Cassidy new president of Sparrows Point yard

Engineer started ship apprenticeship at age 15 in England

Hopes to increase hiring

June 20, 2000|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

David Cassidy, who's been in the shipbuilding business since he was a teen-ager in England, was named the new president and chief executive of Baltimore Marine Industries Inc., the Sparrows Point shipyard said yesterday.

Cassidy grew up in Newcastle, England, near the border with Scotland and began a five-year shipbuilding apprenticeship when he was 15 years old. He's been in the business ever since, except during his years earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's in fluid mechanics.

He replaces David Watson, who had been president of the yard since 1982. Watson retired May 31.

When Cassidy was growing up in blue-collar northeast England during the 1940s and 1950s, young men generally either went into shipbuilding, coal mining or steel fabricating.

"There was a natural attraction to going into [shipbuilding]; it was somewhat glamorous compared to coal mining," said Cassidy, 58. "It is different from other things. You start with flat pieces of plate and angles and at the end of the day you end up with a vessel which is a floating structure, completely self-contained."

He spent 25 years at a Newcastle shipyard (which decades earlier built the Mauretania, sister ship of the Lusitania, sunk by a German submarine in 1915) before leaving for a job in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia. Most recently, he served as executive vice president of Marinette Marine Corp. in Wisconsin.

Cassidy, who has been in the new position since the beginning of May, said he doesn't plan wholesale changes at Baltimore Marine, but he does want to streamline operations, improve efficiencies and eventually boost employment from the current 400 hourly workers to more than 700.

The shipyard, formerly owned by Bethlehem Steel Corp., got out of the shipbuilding business a decade ago and now focuses on ship repairs. But it's a cyclical business and the yard regularly lays off and rehires its workers. It also relies on subcontractors to fill certain positions.

Cassidy said he'd like to cut back on the number of subcontractors and, instead, put more emphasis on cross-training employees. That way a welder, for example, would also know how to do pipe fitting. Instead of laying off the worker when the welding was done, the worker could shift to pipe fitting.

"At the end of the day it gives employees more continuous employment," Cassidy said.

Having workers learn more than one job, which is allowed under the union contract, makes sense to William A. Richardson, president of the local Machinists union at the Baltimore shipyard.

"We want a yard where all our employee members are working," said Richardson, who added that workers generally earn $11 to $13 an hour. "We are hoping we can fill jobs with enough of our people that they will not need to hire subcontractors. That's only good business and good relations between the company and the union.

"We're all there to make sure that company works and survives," he said.

The yard, which is privately held by New York merchant banking fund Veritas Capital Inc., had revenue last year of about $75 million and turned a profit. In 1998, revenue was $58 million and the company had a net loss.

Although Cassidy wants to focus on the yard's "core competency" of ship repairs, he said it's important to pursue sidelines that can fill in the gaps between repair jobs, such as two current Navy projects. One job has the yard building floating, portable piers and the other is a ship-dismantling project. Baltimore Marine recently lost a bid to scrap a second ship, but will bid for others.

The yard also completed a 50,000-cubic-yard dredging project a few weeks ago, which made its access channel deeper and helped secure more Navy work.

Cassidy said he'd like to do more dredging, which would allow the yard to compete for cruise ship repairs and boost employment. He plans to seek financial assistance for the project, which he said he could not yet put a price tag on, from government agencies such as the economic development departments of the state and Baltimore County.

David Iannucci, deputy secretary for Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development, pointed out that the state provided a $7 million financing package for the yard when Veritas bought it in 1997, but added that state officials would entertain further requests.

"This is a very tough business to be in, very tough," Cassidy said. "By improving our competitive edge, our objective is to make this the best ship-repair facility on the East Coast."

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