Bob Pepper retired last month after 30 years with Foss Maritime.
Before a long maritime career and recent retirement, when Bob Pepper was growing up in northern Alabama, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life – but he knew what he didn’t want to do.
“I grew up on a farm and my early years were spent working daylight to dark with my grandfather. I learned the importance of character and developed my work ethic, but I knew pretty early on that I didn’t want to be a farmer,” he laughed. “Probably my biggest dream was having a pilot’s license and my own airplane.”
Pepper attended Athens State University, a private Methodist college in Alabama, and earned money sacking groceries and stocking shelves at the local A&P grocery store, a job he’d had since he was 15. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and went to work for Louisiana Pacific (LP) Lumber Company as an accountant, working in Alabama, Texas, and Alaska. Then executed an about-face.
“While in Alaska, I reached my 10-year vesting goal and left LP,” he said. “I purchased a Power Troller and fished commercially in Alaska for the next seven years.”
Pepper left the fishery due to what he described as salmon escapement restrictions that shortened seasons and increased his personal risk, due to having to fish in marginal weather to make his living. After ending his fishing career, he once again pivoted, joining Southwest Stevedoring in Ketchikan managing two companies: Revilla Tug and Amak Towing. It’s there that he first encountered a Foss tug.
“I loved the green and white colors and Foss logo,” he said. “I began a relationship with Foss while managing the Southeast Stevedoring tugs, changing crews and shuttling parts to underway tugs near Dixon Entrance.”
While he said he enjoyed his time there, he spent more than a year managing the tugs and barges involved in the Exxon Valdez cleanup and was ready for a change.
“I was offered a job with PacTow managing its San Diego operation, which I accepted,” he said. “That job was the start my 30-year career with Foss.”
The United Launch Alliance
Pepper had managed the San Diego operation for 10 years when he was offered the chance to return to his home state of Alabama.
“I was approached with an offer to move to Mobile to manage Gulf Caribe Maritime and support the construction and startup of the Boeing/McDonnell Douglas ship Delta Mariner,” he said. “I jumped at the chance to get to do something unique and interesting, and the chance to return to Alabama.”
During his 30-year tenure, Pepper shed numerous job titles and watched the unveiling of a dizzying number of name and logo changes. Gulf Caribe Maritime became Foss-Atlantic. Boeing/McDonnell Douglas became United Launch Alliance (ULA). The M/V Delta Mariner became M/V Rocketship. He ended his Foss career as Director-ULA. As the primary contact of Foss customer ULA, Pepper said his typical day was all about making the customer happy: providing vessel updates, scheduling, providing support to vessel operations, and providing accounting services in support of Corporate Home.
“My greatest challenge is keeping up with technology,” he laughed. “I’m old-school and don’t accept change easily. The part of my job I liked the most was being involved in the space program, being in an out-port, and being empowered to make decisions without micro-management.”
Retirement and formula for success
While Pepper said he’s “pleased with his past,” he does regret letting himself get “too old” to get that pilot’s license and airplane. This may be the year as his retirement became official last month.
“I still dream about it,” he said.
He’s most proud of providing a comfortable life for his family and being part of the space program.
“There’s nothing better than seeing a rocket lift off and knowing you had a part in making it happen.”
When he’s not working, he fishes for trout and spends time at his cabin on the Cumberland River. He’s also taken to growing muscadines, a grape variety native to the South.
“The biggest surprise of my career has been that I was around all those years,” he said. “I must have done something right for the company and myself.”
Pepper said he believes that the relationship between Foss and ULA will continue to grow over the next decade.
“My formula for success: be honest and sincere. Be willing to admit when you’re wrong and be accountable. Surround yourself with competent employees. Remember there’s no ‘I’ in team. Remember the customer is always right. Keep a ‘yes we can’ attitude. And have mentors you admire. Steve Scalzo and Tim Stewart were mine.”