Adrian G. Teel was viewed as an unorthodox choice for executive director of the Maryland Port Administration when his appointment was announced two-and-a-half years ago. Mr. Teel had no background in maritime matters. He knew nothing about the Port of Baltimore. His claim to fame: he had been the longtime chief operating officer of Anne Arundel County. His ex-boss in Arundel, O. James Lighthizer, became state transportation secretary and chose Mr. Teel for the port job. It turned out to be a superb selection.
The Port of Baltimore has undergone a profound turnaround, and Mr. Teel rightly deserves the credit. When he arrived, labor-management relations were rocky (as usual), cargo tonnage was down, steamship lines were leaving and the MPA was running a deficit. Now everything is the mirror image of that picture.
In 1993, state-owned terminals at the Port of Baltimore enjoyed their best year since 1989, showing a 5.4 percent gain in tonnage. MPA operating profits surged to $2.4 million, and the first quarter of this fiscal year showed a further gain of $924,000. Privately operated mini-terminals within the Dundalk Maritime Terminal proved a hit, the Seagirt terminal continued to meet or exceed expectations and a string of steamship lines announced expanded service to Baltimore.
Without doubt, Mr. Teel's finance and management background came into play as he reduced the MPA's size, reorganized the agency to improve response time to port problems and stressed customer service and efficiency. But perhaps his biggest contribution was his ability to open communications lines with labor leaders.
Baltimore has been plagued for decades with a reputation as a town with unreliable dock unions. But Mr. Teel came to his job with no preconceived notions. He brought union leaders into MPA decisions and made sure labor-management talks were cordial and productive.
Proof of his success: the top longshoremen's union boss in Baltimore, Richard Hughes, has assumed chairmanship of the Private Sector Port Committee that brings together the diverse interests in the local maritime community. Mr. Hughes and other union leaders have been instrumental in promoting the port and winning new cargo business for Baltimore.
Mr. Teel's departure next month is a blow to the MPA. The port's turnaround is still fragile. That's why selecting a skilled replacement is critical. The next port director must be capable of building on Mr. Teel's considerable triumphs.