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Foss dispatcher turned Director of Business Development finds adventure in Alaska

By Hilary Reeves

In Tucker Tillman’s childhood home outside of Portland, Ore., creativity reigned.

“I think I took for granted how much fun (my mom) was when I was younger,” Tillman said of his mother, Nancy Tillman, a best-selling children’s book author.

“Once I came home from school and she had painted the dining rooms chairs into a Peter Pan theme. Her creativity was overflowing. I think she’s the main reason why I’m not easily bored. I was trained as a kid to find fun in everything.”

Tucker smiles and leans against a railway on a dock leading to Foss tugboats, Tucker is wearing an orange life vest and Foss cap.Not just fun, he added – adventure. Building forts and exploring imaginary caves as a 12-year-old would-be Indiana Jones gave way to a fascination with adventures that awaited him on an upriver tug.

“When I was 17, I used to drive down to the Foss dock and watch the tugs work the river with my best friend, Casey,” he said. “His older brother, Christian, was a deckhand for Foss, and we would pick him up at the dock sometimes when he was de-crewing. I would listen to the stories about going upriver, and all I wanted to do was to work on boats.”

Instead he left Portland to attend college in California. He came back after graduation and ended up reconnecting with a high school acquaintance, Crystal. In 2009, the couple bought a house and were married by Tillman’s father in a backyard gazebo Tillman had built with friends.

“That was a good day,” he said.

The couple lived in Virginia for a few years, but ultimately moved back to Portland where there were better job opportunities and a wider range of industry. Almost as soon as they arrived, Tillman started knocking on Foss’s door.

Tucker smiles behind his wife who holds a giggling Bonnie.
Tillman with his wife Crystal and their daughter Bonnie at home in Anchorage.

“I knew I didn’t have the mariner experience to jump on a boat, but I had a degree in communications and management experience from previous work,” he said. “I was bound and determined to be a shoreside employee.”

Fortunately, after a few months, Tillman was called in for an interview. He started working for Foss out of the company’s Portland office as a crewing coordinator and relief dispatcher, sending the fleet up and down the mighty Columbia River, which acts as a partial state line between Washington State and Oregon.

“Being a dispatcher for Foss is one of the best positions you can have if you want to get a taste for multiple aspects of the business,” he said. “Every day, you interact with Foss customers and Foss mariners, and you’re required to make informed decisions based on the capabilities of the fleet. I enjoyed working in that environment, and the operational knowledge helped immensely as I transitioned into Business Development.”

While Tillman worked for Foss in Portland, he would occasionally help with Foss’s Marine Transportation Division projects that came through the region.

“I remember several barge load-outs in Vancouver, Wash. that were headed to Alaska,” he said. “The creativity and unique nature of Foss’s Project work became very appealing.”

By the time Foss announced it was opening a new office in Anchorage in 2013, Tillman was ready to be part of the company’s presence in Alaska – and especially ready to work on the unique projects taking place in the Arctic. Since he joined the Anchorage office as the company’s Director of Business Development in Alaska, Foss has performed a second sealift to Pt. Thomson, supported Shell’s offshore exploration in the Chukchi Sea, and this year will deliver a coiled tubing rig to Prudhoe Bay.

“Foss at its core is a tug and barge company, and most people already know that,” Tillman said. “What differentiates us from other tug companies is our people, and the full suite of marine logistics services that we provide. We are problem solvers, innovators and pioneers, especially when it comes to working in remote regions like the Arctic. The Arctic is a very unique place. It’s a pristine, environmentally sensitive region without much infrastructure. The scale of the projects in the arctic is very impressive. Operating in the Arctic requires strong HSE policies, comprehensive project management, and, of course, highly skilled and experienced mariners – all of these thing are Foss core competencies.”

According to Tillman, the decline in oil prices has forced many larger North Slope projects to tighten their belts. Foss, he said, is focusing on single-season work, but is also ramping up for its 27th season operating at the Red Dog Mine. The company is also well positioned to take on some of the larger projects that come back online when the market recovers, including the Alaska LNG projects, which Tillman believes will be a game-changer for the marine industry and the state of Alaska as a whole.

Tucker holds a laughing Bonnie
Tillman with his daughter Bonnie, now 17 months old.

Tillman said he’s proud to serve on the Saltchuk Giving committee, and has sat on the Board of Directors for Alaska Resource Education (ARE) since 2014; ARE is a non-profit whose mission is to teach students about Alaska’s natural resources and introduce them to potential career opportunities. However, he’s most proud of his daughter, Bonnie, who is 17 months old.

“Bonnie was born with some health complications due to a developmental disability, and we spent about a month in the hospital before we could take her home,” he said. “The last year and half she’s been through a lot, from multiple therapies each week to open heart surgery. Despite some very real challenges she’s so resilient and has a capacity for joy unlike anyone I have ever met. I have never been as proud of anything as much as being Bonnie’s dad.”

Tillman said he loves living in Alaska and seems himself there well into the future.

“Alaska is such a big state, you could live here for 20 years and only just scratch the surface of things to do.”

He’s a musician, always looking for people to play or record music with.

Tillman and family playing music
A passion for music, Tillman plays a variety of instruments.

“I’ve even been known to play a little music with customers from time to time,” he said. “Playing rowdy mountain music at local hangouts is probably some of the best fun I’ve ever had. Bonnie loves music, too. I play quite a few instruments, so almost every day when I get home from work, I sit on the floor with her and play so she can beat her little drum and holler along with the tune.”

Tillman is a long way from his childhood home, and he acknowledges he still has a lot to learn. He’s currently enrolled in Master’s program at the University of Alaska Anchorage, focusing on global logistics and supply chain management.

“When you’re 19, it’s easy to think you’ve got the whole world figured out because you read a few Ayn Rand books,” he laughed. “The more I get older the less I realize I actually know about the world and the more excited I am to learn new things.”

But some things, he said, were meant to be. His childhood friend, Casey, ended up going to work for Foss and is pursuing his engineer credentials. Casey’s older brother, Christian, is still with Foss and has his mate’s license.

“It’s funny how we all ended up working for Foss,” he concluded. “I wish I could go back and tell my 17-year-old self, ‘just sit tight, buddy. All three of us will be wearing green later on down the road.’”