Eric Green walked miles of hallways in Washington and Tallahassee to win support for deepening Jacksonville’s harbor.
On Oct. 25, the Jacksonville Port Authority board unanimously chose him as CEO, responsible for leading JaxPort in its push to pull off the $484 million dredging project while also fostering the port’s many other lines of cargo, ranging from automobiles to frozen chickens.
The board picked Green over other finalists who are working as chief executives for major ports, marking the third time in a row JaxPort has elevated someone to the top position without CEO experience at a port authority.
Board member Joe York said Green’s six months as interim CEO amounted to a successful try-out for the post. York said Green, who has worked at JaxPort since 2005, didn’t play it safe as interim leaders are prone to do.
“Quite honestly, I think our interim has been everything but the status quo,” York said. “He’s taken risks, he’s been aggressive, he’s been thoughtful, and I think he’s shown some real leadership.”
In selecting Green, the board made history by choosing the first African-American as CEO of JaxPort.
The director of the port department at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is an African-American, but nationally, it is still the exception at seaports for African-Americans to rise to that leadership level.
Green, who returned to the board room after the 7-0 vote, pledged to be “as persistent and creative in the future for the board as I have been in the past.”
JaxPort went outside the agency to hire its past two CEOs — Paul Anderson and Brian Taylor — but this time, the board selected the “local candidate” who is local as someone can be. Green is a Jacksonville native who has worked at City Hall and the port authority.
According to Korn Ferry, the firm hired by JaxPort to conduct the national search, one concern the firm heard in the maritime industry was that Green had the inside track on the job.
Other concerns were the turnover rate for JaxPort, which will have its third CEO in seven years, and an industry impression that the port authority’s management team “is not known for commercial savvy, customer focus or professional or current market experience.” Korn Ferry also said there were concerns that Jacksonville is focused on moving cargo in ships that don’t need a deepened harbor, causing JaxPort to have “little appreciation for what is required to be ‘deepwater’ successful.”
On the positive side, Korn Ferry said JaxPort is on the cusp of an “exciting opportunity” with federal, state and local support for becoming the nation’s newest deepwater port. Korn Ferry said the maritime market views Jacksonville as having “unique geographic, demographic, and infrastructural advantages” that deserve a “visible, competent, experienced port director without compromise.”
The CEO post drew interest from 70 candidates. Korn Ferry narrowed the field to Green and four other finalists: Jonathan Daniels, executive director and CEO at the Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport/Port of Gulfport; Mike O’Malley, a Jacksonville resident who has worked as a CSX Corp. executive; Steven Cernak, the chief executive for Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale; and Andy Saporito, deputy director of the port department at The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
After board members met with the finalists in private, one-on-one sessions earlier this month, Korn Ferry said Green, Daniels and O’Malley emerged as the three highest-ranked candidates. Korn Ferry said Green had the highest overall score, but the three were tightly grouped so it would make sense to have another round of interviews with them in early October.
But on a 5-2 vote, the board opted Oct. 25 to start deliberating right away. Board members John Baker and Ed Fleming favored following Korn Ferry’s recommendation, but most board members didn’t think more interviews would change their preference for Green.
Before being named interim CEO in March, Green was the agency’s senior director of government and external affairs. He oversaw all government affairs, community outreach, grant applications, and environmental advocacy. He joined the port authority in 2005 as director of government relations and was named a senior director the next year.
Green was the point person for JaxPort’s lobbying at the state and federal level for support on deepening the ship channel for cargo container ships that sail between the United States and Asia.
Board member John Newman said Green faced “skepticism and naysayers” but showed “indefatigable determination” to get the port on a path toward harbor deepening.
Green is a graduate of St. Andrews Presbyterian College, which is now part of St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, N.C. He was deputy chief administrator for the city of Jacksonville from 2000 to 2003.
The port authority still must negotiate an employment contract and salary for him.