Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Harley Marine Services, Inc. 30th Anniversary


September 1, 2017

Harley Marine's fleet in its infancy: FP Hubble, James T Quigg (original), Catherine Quigg, and Alyssa Ann.

In 1987, Harley Marine Services, Inc. (HMS) Founder and CEO Harley Franco had a vision that is still true today: to become the safest, most efficient, and most environmentally-responsible marine transportation company in the country. Reflecting back on 30 years of business, Franco is also proud of the way the company has continued to be anchored by its steadfast family values.

"When we started 30 years ago, I would say 90 percent of the tug and barge companies were family-owned, old-time, third and fourth generation businesses," he says. "And over the last 20 years, we've seen them evolve into becoming more equity-owned firms and run like investment banks, versus family-owned entrepreneurs with a family-run culture. So many of the companies have lost their soul of being a family-owned entity."

For Franco, it's all about relationships. "One of the things that we've been able to do over the last 30 years is even though we have some outside investors, I control the company and its governances, and we still run it like a family-owned business where the relationships and the customer needs are the most important thing to us," he says. "We choose to run it as a good corporate neighbor, a good community citizen, a valued employer to our employees, a great quality service provider to our customers, and we try to do things the way we initially did."

All of that goodwill even threads its way into the naming of many of HMS' vessels, which oftentimes give a voice to charitable causes the company is involved in. At the forefront of the latest green technologies, HMS has, since 2013, been building vessels with Tier 3 or cleaner emission engines. In fact, the company has pioneered the use of Tier 4 engines – the 116-foot Earl W Redd tractor tug was the first workboat in the US to be equipped with Tier 4 engines. Between 2012 and 2017, HMS has built or is currently building 35 new vessels, nine of which are for the ATB market.

"Five years ago, we were heavily involved in growing our Gulf Coast and our East Coast operations, and we had really focused on that," explains Franco. "Since the marketplace has changed a lot in the energy sector, we had switched our focus to the articulated tug and barge business of three different coasts, the Gulf Coast, the East Coast and obviously the west coast and Alaska."

New tractor tugs have been added to HMS' ship assist market, and the company just introduced the Dr. Hank Kaplan, a 5,500 horsepower tractor tug, along with the OneDream, the OneCure, the All Aboard for a Cure articulated tug and barges with the Min Zidell and the Bill Gobel tugs that are articulated tugs to go with those barges. Currently under construction is the Edward Itta barge at Conrad Shipyards in Louisiana. The Todd E. Prophet tug will go with it. Additionally, the Zidell Marine 277 barge is set for August 2017 delivery, and the Rich Padden tractor tug is expected to be delivered in September of 2017.

Adding the latest Tier 4 technologies to a growing fleet isn't always easy in a depressed marketplace, concedes Franco, due to the modifications necessary to house an extra holding tank for urea. In general, these modifications can see the vessel price increase anywhere between one and two million dollars. "We wanted to be greener and more proactive and more progressive in being a pioneer in better green technology. We had the option to go Tier 3. We elected to go Tier 4 because we believed it was the right thing to do, and still do."

It's no surprise that a company committed to high environmental standards and customer focus has won numerous awards – Harley Marine has been recognized with more than 50 awards for environmental stewardship best practices, safety, leadership, sustainability and philanthropy, given by community.

Among firsts in the industry, in 1998, the company was the first to put double hull petroleum barges on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers and Puget Sound. During the early 2000s, HMS was the first company to develop and install a patented self-contained vapor recovery unit on its barges to accommodate customer needs. It also worked with the American Waterway Operators (AWO) to write the Responsible Carrier Program (RCP). In 2015, HMS was recognized with a Safety Achievement Awards-Citations of Merit from the Chamber of Shipping of America and also awarded by the International WorkBoat Show for their Significant Boats of 2015, the Lela Franco and Michelle Sloan, just two of the numerous awards the company has received in many marine sectors.

At every turn, Harley Marine continues to demonstrate its commitment to being a leader. "No company does what we do in the tug and barge business for charitable giving," says Franco. "No one has won as many green awards. Nobody has won as many safety awards."

Harley Marine and its operating subsidiaries – Millennium Maritime, Olympic Tug & Barge, Harley Marine New York, Pacific Coast, Starlight Pacific Northwest, Westoil, Pacterm, and Harley Marine Gulf – are certificated under ISO 9001, the ISM Code, AWO RCP, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001 standards.

"The primary focus is to have a level of oversight and consistency around all the operations," explains HMS' SVP & Chief Operating Officer Matt Godden. "We have one single marine operations manual that governs all of our operations throughout the United States. And that manual is known and understood and taught by both our shore side personnel to our crew, and vice versa."

"We were one of the first in the tug and barge industry to go that way and have since added on various other portions of the ISO and ISM quality code to be supportive and continue to grow our role there," adds Franco. "We're currently going through the transition, just like everybody is, to be Subchapter M-compliant."

HMS also has two outstanding LEED Gold-certified buildings; its 45,000-square-foot facility Seattle headquarters LEED Gold-certified building, named the Harley and Lela Franco Maritime Center, and its brand new regional headquarters in Houston, Texas. "We're spending more than what a normal business would do, because we want to send a message that green technology is the right thing to do," says Franco.

With the new White House administration revisiting green initiatives through the Department of Ecology, Franco hopes that state and federal governments will still recognize providers that are going the extra mile to be safer, to be greener, to be a better community member and neighbor, and reward them with either tax incentives or grants. "I really believe that if they do that, I think you'll see our industry really taking a more advanced leadership role for the rest of the world to follow on greenness and development in community needs that I think we're doing as a company."

In the past five years, HMS has broadened its scope to include not only all coasts of the United States, but also Alaska and Hawaii. The company is one of the few that are approved to work with oil majors across all of those operating regions. Additionally, HMS is starting to work internationally, with an operation in Singapore. "And we did it as we always have, one vessel at a time and one person at a time, and it's been a very good, controlled growth," says Franco.

An unusual project was completed last year; the M/V Susitna was barged from Seattle, Washington to the Philippines Red Cross – a 15,000 nautical mile voyage spanning the Pacific Ocean. The 195-foot vessel was constructed in 2010 in Ketchikan, Alaska at the request of the Office of Naval Research. Eventually the vessel was sold to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, who intended to use the vessel to provide ferry service between Anchorage and Port Mackenzie before selling it to the Philippines Red Cross. "It was quite a project just lifting something that's 1,000 tons safely and securely, fixing it to a deck barge, and then getting that deck barge and the Susitna across the Pacific Ocean for final delivery. It was a big project for us last year and something we're very proud to be part of," says Franco.

The naming ceremony for the Earl W Redd in Seattle.

Franco expects to continue in his CEO role for several years yet, but is now actively working on a succession plan. "As long as I can provide value and leadership and I'm not a dead anchor around here, I'd like to stick around," he says. "But if I can't continue at the pace that I'm doing it, then I've got to make sure that we put the right people in the right positions to carry the legacy of Harley to the next level."

People are what has made Harley Marine Services a success, says Franco. "They've all contributed immensely. We've maintained our core values of relationships, quality, competitiveness, and safety, being green, being a great community neighbor. I think we're just very blessed to have the support of our customers, our industry, and we just want to continue to work on the path. And hopefully, we'll make the industry and our customers proud to be associated with us."


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