Blast owner Ed Hale has transportation empire he created


January 06, 1991|By Randi Henderson

He is successful by any measure: a self-made multimillionaire, a world traveler, a fine athlete, a man who counts among his friends a senator, a governor, a mayor.

So why was Ed Hale so nervous at a recent charity auction? Why, for a few unsteady moments, did he find himself deploring his decision to put himself on the block to benefit the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Central Maryland?

"I can't describe the feeling when they say the big event of the evening is a night out with Ed Hale," he reflected a few weeks after the fact, sitting in his office with its antique furniture, Oriental rugs and huge bay window overlooking not only the Port of Baltimore, where his trucking and shipping businesses are centered, but all of the city.

"There's a certain amount of anxiety that goes with this. Because you don't know if people are going to sit there and say, 'I wouldn't give two cents for this guy.' "

Not to worry. After some fairly spirited bidding, the prize went to Diane Allen, a longtime Big Brothers booster, for $1,350. She bid, she said, for a number of reasons: "He looked so embarrassed sitting there. And he was kind of appealing. And my friend said, 'Go on, bid, you know you're dying to see what his yacht looks like.' "

Once the deal was done, Ms. Allen was not encouraged by Mr. Hale's approach. "He came up and said, 'Thank you, I'm Ed Hale, can I have your name and number, and my secretary will call you to make arrangements.' I thought, 'Oh, how romantic.' "

But the evening turned out to be a success.

"I took her out to dinner on my yacht and then to a Blast game and she was just great company and a nice person," Mr. Hale said.

"I found him very handsome, very distinguished," Ms. Allen said. "There's nothing snobbish about this man. I like a man who's sort of shy."



It's not a word many people use when they talk about Edwin Frank Hale, 44, founder and owner of Port East Transfer and Hale Container Line, the trucking and barge companies that make him one of Port of Baltimore's largest employers.

You don't think "shy" when you note that this is the man a court ordered to pay the largest divorce settlement in Maryland history -- $6.4 million to his wife of 21 years, Sheila Thacker.

Nor do people mention "shy" when they talk about Ed Hale in his newest role, owner of the Baltimore Blast, the indoor soccer team he bought 15 months ago, at least in part to position himself to make a run for a National Football League franchise if one is offered to Baltimore this spring.

"If you know Ed Hale, you know he's committed to whatever he does, whether it's Port East or the Blast," said Kenny Cooper, Blast coach.

"He has great desire to win, he's driven to success," Mr. Cooper said. "Success is not an accident, it comes from positive planning and working to the plan. He's the type of guy who believes you've got to take action to turn dreams into reality."

His friends, the senator and the governor, use similarly dynamic words to describe Ed Hale.

"He has guts, gusto and grit," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who got to know Ed Hale when -- much to her delight -- he had a barge for his shipping business built locally at Bethlehem Steel. Describing him as "a good liaison for transportation issues," she compares their backgrounds: "We're two East Baltimoreans who've done good."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whom Mr. Hale has accompanied on a number of overseas trips seeking business for the port, speaks in a similar vein. "He's a tough-minded, aggressive businessman who is as committed to the success of Baltimore's waterfront as anyone I know of," the governor said.

Even labor representatives, not exactly Ed Hale's biggest fans because of his resistance to unionizing -- only 10 percent of his 550-person work force is unionized -- speak of his vision and efficiency at running his operation.

"I think he's a policy setter for the port," said Richard Hughes, head of International Longshoremen's Association Local No. 953, who has called Mr. Hale the governor's Rasputin. "What I meant by that was that he had the ear of the governor and was advising the governor irrationally," Mr. Hughes said of the Rasputin comment. He stands by the criticism, but added, "I have no problems with Ed Hale. That's a myth."

Acknowledging that some union leaders may see him as "the white devil slave master," Mr. Hale insisted, "I'm not anti-union. As long as they work within the framework of the economic times and work to keep companies competitive, unions will have a place."

There's another side of Ed Hale, too, the adoring father. His son, 23-year-old Ed Jr., lives in New Jersey and works for the family business in New York. Two daughters, Ashley, 6, and Alexandra, 3, live with their mother, Mr. Hale's ex-girlfriend. "I thought about marriage," he said of that relationship, "but I'll never get married again." He sees the girls as often as he can, a couple nights a week and weekends whenever he's in town.

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