When Adrian Teel was appointed director of the Maryland Port Administration last year, the only boat he knew anything about was his fishing boat.
But the former accountant is being credited with righting the port of Baltimore after one year at the helm. "I'm a pretty confident person. I felt like I could do it," said the soft-spoken Mr. Teel.
Despite his lack of maritime experience, his performance has won unanimous praise from labor leaders, management, classified employees, port customers and peers.
When Mr. Teel took over the director's office in the World Trade Center last June, the port administration was facing a $5.5 million deficit, a poor reputation in the maritime industry, dwindling cargo, labor-management tensions and low morale among employees.
"What I had to sell was my management skills and my communication skills," Mr. Teel said.
By almost everyone's account, he has succeeded so far. Mr. Teel is being credited with:
* Eliminating the port deficit in six months and turning a profit for the first time in three years.
* Negotiating a 10-year lease with Maersk Inc., one of the most important container lines at the port.
* Negotiating a contract with CSX Intermodal to extend rail service from the Seagirt Marine Terminal to Cincinnati and extending service to the South.
* Concluding an agreement that returns Orient Overseas Container Line to the port after a three-year absence.
* Completing the lease of a portion of the Dundalk Marine Terminal to Ceres Marine Terminals, a plan designed to save the state money and boost efficiency.
* Instituting a personnel reorganization that reduced staff by 15 percent.
* Improving communications within the port community and lifting morale at the port administration.
* Returning credibility to the port administration.
Mr. Teel said he still has a lot of work ahead of him. The port continues to lag behind other ports on the Northeastern seaboard in cargo tonnage. Cargo tonnage in the first quarter of this year was 3 percent less than in the same period last year.
He says his job now is to explore niche markets for the port, such as cocoa, fruit, coffee and lumber. He also wants trucking and rail services from the port to be expanded. And, he says, he still believes he should communicate more effectively with his staff.
But O. James Lighthizer, the secretary of transportation, who put Mr. Teel in his new job, said he is pleased with Mr. Teel's effort. "He's got just about all the pieces in place," Mr. Lighthizer said.
When port director Brendan "Bud" O'Malley resigned in April last year after two years on the job, Mr. Lighthizer stepped in as interim port director. Within a few weeks he recognized that what the port needed more than anything else was a good manager.
Mr. Lighthizer turned to Mr. Teel, who had been chief administrator in Anne Arundel County when Mr. Lighthizer was county executive there.
Although Mr. Teel had spent his career in county government and knew nothing about the maritime industry, Mr. Lighthizer said his only reservation was whether Mr. Teel was too nice for the job. He worried whether Mr. Teel could exert the force needed to reshape the agency and make personnel changes.
"That fear proved to be groundless," Mr. Lighthizer said.
Mr. Teel dismissed three managers and initiated a reorganization at the port administration that cost 46 people their jobs and cut 26 vacant positions as well.
The reorganization and other cost-cutting measures pulled the port out of the red. A $600,000 profit is expected when the fiscal year ends Tuesday.
Royce Treadaway, president of Local 140 of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, said that a number of employees were hurt by the reorganization but that Mr. Teel tried to make the changes as painless as possible. "He's forthright and honest, and that means more than anything," she said.
When Mr. Teel came to the port, morale among the classified employees was low. Ms. Treadaway said workers believed that the personnel system didn't provide a fair means of evaluation and advancement. Although the system will remain in place for at least a few more years, Mr. Teel has promised to try to improve it.
"He finds ways to take care of the employees," Ms. Treadaway said.
The Steamship Trade Association, which represents the port's employers, and the International Longshoremen's Association often are at odds on port issues, but they agree in their assessment of Mr. Teel. Both credit him with promoting a spirit of cooperation at the port.
"I think he's done a remarkable job," said Maurice Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association. "He's made everybody doing business at the port feel like they're important."
"I think he's made a tremendous difference," said Richard Hughes, president of Longshoremen's Local 333. "The ILA was never treated as an equal entity, and now what we have to say is listened to."