By Todd Karpovich
James J. White took the Port of Baltimore to new levels of success as the Executive Director of the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA).
The Port set numerous records for cargo and revenue, provided thousands of jobs and served as a major economic engine for the state in White’s 18 years at the helm. In addition, White upgraded security procedures and completed infrastructure projects that made Baltimore one of the few ports in America capable of receiving the largest ships in the world.
White officially ended his tenure at the Port on Dec. 31, 2019. However, his legacy in the maritime community will last far beyond that date.
Under White’s leadership, the Port has been able to lead the nation in handling autos and light trucks, roll-on/roll-off heavy farm and construction machinery, imported sugar and gypsum. Generating some 15,330 direct jobs and 139,180 jobs linked to its overall activities, the Port drives nearly $3.3 billion in wages and salaries, $2.6 billion in business revenues and $395 million in state and local tax revenues.
White joined MDOT MPA in 1993 as Director of Operations. From 1995 until his appointment as Executive Director in 1999, he also served as Deputy Executive Director. In those roles, he was accountable for day-to-day operations at the Port of Baltimore and directed lease negotiations with customers.
After becoming Executive Director, he led the Port of Baltimore as it established new records for cargo volumes and dollar value. He also secured several long-term contracts that kept good-paying jobs at the Port. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he oversaw development of a security program that transitioned from a focus on preventing port-related crime to preventing acts of terrorism.
White left MDOT MPA in 2005 to become Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for New Jersey-based Ceres Terminals, a stevedoring and terminal operations company with major port operations in North America.
He returned as MDOT MPA Executive Director in 2007 and led the effort to execute a 50-year lease and concession agreement with Ports America Chesapeake to operate the Port of Baltimore’s Seagirt Marine Terminal. The landmark deal included construction of a 50-foot-deep container berth and four state-of-the-art supersized container cranes. Under this agreement, the Port of Baltimore greatly enhanced its overall standing as a major container port.
Recently, Executive Director White has focused on the efforts to reconstruct Baltimore’s 125-year old Howard Street Tunnel to allow for double-stacked container trains to travel to and from the Port of Baltimore. This project would create thousands of jobs in Maryland and break a significant rail bottleneck that has long inhibited the Port’s container business.
Other milestones at the Port of Baltimore achieved under Executive Director White include:
- Repeated recognition as the No. 1 port in the U.S. for several cargo categories;
- Long-term contracts with many cargo accounts, including the Port’s two largest container customers;
- 10 consecutive years of “outstanding” port security reviews from the Coast Guard;
- Several record-breaking years for specific commodities handled;
- A year-round cruising program;
- A nationally renowned and award-winning dredging program that uses innovative strategies to be the largest creator of wetlands in Maryland;
- An internationally recognized environmental management program;
- Zoning protections for thousands of deep-water acres surrounding Baltimore’s industrial waterfront that help maintain good-paying blue-collar maritime jobs;
- Average annual salaries for direct Port jobs that are 9.5 percent higher than Maryland’s average wage.
The Port enjoyed another record-breaking year in 2019, setting new high marks for cargo tonnage passing through the public and private marine terminals, as well as new benchmarks for containers and the number of cars and light trucks handled. The Port handled a new record 43.6 million tons of cargo, including more than 11 million tons of general cargo at the state-owned public terminals for the first time ever.
The number of vehicles – 857,890 – ranked first among all U.S. ports in that category for the ninth consecutive year.
In addition, 657,059 containers were handled at the Port’s public marine terminals in 2019, surpassing last year’s record of 626,046. The Port also handled a record 1,073,749 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2019, surpassing the previous year’s total of 1,023,152.
In the past few months, White was able to help plans move ahead for the expansion of the Howard Street Tunnel — a project expected to boost the Port of Baltimore’s ability to handle container traffic. In July, Gov. Larry Hogan was able to secure $125 million as part of the federal Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) Grant Program for the project. However, the state still needed $103 million for the infrastructure improvements that would allow CSX to double-stack shipping containers in the tunnel to break the rail bottleneck before reaching the Port.
The remaining $103 million was acquired through state, private and federal avenues, according to former MDOT Secretary Pete K. Rahn, who stepped down from his position in January. Once completed, the project will provide double-stack clearance in the tunnel and under bridges between Baltimore and Philadelphia.
White began his maritime career with Puerto Rico Marine Management Inc. (PRMMI) in 1975. He subsequently worked with Sea Train (1977-1982), where he was North Atlantic Operations Manager; and Concorde Nopal (1982-1985), where he served as Vice President of Operations. Before joining MDOT MPA in 1993, he rejoined PRMMI and became the company’s North America General Manager.
In the end, White will be remembered for his leadership skills and being a consummate professional in leading the Port into a new era of abundance and success.
Tributes to James J. White
“Jim White is widely regarded as one of the finest port directors in America. Maryland has been fortunate to have him at the helm of the Port of Baltimore for so long. I congratulate him on an outstanding career and thank him for leaving the Port of Baltimore in fantastic shape for his successor.”
— Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan
“For many of us in the industry, Jim White simply IS Baltimore. Following his retirement, the maritime sector and the whole city is losing not only an astute business leader, but also a great guy to work with and be around. I just hope that Jim will now really be able to enjoy life and relax — he certainly deserves that.”
— Claudio Bozzo, Chief Operating Officer, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co. USA
“The Port of Baltimore has experienced tremendous growth by every metric with Jim at the helm, doubling cargo and breaking a record 43 million tons in 2018 alone. He is smart, strategic and collaborative, achieving incredible results because he brought everyone to the table. The Port certainly has some big shoes to fill.”
— Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger
“As Evergreen’s first container vessel, the 640-TEU Ever Spring, made her maiden voyage call at the Port of Baltimore, it opened the doors to what has become a more than 45-year commitment to the Port, representing a level of longevity and partnership no other liner carrier can claim. For the past 18 of these years, it has been our great pleasure to build our business and commitment to the Baltimore Port community under the leadership of James J. White. Jim has been a strong supporter of Evergreen’s corporate and local efforts, and his involvement with Port infrastructure projects has resulted in efficiencies that enable Evergreen’s operations to serve our valued customers at continually higher levels. To say Jim has been an important part of our growth at one of our leading U.S. gateways would be a significant understatement. All of us at Evergreen, from our local team in Baltimore to the highest levels of our corporate management, wish Jim White continued success and the best of luck in the future.”
— Roy Amalfitano, Vice Chairman, Evergreen Shipping Agency America
“Jim White has been such a great ambassador for the Port of Baltimore over the years. Even more importantly, he has been an excellent partner to work with in growing the Port of Baltimore. Jim was there for AMPORTS in the good times, but he also stood by our side during some difficult economic challenges, which showed his long-term commitment and vision for the Port of Baltimore. Jim understood that healthy service providers were key to maintaining jobs and economic growth for the Port. He was always available to host potential new customers and administered over the growth in the Port to provide capacity for new companies desiring to come to Baltimore. We wish him well as he spends his time out enjoying the beautiful views of the Chesapeake Bay. Thank you for all you did for AMPORTS and all the hard work you achieved for Baltimore.”
— Steve Taylor, CEO, AMPORTS
“Jim White was a tremendous advocate for the Port of Baltimore, continually seeking new business and improvements. His never-quit attitude brought the Howard Street Tunnel expansion to fruition, along with many other big improvements to the Port. I personally will always remember Jim’s constant recognition of the men and women of the ILA and the hard work they do every day.”
— Scott Cowan, President, ILA Local 333 and Vice President, International Longshoremen’s Association
“Jim and I met in 1990 while he was negotiating on behalf of Puerto Rico Marine Management to bring their ships to Seagirt and I was the MPA Deputy Director. His maritime knowledge and skills were outstanding. I continued to pressure him to join the MPA as Director of Operations. Jim has great respect throughout the entire industry. He will be missed as Executive Director.”
— Michael Angelos, President, Steamship Trade Association
“Over the past two decades, Jim has led the Port of Baltimore to great heights, and I deeply appreciate his service. Rising revenues and outstanding relationships with both international shipping executives and the Port’s organized labor members, as well as massive expansion of Port infrastructure, all happened under Jim’s watch. His departure at a point of tremendous growth while having just secured state, federal and private investment in future projects will help us find a new leader to continue the Port’s success that Jim built over the past 20 years.”
— Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot
“Jim guided the Port of Baltimore through early difficult times and turned it into one of the busiest ports in the country. His vision and determination are evidenced in infrastructure upgrades all over the Port. Under his leadership, the Port of Baltimore repeatedly broke cargo records and became one of the top job generators in Maryland. It also became Maryland’s leading wetlands creator as a result of an innovative dredging program. Jim leaves a lasting legacy behind.”
— Former MDOT Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley
“Jim is a true professional who always had the interests of the
Port and the State of Maryland at heart. He was generous with his time and never afraid to get into the details of how we would together make the Port stronger. Relentlessly, he brought huge success at the helm of the Port of Baltimore, maximizing the specialties of the Port in vehicles, containers and forest products. Jim was an excellent captain and leader of the Port of Baltimore and we will always remember him as someone fair, professional, customer-oriented and driven. We wish him a retirement filled with health, happiness and success in all his future endeavors.”
— Madeleine Paquin, President/CEO, Logistec Corp.
“Jim White always understood and appreciated the important role that trucks play in the Port of Baltimore’s success. While many people may think of the Port only in terms of the record growth in the container business, this is far from its only impact on the trucking industry. The Port handles thousands of truckloads a year in vans, flatbeds and specialized equipment. The Port, and how it functions, is important to everyone in trucking. Jim and his team always answered the bell when we were experiencing problems and needed solutions developed on the industry’s behalf. We wish Jim all the best in his well-deserved retirement and we’re fortunate to have him as the Port’s leader.”
— Louis Campion, President & CEO, Maryland Motor Truck Association
“Jim White exemplifies the best of energetic and selfless leadership. Infinitely skilled, Jim worked tirelessly for the Port of Baltimore with an uncompromising work ethic matched by his strategic brilliance. Jim’s capable leadership was essential to the Port’s success and his tremendous outcomes speak for themselves. Maryland is forever enriched by Jim’s exceptional efforts and his legacy will inexorably benefit countless generations. I cannot stress how grateful we should all be for Jim’s constant prudence and unfailing diligence.”
— Walter Tilley, former Maryland Port Commissioner
“Jim White is an icon in the maritime industry, the dynamo who methodically built the Port of Baltimore into the largest source of well-paying blue-collar jobs in the State of Maryland. Nationally and internationally, he is highly respected as a customer-oriented maritime leader who pays attention to the smallest details and simultaneously gets big things done. There was no one in the industry better at converting maritime investments into jobs and economic development for his state and his country. Jim will eat the lunch of any other Port before they even know it’s gone. It’s a skill he honed at an early age.”
— John D. Porcari, Former MDOT Secretary
“My relationship with Jim White goes back over 25 years. What started out as a professional business relationship soon became a close friendship. So it should come as no surprise that the phenomenal growth of Baltimore volume for ACL and its parent company, Grimaldi, took place during Jim’s tenure. We never had a problem that Jim couldn’t solve. We never had a customer that Jim couldn’t charm. Jim had the unusual combination of hands-on maritime experience, business management acumen, common sense and charisma that is rare to find in today’s world. Jim is an all star, a Hall of Famer, a perennial MVP. We will miss him.”
— Andy Abbott, President/CEO, Atlantic Container Line
“It has been a privilege to work closely with Jim for more than 20 years. His dedication to the Port of Baltimore and long list of accomplishments are truly remarkable. His commitment to a productive collaboration and the continuing success of the P3 in 2010 highlights the exemplary working relationship between the public and private sectors. These achievements demonstrate a distinguished career that has benefited the industry as a whole. I am honored to have worked alongside Jim for these ground-breaking programs.”
— Mark Montgomery, President and CEO, Ports America Group, Inc.
“It was a great pleasure to serve with Jim White these past few years. He was influential in being part of the Port’s many achievements accomplished. I will miss him.”
— Brenda Dandy, Maryland Port Commissioner
“Jim White’s name belongs on the list of visionaries that made the Port of Baltimore an economic engine for our region. I had the fortune to work alongside and learn from Jim for the past five years as we sought to unlock another asset for the Port — double-stack rail service through the historic Howard Street Tunnel. Through ups and downs with the project, Jim gave a consistent vision for progressing this critical investment. Without his strong leadership, I have no doubt the project would not be moving forward today.”
— Brian Hammock, Resident Vice President, CSX Transportation
“Jim White’s creative and effective stewardship of the Port of Baltimore will be greatly missed. Under his leadership, the Port has experienced tremendous growth, supporting tens of thousands of good-paying jobs and delivering billions of dollars in revenue for the State of Maryland. Throughout his career, he’s always been the right man at the right time. I wish Jim well as he embarks on this next chapter.”
— Congressman John Sarbanes
“Jim White is the embodiment of a true and successful public servant — open-minded, knowledgeable and passionately dedicated to the growth and success of the Port of Baltimore. Working doggedly, attracting and supporting outstanding talent to work with him, Jim has led the Port of Baltimore to its present position as a key driver of our economy and as a leading American port. His successes, culminating in the agreement to expand the Howard Street Tunnel and open the Midwest to rail shipments from the Port, will continue to inspire and inform all who work with and care about Maryland’s economy and people.”
— Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp
“Few people, if any, deserve more personal credit and praise for the record-breaking success of the Port of Baltimore than Jim White. For nearly two decades, he has shepherded our great Port through good economic times and challenging ones, always with an eye to the future and what needs to happen next. Getting the Howard Street Tunnel project over the finish line is the perfect capstone to a career that will long be remembered. His dedication to our state and commitment to excellence will surely be missed. His partners at Tradepoint Atlantic wish him the best of luck.”
— Michael Mullen, Chairman, Tradepoint Atlantic
“I have known Jim White for over 20 years. I consider him a good friend and a first-class individual. He has been instrumental in seeing our Port grow and prosper during his tenure. He has overseen the modernization of the state facilities with state-of-the-art container cranes and a new 50-foot berth, which has produced record amounts of cargo. Jim has been an ally of the private sector of the Port, helping it to expand and prosper along with the state facilities. Baltimore is one of the greatest ports in the country, and we in Maryland should be proud of it. I am sad to see Jim leaving before the Howard Street Tunnel project, which will allow double-stacked containers by rail to service the Port of Baltimore, is completed. Jim has worked so hard to make it happen, and when it is complete, it will be in part because of Jim’s efforts.”
— Norm Rukert, CEO, Rukert Terminals Corp.
“Jim was a true professional. I had the privilege of working with him over the course of the last few decades in my various roles. Jim was someone who just delivered for Maryland every day. He led the Port of Baltimore to so many successes. Behind the scenes though, he was ensuring that the Port of Baltimore would be successful long after his much-deserved retirement. Tomorrow’s success will be a direct result of much of the foundation and vision he established. The next director of the Port of Baltimore will have big shoes to fill but also benefit greatly from the healthy Port Jim left behind ready for the next generation.”
— Gregory Slater, Secretary, Maryland Department of Transportation
“I have known Jim White by reputation for over 30 years but have known him personally with business dealings for over 20 years. While he may not be the easiest to deal with, he was always fair. I felt his handshake was good regardless of agreement. He became my good friend over this long period, and I value this relationship. He always made sure that he protected MDOT MPA’s reputation and made sure he secured the best for MDOT MPA in any agreement. All one has to do is look at the market improvement during his time at the Port and one can see the success. He will be missed.”
— Jim Davis, former President and CEO of Amports, Current Board Member
“I love Jim White and will miss his business focus and dogged determination working on behalf of MDOT MPA and its customers. Jim was a trailblazer in terms of ocean carrier executives moving into top jobs at U.S. seaports. His success in Baltimore no doubt was influential in the subsequent placement of a number of former ocean carrier execs into the CEO roles at some of the largest seaports in the country. Jim is both humble and quick-witted and was a pleasure to work with, not only in my former role as CEO of WWL, but also now in my role heading up the American Association of Port Authorities.”
— Chris Connor, President and CEO, AAPA
“Jim White is all about the relationship. He has been a great partner to MBUSA in seeing MBUSA’s vision and having the creativity and fortitude to help MBUSA, LLC grow its business in the Port of Baltimore. I personally would like to thank Jim for taking the novice logistics person that I was years ago and having the confidence to help me navigate the never-ending challenges of running finished-vehicle operations at a port. He is one of a kind, and I feel honored that I had the privilege of working with him. He will be missed.”
— Rory Anne Hepner, General Manager Duty Drawback & Finished Vehicles, Logistics/Customs, Mercedes-Benz
“Jim White’s tenure was a period of unprecedented lease agreements, critical expansion and record cargo growth. His leadership and strategic planning resulted in thousands of good-paying jobs and made Baltimore one of the busiest ports in the country. Congratulations and gratitude to Jim White for an unparalleled performance as port director.”
— Brian McHale, ILA Local 953 and Former Member of the Maryland House of Delegates
“Jim White exhibited the rare qualities of exquisite leadership — dedication, ethics, outstanding execution and remarkable team building internal and external to the Port. He was a leader’s leader.”
— Nancy Grasmick, EdD, Co-Director, Kennedy Krieger Institute
“The Port community has been honored to have Jim’s steady hand at the tiller for so many years and we appreciate his leadership and dedication in continuing to make the Port of Baltimore a growing and sustainable entity.”
— Capt. Mike Reagoso, General Manager and Vice President, McAllister Towing of Baltimore Inc.
“I have had the privilege of knowing and working with Jim for the past six years while here in the Maryland Senate. He has always provided a listening ear, and I have enjoyed our discussions on working together to benefit our constituents and provide an environment in which the Port can thrive.”
— State Senator Johnny Ray Salling
“Jim has been instrumental to the Port and its success for the last 18 years. The Port has experienced record productivity year over year due to sound management and thoughtful leadership. There’s no doubt that Jim’s impact will be felt for decades to come, as he leaves the Port much stronger than how he found it.”
— Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson
“Trust is the foundation of any relationship and it builds over time based on the character and integrity of the people you deal with. On that note, let me say that within our business, Gentleman Jim White is one of the best. Jim is a terrific guy who stands head and shoulders above the crowd for his engaging style, impressive business vision for the Port and most importantly for his strong character. He championed some very smart strategic moves for the Port, including long-term deals with both Wallenius Wilhelmsen and Ports America, increasing Baltimore’s competitiveness in the process. He will be missed by all.”
— Ray Fitzgerald, Former Chief Operating Officer, Wallenius Wilhelmsen
“It has been a distinct pleasure to have worked with Jim White during my 20 years as President of the Association of Maryland Pilots. Jim’s ability to secure long-term contracts with the Port’s biggest customers enabled us and other Port service providers to plan for the future with confidence. Through Jim’s leadership, the MDOT MPA has consistently provided the funding and placement sites for the material that must be regularly dredged from the Bay’s shipping channels, enabling the Maryland Pilots to safely bring the largest ships calling on the East Coast to the Port of Baltimore. Thank you, Jim.”
— Eric Nielsen, President, Association of Maryland Pilots
“Jim’s knowledge of the Port and his willingness to share his time teaching me and others the intricacies of the Port will forever be remembered. The City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland should also be proud that, under Jim’s Leadership, the Port grew at record levels.”
— Mike Martino, Former Maryland Port Commissioner
“Jim’s quiet but firm leadership as Executive Director steered the Port through innumerable challenges over the last 20 years. Few can claim a comparable record of success and achievement. Jim focused on the big picture and encouraged his senior staff to work to their strengths. He leaves quite a legacy.”
— Peta N. Richkus, Former Maryland Port Commissioner