By Rodika Tollefson, December 6, 2013, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal
The idea of retirement is not new to Port of Bremerton CEO Tim Thomson. But when he retired in 1999 from the Navy, he knew a second career was ahead. This time, when he leaves his office at the port’s headquarters for the last time at the end of December, he is certain he’s retiring for good.
“I’m not looking to do any consulting work. I want to leave the calendar open,” said Thomson, a 17-year Port Orchard resident. That calendar may include more kayaking, traveling and playing the guitar, but mostly Thomson wants to focus on time with his family, which includes grandchildren as well as parents in Florida.
Thomson’s 28-year career as a naval aviator included an air station command. He also worked at the Bremerton shipyard to homeport aircraft carriers. He didn’t want to take a typical retirement route and become a Navy consultant. An opportunity to be a property manager for the port opened up.
“It allowed me to stay in the community and go into a different area where I felt I could contribute,” he said.
In the 14-plus years since, Thomson went from being the business development manager (a title at one point temporarily changed to chief operating officer) to interim CEO prior to Cary Bozeman’s hiring and, two years ago, the CEO.
Some of the recent progress at the port that he’s had a hand in include the completion of the Olympic View Industrial Park’s northeast campus with eight more pad-ready industrial sites, increased occupancy at the Bremerton Marina, the creation of the Kitsap Aerospace and Defense Alliance, and improvements at the Port Orchard Marina.
Thomson is quick to credit the members of his staff for the successes. “Here at the port very little gets done by one person. We have a success-oriented staff that’s very dedicated,” he said.
The Bremerton Marina, which opened in 2008, has been a particular source of challenges for the port in recent years. The $34 million project stirred up controversy for a variety of reasons, including annual operating losses as high as $400,000. The commissioners had even discussed turning over operations to a private company. Instead, the port hired experienced marina consultant Bob Wise for five months last year to market the marina and bring in more tenants.
The changes included new events, special two-year lease incentives and new small-boat rates. And it worked — the lease rate went up to an all-time high of 62 percent this past summer (the highest it’s been before was 46 percent). Wise has been retained for more work in preparation of next year’s season, including a focus on retention.
“He brought fresh ideas in marketing that proved successful,” Thomson said, adding that the results included “a significantly improved image” through the region.
Just as the Bremerton Marina was struggling, the port has kept a high occupancy rate at the Port Orchard Marina (currently at 95 percent) as well as its industrial buildings at the airport and Olympic View Industrial Park — steady at 95 percent, higher than average, according to Thomson, even through the economic downturn.
The economic development that’s been going on at the park is one of the achievements Thomson has enjoyed the most during his tenure, especially giving businesses such as Safe Boats, Pacific Western Timber, Avian Flight Center and others the opportunity to grow and expand.
One of the major changes Thomson made as CEO was a restructuring last year, with the goal of reducing staff levels and operating costs, at the commissioners’ request. Although it wasn’t the first restructuring the port had done, for Thomson it meant personally having a hand in cutting six jobs.
“It was the right thing to do but one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a manager,” he said. “Those cuts impacted families.”
The restructuring saved the port $400,000 in operating costs and reduced its dependency on taxes to 26 percent from almost 50. “That frees up more money from taxes for capital improvements,” Thomson said.
Some of those who’ve worked with Thomson described him as a quiet leader but a straight-shooter who could get along with anybody.
“Working with Tim, I have found him to be a kind and fair man who really tries to listen and understand before reacting to situations,” said Kathy Garcia, the port’s marina operations manager.
One of his prominent traits is the ability to work toward making something work instead of focusing on why it wouldn’t, said Kitsap Transit Executive Director John Clauson, who has recruited Thomson for several committees and boards, first when Thomson was still working at the shipyard. Among those recruitments were the boards of the Kitsap Visitor and Convention Bureau (recently renamed Visit Kitsap) and the Bremerton Historic Ship Association, which operates the USS Turner Joy.
“Tim is very knowledgeable and a very practical individual… People understand where he is coming from,” Clauson said, adding that he is savvy about the politics of the public sector, which is very important in a job that includes dealing with the public and with elected officials.
Although Thomson doesn’t plan to do consulting, one thing he does have on the agenda: continue his involvement with the Kitsap Aerospace and Defense Alliance, created about two years ago in collaboration with the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance and several partners including all the local jurisdictions. Thomson, who has been serving as the KADA chair, said the focus has been on positioning Kitsap as an ideal location for aerospace — and defense-related industries. He plans to stay on as a volunteer and has the support of the alliance to remain as the chair.
KEDA executive director John Powers said he’s excited to see Thomson continue his KADA leadership. “I think the world of Tim. I think he’s a true servant leader,” he said. “My sense is that he will remain a factor in our community.”
Thomson said he will miss the challenges he’s had at the port, even as he’s looking forward to family time. He is also thankful for the port giving him the chance to be involved in the community (his past contributions include being the president of the Port Orchard Rotary Club and the Puget Sound Naval Base Association and the co-chair of the Naval Memorial Lone Sailor Statue project.)
“I feel very, very fortunate to have had a meaningful second career in my professional life,” he said, “and I thank the port for their support and the opportunity to learn and grow.”
Changing of the guard
The Port of Bremerton has hired Jim Rothlin as the new CEO. Rothlin is currently the Port of Chehalis executive director and is expected to start his new role in Bremerton in mid-December.
The port will have a retirement celebration for Thomson and a welcome for Rothlin at the port commissioners meeting Dec. 10, at 6 p.m. in the conference room located in the Bremerton National Airport Terminal Building.