New SSA chairman has strong business background
The new chairman of the Steamship Authority (SSA) board is well practiced in the use of the gavel and has a reputation for fiscal conservatism. Robert Marshall, Falmouth SSA member, began his one-year term as chairman this week in accordance with a rotation formula set out when state lawmakers expanded the board to five voting members.
Although the SSA chairmanship carries no added authority, the member wielding the gavel can do much to shape the tone and tenor of discussion and keep meetings on track.
In a telephone interview Monday prior to the SSA's first meeting of the New Year, Mr. Marshall said he expected that the meetings would continue to be professional and businesslike, much as they had been during the chairmanship of Marc Hanover, Vineyard SSA member.
Robert Marshall. Photo courtesy of SSA
Mr. Marshall said the board is working very well together and he does not expect much to change. "For the most part, we are on the best track that I can remember for lots of years," he said. "I think we have a group of five people who are civil and pretty much focused on achieving the same goal, which is an efficient, economical transportation system."
Falmouth selectmen appointed Mr. Marshall In January, 2003 to replace Galen Robbins, who left the boatline with more than $100,000 in legal bills to pay in connection with his battle with Falmouth selectmen over their efforts to discipline him for his support of policies they did not support.
Mr. Marshall, the former principal managing director of Gordon Brothers Group, LLC, of Boston, an international retail, finance and asset management firm, has served the Cape and Falmouth community in a variety of elected, appointed, and volunteer positions. He served as Falmouth town moderator for seven years and is a former trustee of the Falmouth Hospital Foundation and former director of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce.
He was also chairman of the Falmouth finance committee for four years where he earned a reputation for straight talk, fiscal constraint, and skill in tackling tough issues.
Mr. Marshall said one issue that greatly concerns him is the still unresolved contract between the boatline and the members of its largest union, the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA). He said he does not understand the union leadership's current position and suspects it does not reflect the views of all the union membership.
"What the Steamship Authority is asking of the union is nothing more than for them to use some good judgment and common sense and look around," said Mr. Marshall. "The manning issues; the health care issues; the fact that we can no longer afford waste and maintain an economical, vital transportation business - call it what you may - between the islands. I think they have lost sight of that goal."
As the Falmouth member, Mr. Marshall has a ten percent weighted vote. As a Falmouth resident, he is not dependent on the SSA as a vital transportation link. Were the SSA to run a deficit, Falmouth would be responsible for ten percent of it.
Mr. Marshall said that while he has a political responsibility to represent the interests of Falmouth, as a board member he has a fiduciary responsibility to the overall health and welfare of the authority that transcends his local affiliation. "Everyone of the five members has that responsibility," he said. "We clearly all wear two hats. And interestingly enough at this point I do think all five members share that same vision."
Marc Hanover said Mr. Marshall brings a straightforward, businesslike approach to board business and understands the issues affecting the boatline. "He is a very good businessman and certainly understands dealing with the unions and working with management to better the boatline for riders and make it a more efficient operation," said Mr. Hanover. "I've been very impressed with him and have certainly learned a lot from him over the past year."
Mr. Hanover described Mr. Marshall, a retired successful businessman, as self-assured and confident, attributes that come across during board meetings. He said Mr. Marshall is able to look at issues affecting the boatline apart from the politics that have often muddied the waters in the past.
"He is very opinionated," said Mr. Hanover, "but he is always very professional when it comes to disagreements."
The former executive also keeps a sharp watch on the bottom line. "Nobody on the board can understand a balance sheet like he can," said Mr. Hanover. "He gets into the financials and can really pick numbers out that most people might miss."
That attention to detail benefits Islanders as well as the boatline, said Mr. Hanover. As an example, Mr. Hanover said it was Mr. Marshall who suggested that boatline management was being overly optimistic when it proposed a 2005-operating budget built around the cost of a barrel of oil dropping back to the $32 range. At his suggestion, that optimistic projection was revised upward easing the effect when oil rose to more than $60.
Mr. Marshall can also be short and to the point and is not shy about expressing his opinion. "He is an absolute pleasure to work with," said Mr. Hanover. "And you always know where you stand with Bob."
Mr. Marshall moved to Falmouth in 1979. He and his wife, Saralee, have two children and four grandchildren. They spend much of their time during the summer cruising on their 40-foot trawler to various New England ports, often joined by family members.
Robust and energetic, Mr. Marshall told a Times reporter, "Don't retire if you can't stay busy."