Port of Seattle Chief Executive Officer Tay Yoshitani confirmed Thursday at an industry event in Tampa, Fla., that he will retire at the end of June when his contract expires. Official news of his resignation was first announced at the Port Commission's public board meeting on Jan. 7, but received little attention aside from a brief mention by the Seattle Times
It was an open secret for many months in Seattle that Yoshitani would not stay beyond his contract term.
Yoshitani has led the Port of Seattle and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport since March 2007. He has also served as port director in Oakland and Baltimore.
During his tenure, he helped the Port of Seattle, the eighth largest container port in the nation, develop a clean air strategy; collaborated with other West Coast ports on a common approach to national policy issues and marketing the West Coast's advantages versus other port regions; fought for an exemption from the Harbor Maintenance Tax because of possible cargo diversion to ports in Canada; and, most recently, filed for federal permission to cooperate in commercial matters with the nearby Port of Tacoma. Under his leadership, the port authority also added a new runway at Sea-Tac airport; opened a new facility at the cruise terminal; reopened Terminal 30 as a container facility; created a real estate division to better manage the port's real estate holdings; and consolidated the port's many capital development programs into one division.
The port also is operating at roughly half capacity after having difficulty attracting more containerized cargo.
The Port Commission is launching a nationwide search for a successor and has asked Yoshitani to stay on until the process is complete and to help with the transition, Yoshitani told American Shipper
at the American Association of Port Authorities' annual conference on shifting trade routes. He will remain as AAPA's chairman through November.
Yoshitani said he will stay involved in the industry, but added it was premature to disclose specific plans.
"The industry has been great to me. I've made a lot of friends and engaged in a lot of interesting issues," he said.
Last May, the Port of Seattle promoted Kurt Beckett to deputy chief executive officer with primary responsibility for port infrastructure development and internal operations.
The move allowed Yoshitani to focus on business development, attracting new shipping lines and air services to Seattle, and advance policy issues central to the port’s competitiveness.
In the summer of 2012, Yoshitani came under criticism for his role on the board of Seattle-based freight forwarder Expeditors International, with some even calling for him to step down because of a potential conflict of interest. Expeditors is an international logistics company that manages ocean and airfreight shipments for clients and has a direct interest in the port's operations.
At Expeditors, he earned $250,000, including stock options.
His appointment to Expeditor's board was previously deemed appropriate by the port's general counsel. State Sen. Adam Kline pointed out at the time that the ethics charge was ironic given that Yoshitani was hired to rehabilitate the port's image after former chief Mic Dinsmore left amid questions of excessive compensation.
Yoshitani, who was born and raised in Japan, said retiring from the Port of Seattle brings him full circle because the passenger ship on which he and his family emigrated to the United States dropped them in Seattle about 50 years ago.
"The port looks a lot different than it did back then. But where we landed is about 200 yards away from my office," he told 150 port officials at the conference.
From 2004 to 2007, Yoshitani served as senior advisor to the National Association of Waterfront Employers, providing industry expertise on port security and environmental issues.
As executive director of the Port of Oakland from 2001 to 2004, he led a significant expansion of both the seaport and airport, overseeing environmental permitting and planning that enabled the airport expansion to use “green building” technology. He was Oakland’s deputy executive director from 1998 to 2001.
He is credited with creating the first master plan at the Maryland Port Administration, where he served as executive director from 1995 to 1998. As deputy executive director of the Port of Los Angeles from 1989 to 1995 he oversaw the creation of the West Coast’s largest dry bulk export terminal.
A U.S. Army veteran, Yoshitani has a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and earned his MBA at Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration.