If Scott Merritt has anything to regret about his 35 years at Foss Maritime, it has to do with his attitude as a cocky and self-assured young Cal Maritime graduate during his first 10 years at the company.
“I wish I’d done a lot more listening and a lot less talking,” Merritt said recently, noting that he was working with and for some great people with a wealth of experience. “I spent a lot of time trying to prove what I already knew.”
But Merritt, who rose to become chief operating officer of the company, got over his youthful hubris and helped lead Foss through more than three decades of successfully navigating the waters of a challenging industry.
He was succeeded as COO by former Chief Commercial Officer Will Roberts on Sept. 25, and since then has worked as an acting senior vice president. Merritt’s retirement will be official on Jan. 4.
Merritt, now 58, joined Foss in 1983 as a dispatcher in Seattle and served in a number of positions until 1993, when he opened the company’s San Francisco Bay Operation as its first manager. Later, as regional director on the Bay, Merritt oversaw the growth of the region from a one-tug operation to a full-fledged provider of maritime services, including tanker escort, ship assist, sand dredging and ship bunkering services.
He returned to Seattle and in 2005 became senior vice president for Harbor Services and Regional Towing and then senior vice president of operations, before being named COO in January of 2017.
What does he believe is the company’s greatest accomplishment during his tenure?
“Foss has a unique ability to reinvent itself and adapt to change in the marketplace,” he said. “There are a lot of tug-and-barge companies out there with 100-plus-year legacies, but I haven’t seen another one that has been able to think outside of the box and seize opportunities in emerging markets the way we have.”
When Merritt started at Foss, 60 to 70 percent of its revenue came from the wood products industry. While still in that business, it is greatly overshadowed today by growth in the petroleum industry.
Foss performed five sealifts over the last 15 years to a number of oil development project on Sakhalin Island in the Siberian Arctic and routinely escorts and assists tankers on Puget Sound, on San Francisco Bay and in Southern California. The company also operates the first US Flag LNG Bunker Barge and a “Rocket Ship” that moves satellite launch vehicles from the factory in Decatur, Alabama, to launch sites at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
“Our owners have been willing to let us take risks and re-invent ourselves,” Merritt said. “That’s why I’ve worked 35 years for one company. There’s always a new opportunity, and we haven’t been afraid to go after them.”
Perhaps his biggest challenges and most rewarding experiences as a manager at Foss have been creating opportunities for an employee group he describes as “incredibly talented, hardworking and smart.”
“It’s not always easy to maintain that energy and excitement while recognizing the contributions of people to the company, but I think Foss as well as any company has provided opportunities for people to shine,” Merritt said. He continued:
“We’ve had some of the best quality people you could ever work with — mariners tankermen, shipyard workers and the people in the office. I don’t carry a lot of friends around in my personal life, but I’ve always had a lot of friends at work, and I enjoyed coming to work every day.
“On our web site and in our ads, we talk about our great equipment and big projects, but nothing ever leaves the dock without good people.”
Foss President and Chief Executive Officer John Parrott had this to say about Merritt:
“I have always thought that a true measure of a person’s character is not only how they conduct themselves every day but also how the they act as the curtains are closing. True to his 35 years at Foss Scott has worked his tail off since announcing his retirement. He has been a tremendous help on a number of things at Foss, crisscrossing our regions from Hawaii to Jacksonville, with a little California thrown in for good measure. He has truly been giving it his all, right up until his very last day. I salute Scott for his years of dedicated service, for his help and council, and look forward to crossing paths with him again — presumably within our industry and in the very near future.”
Why is Merritt retiring now?
He and his wife, a teacher, have been discussing a more self-directed lifestyle, and the timing seemed right with Foss going through a reorganization and with Roberts having what Merritt says is a “perfect skill set,” for the redefined COO position.
“It’s a good time to make that jog left when the company is going right,” Merritt said.