Grace Greene, Vice President and Alaska General Manager for TOTE Maritime, gained much of her experience in remote logistics through her service in the Marine Corps; she flew helicopters and was the logistics manager for her squadron.
© Judy Patrick Photography
Transportation is vital in the Last Frontier, particularly the transportation of goods into the state. By far, the majority of goods and materials for residential and commercial use are brought into the state by sea. TOTE Maritime Alaska has been working to keep Alaska well-supplied for more than forty years. According to the company, their first vessel was the American-made SS Great Land, which could carry up to 386 trailers and 126 vehicles at a cruising speed of twenty-two knots. In 2003, TOTE Maritime Alaska introduced the Orca Class vessels to the trade. These ships, custom-built for Alaska, are some of the most environmentally-friendly ships in the United States and will further reduce their impact on the environment once converted to run on liquefied natural gas.
Teamwork and Making a Difference
Another one of TOTE Maritime Alaska’s recent assets is their Vice President and Alaska General Manager, Grace Greene, who has been with TOTE for approximately three-and-a-half-years.
Before working for TOTE, Greene attended the Naval Academy and was then commissioned into the Marine Corps. “I flew helicopters in the Marine Corps for about eight years,” Greene says. “In the Marine Corps you’re a pilot first and foremost, but you have other jobs within your squadron. One of my jobs was the logistics officer, so that began my career in logistics and transportation.”
After the Marine Corps, Greene performed various types of work, “but I always gravitated back to working with a team, to doing things that made a difference.” It was after moving to Alaska with her family that Greene found work with Shell, running their Aviation Logistics program. “The experiences that I had in the Marine Corps deploying my unit to the middle of nowhere in the desert were actually quite similar to managing very remote Arctic logistics,” Greene says. She continues, “While I was working for Shell, I met so many wonderful people who are part of the Saltchuk family of companies, working closely with folks from Carlile, Foss, Northern Air Cargo, and Delta Western; and then I was lucky enough to find the opportunity here at TOTE.”
Day-to-day Greene manages an operations group and a commercial group. The operations group covers customer service and transportation, “everything from overseeing loading and unloading the ship to managing transportation of deliveries and pickups to just general customer service inquiries and managing customer interaction.” On the commercial side are strategic account management, relationship building, business development, marketing, and other related activities.
Greene says that when it comes to leadership, the first thing is to be genuine. “Having the ability to connect with your workforce is really important, and one of the best ways I’ve found to do that is explain the ‘why factor.’” She says that it only helps to improve the big picture if every member of the team understands both the task and why it’s being done.
A Family of Employees
TOTE Maritime Alaska has approximately thirty-five employees in-state, which may be surprising considering the sheer amount of cargo the company transports. “We run a lean organization,” Greene says. “But with a small number of folks we make a heck of a lot happen. It really is important, then, that every single person that is here in this office understands how they fit into the big picture, because every person absolutely makes a difference.”
Employees are the key to every company’s success, and Greene says that at TOTE they look for potential workers who are competent, can be analytical, and have outstanding customer service skills. “I like people who ask questions, who are never quite satisfied, who are always looking for a way to do something better, to be more efficient, and to create a better experience for our customers,” she says. It’s also important for potential employees to fit in with the company culture.
Greene says that TOTE operates like a family in many ways. “Because there are so few of us, you get to know each other really well.” She says that the TOTE Maritime Alaska team is social outside of work, with its own softball team, potlucks in the office, birthday and work anniversary celebrations, and so on.
She says the company values employees who are able to give and receive feedback positively. It’s important to be able to ask for help and support, give positive feedback, or help change policies or procedures that could perhaps use improvement. “Those are some of the qualities that really make somebody successful here at TOTE,” Greene says.
Positive Change and Open Communication
Greene is herself an example of promoting positive change. “One of the things that I brought with me to TOTE was my really strong safety foundation,” she says. “I was very lucky to have worked for Shell because the safety culture at Shell is like none other that I had experienced before. The safety culture in the Marine Corps, too, and in aviation in particular is also very strong.” She continues that she is a positive and inclusive person and builds lines of communication and understanding.
“I think that for some of our team in the Lower 48 there was always this mystery of Alaska. Stuff just happens up there. Nobody’s saying anything, so hopefully it’s going okay. I think I’ve been able to help break down some of the mystery of Alaska, help people understand how our processes work up here, and create better alignment across the company,” Greene says.
Additionally, that ability to build community and connections has also helped with building and implementing relationships with key partners. She says TOTE Maritime Alaska and its partners have “deliberate conversations” so that both parties know what they want and can work together toward a positive outcome. “We focus on trying to create conversations and relationships that help drive better performance and deliver a better experience for our customer,” Greene says.
TOTE Maritime Alaska has a variety of partners; among them are other companies in the Saltchuk family, industry entities such as the railroad, and organizations that include local governments and the Port of Anchorage.
Grace Greene, VP and Alaska General Manager, TOTE Maritime
© Judy Patrick Photography
TOTE Invests in Alaska’s Future
TOTE is heavily invested in Alaska’s future. “We always like to say: So goes the Alaska economy, so goes TOTE,” Greene says. Upwards of 80 percent of cargo coming into the state goes through the Port of Anchorage, “so we represent basically all consumer products, vehicles, heavy equipment, etc.” TOTE does well when the Port of Anchorage does well, and when the Port of Anchorage is successful it allows the rest of Alaska to function. “It’s extremely important for us that we create a long-term, sustainable, predictable environment for continued growth and development in our state,” Greene says. “We need to have continued investment in the state; we need economic development.”
Greene says that the plan to upgrade their two ships to run on LNG represents a significant investment. “We’re not only making a significant commitment to our environment but a significant commitment to Alaska,” she says. “We wouldn’t be doing that if we weren’t planning on being here for the long term.”
Another development that TOTE is paying close attention to is the Port of Anchorage modernization project. “The Port of Anchorage is in dire need of new infrastructure to support continued operations to support our economy,” she says. “Without the Port of Anchorage, the state cannot function.” It is estimated that in total the Port of Anchorage Modernization project will cost $556 million, of which the port still needs $429 million to complete all of the planned work. “We need to come up with a really good plan to fund this project, and it needs to happen quickly,” Greene says.
She says one very positive aspect of the project is how closely the Port of Anchorage worked with key stakeholders at the port to put the plan together. “We’ve been working with them for years in developing a plan, and we believe the final product will be infrastructure that would certainly support our business for the foreseeable future.”
TOTE is invested in Alaska as a community, as well. “One of the most important things to our company is giving back to the communities that we serve,” Greene says. “We really take pride in that.” She says that each year all Saltchuk companies give 1 percent of their earnings back to the community, and that’s in addition to TOTE’s many in-kind donations. Greene cites their relationship with ALPAR— Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling —as an example. “We donate southbound shipping for recycle materials so the State of Alaska can recycle.” She says other partners contribute to that project, “but we’re probably one of the top three contributors, to the tune of more than $1 million every year.”
Greene says her team enjoys giving back to their communities, prompting TOTE Maritime Alaska to look for ways to engage employees in giving back, whether by creating opportunities to perform volunteer work or getting involved with a variety of charitable organizations.
“The people who work here are one of the things that I love most about my job,” Greene says. “Any success that I’ve had is because I’ve always had a really amazing team helping me. I couldn’t do what I do today without my team and their great support, so they deserve a lot of recognition for being amazing.”
Tasha Anderson is the Associate Editor for Alaska Business.
This article first appeared in the June 2017 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.