “I guess my childhood was a lot different from most. There were no soccer teams or anything – I had chores after school, helping my parents out feeding cows and changing irrigation pipes.”
Only two miles outside of town, ranch life still allowed Pierson to attend local schools. Her father was a teacher at the local high school.
“He taught ‘work experience,’” she laughed. “It was always interesting having Dad there. Sometimes it was nice – like if you needed lunch money or something.”
Pierson’s father wanted her and her twin sister to attend junior college before they went on to larger schools. Pierson enrolled and went to work on a degree in business, but when it came time to choose a specialty, she said she didn’t know which direction she wanted to go. On a visit to the University of California in Davis, she was introduced to Cal Maritime.
“I remember thinking, ‘What’s a maritime academy?’” she said, “and it turns out I grew up 30 miles from the school. I did some research and found out they had a business administration degree and that there was a two-month cruise every summer.
“On the ranch, summers meant one thing: physical labor in the heat,” she laughed. “I was excited at the possibility of being able to travel.”
Pierson ended up applying and was accepted, encouraged by a friend in the Coast Guard Academy.
“I looked at it as ‘this is a great opportunity to see things I might never get to see. What if I don’t get to travel later in life?’ Right away, I met a group of people I became very close to. I’m not going to say it wasn’t hard. Math wasn’t always my best subject. It didn’t come naturally, and I had to study really hard to make it through. That said, the friendships I made and the experiences I had made it all worth it.”
Falling into safety
Pierson celebrated her four-year anniversary with Foss this month, currently in the dual role of HSE Manager and Company Security Officer in Long Beach, California. She’s responsible for the implementation and monitoring of security policies, procedures, and programs for more than 60 vessels, including the fleets of Foss, Young Brothers, and Cook Inlet Tug and Barge.
After graduating from Cal Maritime in 2002, she joined Marine Terminals Corporation, a stevedoring company, as a Superintendent. The company became Ports America in 2008, and she stepped into the role of Operations Manager, Health, Safety and Environment (HSE).
“I sort of fell into safety,” she said. “I was always good at the administrative aspect, writing reports and things like that. I got into working with the guys to help them make their reports more detailed, which helps with the claims process. By 2007, I was doing safety on a full-time basis, and when Ports America came in and we had three major terminals, I was the natural fit to become the Safety Manager, stepping out of operations.”
In 2014, Pierson left Ports America to join TraPac – a smaller, local organization – as Terminal Operations Manager. Five months later, Foss came calling.
“I got a call saying Foss was looking for a Safety Manager in Seattle,” she said. “I’d just started a new job, but I was excited to work for Foss.”
Pierson signed on in February of 2015 and set to work as the Safety and Security Officer on Shell’s Polar Pioneer drilling vessel temporarily housed at Seattle’s Terminal 5.
“When that contract ended, I wasn’t sure where I would end up,” she said. “I ended up taking a position that was being vacated – Company Security Officer – and, overlooking safety in the marine transportation fleet.”
On relationships and giving back
Pierson’s been in Long Beach for more than a year. She lives in San Pedro with her dog, Sheba, and has been heavily involved in Cal Maritime’s Alumni Association since 2009. She’s a past president of both the Seattle and Los Angeles chapters and hosts a monthly event, a summer send-off and is planning a new, alumni and industry dinner in September.
“It’s my way of giving back,” she said.
Her strength, she believes, is her ability to establish fruitful relationships.
“I got some advice early in my career that safety is about building relationships,” she said. “I really pride myself on being a ‘boots on the ground’ person who can establish relationships with crews. I try not to go out with an agenda. I just hope for a natural conversation where we can come up with mutually agreeable solutions on good terms.”
“We’re creating a learning engagement tool to prevent man-overboarding,” she explained. “The campaign focuses on operational aspects that can lead to this type of incident. We’ve had a few over the last couple of years, but we want to get to zero. We’ve been really lucky to have no serious injuries as a result of those particular incidences.
“I’m really enjoying our team – everyone works really well together,” she said. It’s satisfying to know you have people in your group who support you.”