No matter the sector — shipbuilding, manufacturing, engineering and construction, or even energy resource management — Ewan Moir has the proven ability of excelling when presented with a challenge. So when the opportunity arose to lead one of Canada’s major ports, despite having no direct, hands-on experience in port management, Moir again chose a path not yet travelled. As President and CEO of Nanaimo Port Authority (now branded as Port of Nanaimo), Moir is applying the many principles and disciplines he has learned over the progression of his career with the unique gift of understanding the big picture and, most importantly, recognizing the potential. To this end, the future for the NPA is on the brink of something remarkable.
BCSN: In reviewing your bio, I was impressed with the diversity of companies and industry sectors where you’ve played a leadership role. Could you provide a brief overview of your career and the strengths you bring to your role as President and CEO of the NPA?
EM: Throughout the late 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, I held a number of roles within the Ulstein Group around the world — project engineering and regional sales positions in Europe, Asia, India and Australia. In 1995, I became the President of Ulstein Maritime Ltd. which brought me to Vancouver, and in 2000, after Ulstein Maritime was purchased by Rolls-Royce Plc, I became the Director of Operations and Site Manager for Rolls-Royce’s Canadian West Coast operations. From there, I was the International Marine Marketing Manager for Finning International; President and CEO for Fraser River Pile & Dredge; Senior Vice President with SNC-Lavalin’s global ports and marine engineering business (which took me to India in addition to Vancouver); President of Mainland Sand & Gravel; and, most recently, as President and COO of Pacific BioEnergy Corporation.
During my career, I’ve been fortunate to be able to take on responsibilities where, while I didn’t have hands-on experience in a particular area, I developed skills that allowed me to move between people, products and manufacturing; and sales, marketing and business development. Getting my Master’s Degree at Queen’s University really helped me to put what I’d learned into perspective. It allowed me to mature in terms of being able to step into a new business and understand how all of the pieces of that business came together.
With all of the experiences I’ve had, I’ve always put my efforts into improving the well-being of a company on behalf of existing owners or shareholders. I found the position with the NPA to be a wonderful opportunity to work on behalf of the community. So it’s a bigger picture role. It’s an opportunity to deliver long-term benefits by making the right decisions on projects and processes today that will outlast my career and potentially my lifetime.
BCSN: In truth, I do see you engaging the community in a greater capacity than your predecessors. Could you provide some insight into your strategy for engagement?
EM: The NPA has had challenges in the past when it comes to the perception of it within different elements of the community. In trying to ensure the perceptions are based on facts, we’ve really tried to step up our engagement. We are listening to what people say, correcting them when there are misconceptions but, very importantly, learning from what they’re telling us so we can do better. One of the ways we’re doing that is through hosting open houses — they are great opportunities for the community to ask any question they want and, unless there’s a non-disclosure agreement in place that would limit our response, they’ll get a full and honest answer.
Another illustration of our commitment to the community is an increased effort to work with First Nations. For example, the Saysutshun experience on Newcastle Island — part of the Snuneymuxw First Nations’ business plan — is included in our presentations at open houses.
This is definitely a priority area for us — to be able to put the Port into an open and transparent position with regard to the community and to provide opportunities and avenues to communicate, ask questions and learn.
BCSN: You’ve been in the role of President and CEO for almost one year now. What are some of the other priorities you’ve identified and how are you addressing them?
EM: Looking at the business element of the Port, irrespective of what we do, we have to be financially self-sufficient. Everything we generate, we generate ourselves and need to invest it wisely. We have all of these federal assets and they have to be put to work and generate a return on investment. I think this is another strength I bring to the position — I can often look at challenges and find the right way to turn them into opportunities.
We recently created a new five-year business plan and, just prior to the plan’s creation, we underwent a visioning exercise. In addition to developing a new vision (To be the Vancouver Island port connecting the Island to the world via the Salish Sea, providing the safe and sustainable movement of people and goods while delivering economic growth that benefits Canada, British Columbia and the Island.), we also produced a purpose (With safety, security and sustainability top of mind, our purpose is to build and maintain port resources. We will stimulate projects and initiatives, in cooperation with community partners and businesses that will create new jobs and increase economic development and opportunities.).
To help us move toward our vision, we’ve separated operations into three sectors — heavy industrial (Duke Point); light industrial (Nanaimo Assembly Wharf); and the marina-based tourism sector of Newcastle Channel.
Regarding Newcastle Channel, there is a direct connection to Nanaimo’s downtown core. So in our minds, any changes we make will be a catalyst for change for the whole area. We’ve formed a user group committee with all of the stakeholders of the marina basin, and with the help of this committee we’ve developed a new design which can be used as a platform to build upon and expand the marina. The new design incorporates a gathering space for both tourists and the community — a floating section with three restaurants and a large area where people can meet for a cup of tea or a beer and listen to live music. Additional plans include a connection to Newcastle and Protection Islands.
We have categorized the Nanaimo Assembly Wharf as light industry. It is adjacent to an area that falls within the City of Nanaimo’s Waterfront Development Plan. That plan provides for a mix of residential, commercial and light industry so it’s important for us to find the right mix of operations that “fit” within that. It must also provide for long-term employment and well-paid benefits for the community including spin-off businesses.
Duke Point is designated as heavy industrial. Here you’ll find businesses like Western Forest Products, BC Ferries, Seaspan Ferry Services, Tilray (the medical cannabis producers), and Harmac Pulp Mill — all larger industries that work around the clock. This is the type of activity that we’ll expand upon for Duke Point. We are responsible for 55 acres there and can accommodate additional activities.
BCSN: Raising the issue of available land, do you see any opportunities for Nanaimo given the Lower Mainland’s constraints on industrial land?
EM: As part of our business planning, we worked with a consultant to review publications from organizations like the Conference Board of Canada, the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance and the Mid-Island Business Initiative and pulled out the salient points. A common theme across these studies was the constraints for growth in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland becoming critical by 2020 and severe by 2025. Vancouver Island has a fantastic opportunity to present itself as being very complimentary to Vancouver and providing relief on growth pressures. We have industrial land on the waterfront at a fair price and we’re only 27 nautical miles away.
The short sea shipping system that already exists with BC Ferries, Seaspan and DP World’s container barge facility can be expanded to provide more cohesiveness between the Mainland and the Island. The new Vehicle Processing Facility is a good example of this. Cars are delivered every day from the Lower Mainland to Vancouver Island dealerships and the car carriers then return to the Mainland empty. Now, we’ll be using the empty units to take back the cars from the new facility. And by using Seaspan Ferries’ terminal on the Fraser River or BC Ferries’ terminal in Tsawwassen, we can deliver outside of the busy downtown hub and take away from the congestion.
Again, we see ourselves as being complementary to the overall growth rather than as a competitor. We’ve had general discussions with organizations like the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, the Pacific Gateway Branch of the Provincial Government and Transport Canada on issues like alleviating bottlenecks with the goal being to help facilitate growth for the entire region. The car processing facility is a classic case — initially, it would appear to be competition because it’s taking away from something that has traditionally been completed in the Lower Mainland. However, it couldn’t be accommodated there and the company had to look for alternatives. That’s where we stepped in to help.
BCSN: Over and above the opportunities provided by land constraints in the Lower Mainland, what other opportunities are you seeing for Nanaimo and the Mid-Island region?
EM: If you look at the history of Nanaimo and the Mid-Island, you can see the evolution in industry and examples of how we’ve had to respond to changing circumstances. Before the Second World War, coal was the main catalyst of growth for Nanaimo. Then forestry was the main driver but since 2008 the model for that industry has changed and Nanaimo has had to rethink itself.
Nanaimo has been growing at a phenomenal pace yet the average age of the population continues to be aligned with the rest of B.C. — that is, it is not retirees who are growing the population numbers. We’re seeing more young families come here to escape the cost of living in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland and it’s creating tremendous opportunities for growth. For example, Vancouver Island University (VIU) now has close to 18,000 students. Many people have no idea they have programs ranging from apprenticeships all the way through to graduate degrees, including a focus on greater engagement with First Nations through programs and scholarships.
Most importantly, the VIU has been connecting with industry. The City, the Airport, the Port and other key bodies and industries from within the region meet as a group along with the VIU to talk about the projects being worked on so that everyone can understand the upcoming potential as it would apply to their particular area of expertise.
If you think about it, Vancouver Island has a population of almost 800,000 but it has a ‘just-in-time’ economy — that is, there are only two warehouses (Sobey’s and Quality Foods) and everything that’s coming over to the big box stores is coming via a container stuffed in Alberta or B.C. The day you have a big earthquake and supply chains are interrupted, there will be problems.
That’s something we’ve discussed here within the context of creating the environment for a logistics and/or industrial park so that people are comfortable with warehousing here on the Island. We have the right tools; we just need to pull it all together. The focus is no longer on one business or product but rather the community and its assets and how we can work together to move things forward positively. It’s not just about the Port. The Port is just a facilitator for growth.
At the end of the day though, we need to be able to do this without going into debt. Because our Letters Patent within the Canada Marine Act doesn’t allow us to borrow more than $6 million, we have to be innovative in our approach. There are a lot of projects we want to do that cost much more than we’re capable of financing on our own.
BCSN: That’s a good segue into your thoughts on the Port Modernization Review. I’m assuming the limit on financing is something you’ll want addressed.
EM: Yes, but it’s not just a simple change. Increasing the borrowing limit doesn’t really answer the bigger question of our ability to pledge assets against loans when they are technically not our assets — they are the Queen’s and there is the issue of risk. We need to rethink the model of how ports access funding — a way that works for everyone — and the Port Modernization Review is a wonderful opportunity to do just that.
It’s been 20 years since the CMA and Letters Patent have been reviewed. I don’t know of any business that doesn’t continually evaluate its position and ask if it’s still doing the right thing. This is especially important given the changes that have occurred and continue to occur in the world markets and the concept of globalization.
BCSN: While we provide more detail about Nanaimo’s activities and trends in the B.C. Ports Update on page 24, could you highlight some of your expectations for future growth?
EM: To start, the container service sector is seeing strong growth. Between 2012, when we partnered with DP World, to 2017, we went from zero containers to just over 44,000 TEUs. It’s a sign of good work by DP World and the Port but also a sign of the Island’s economy. We’re seeing more manufacturing on the Island and there are good opportunities for growth as more and more items are being shipped by container.
In terms of future growth for that sector, there are some great opportunities. We’re working with DP World on a revision to the model to allow for greater flexibility to changing circumstances. For example, if we could develop a system with international connections — not solely relying on the Lower Mainland before exporting abroad — I think that would add another really strong element to our capabilities. If you are a shipper or manufacturer on the Island and need to get your product to the Lower Mainland before shipping offshore, you’ve just added a lot of cost. An international connection through Nanaimo would be of great benefit to local manufacturers.
In addition to international connections, we need to look at the full supply chain. If we had an industrial or logistics park, we have to find ways to feed it. Adding an international connection to our existing capabilities would nicely complement the short sea shipping between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland and would add to the appeal of an industrial park here.
We’re seeing additional opportunities in other sectors such as forestry products, steel and project cargo. For example, we’re working with one of our forest product tenants to help them bring in different types of equipment to create wood chips. We also see changes in the capacity of Lower Mainland terminals when it comes to steel and there are opportunities being discussed related to LNG Canada’s project, perhaps to take a portion of land for some small module manufacturing and then ship by barge to Kitimat. And again, not take it into the centre of Vancouver but rather directly to the client.
The last piece worthy of note is cruise. Just because we have a cruise dock, it doesn’t mean a cruise line will just naturally want to visit. There’s so much more than simply offering berth space. At the end of the day, the Port’s net take on a vessel is about $7,000 or $8,000 but if you look further out into the community, the average expenditure for each passenger that gets off the ship is $63. This is a huge economic benefit to the local community so we need to work collectively with partners like the City, First Nations, the community at large and tourism groups to attract cruise to the Mid-Island, much like Victoria’s model of marketing. The GVHA has done a superb job of getting everyone involved to provide a cohesive package to the lines.
While we’re not positioned as geographically well as Victoria, part of our business plan calls for working with many groups in the area to determine what we need to do to attract the lines. They need to know that they’re going to make a return on their investment by bringing the ship here. That means having a lot of different experiences and excursions available to the passenger. I think there are some good opportunities, perhaps in the smaller pocket or adventure cruise market but we need to decide as a group whether we want to put resources into going after this business.
BCSN: I must say, for someone who has never led a port before, you certainly have a good grasp of what needs to be done to take advantage of growth opportunities.
EM: It’s what I’ve done for most of my career. The only exception here is, as mentioned, I’m doing it for the benefit of the region rather than just one company. At the NPA, we’re trying to build a strong foundation that is transparent and integrated with the community. It’s important that we are connected to the community so that the community understands how their port can be a driver to create opportunities for everyone.
About Ewan Moir
Ewan Moir began his business career in 1988 at Ulstein UK in the marine shipbuilding support industry. Ulstein then moved him to Holland in 1989, Ulstein Singapore, then to the Ulstein Group head office in Norway and finally to Ulstein Martime Ltd. in Vancouver. When the Ulstein Group was acquired by Rolls-Royce Plc in 2000, he became the Director of Operations and Site Manager for Rolls-Royce’s Canadian West Coast operations.
Additional positions held include President of Mainland Sand and Gravel; Senior Vice President at SNC-Lavalin; and President and CEO of Fraser River Pile and Dredge Inc. He also held a senior position at Finning International. His immediate past role assuming the position of President and CEO of Nanaimo Port Authority in October 2017 was as President and COO of Pacific BioEnergy Corporation, a wood pellet manufacturing company operating three plants in B.C.
Moir has over 20 years of senior corporate business experience contributing to strategy and operational performance and is known as an analytical thinker with a strong record of initiating and implementing business strategies to develop sustainable and profitable growth. He labels himself a team builder, coach in skills development with extensive experience in managing a union environment.
He has a graduate degree - MBA Queen’s University, and is a Certified Professional Accountant. He also has an HND in Mechanical Engineering, from Southampton University College, U.K.
Moir lives with his wife Lesley in Nanaimo. They have three adult sons.
About Nanaimo Port Authority
The Port of Nanaimo is Vancouver Island’s largest commercial port, and plays a significant role in the local economy. The Nanaimo Port Authority (NPA) administers, controls, and manages the harbour, waters, and foreshore adjacent to Nanaimo. They also manage port safety, assist with emergency services (fire boat, first responder, patrol boat), and are keenly responsible to the local community.
The NPA oversees the terminals at Nanaimo Assembly Wharf Terminal, Duke Point, the Cruise Ship Centre and Helijet. They are also responsible for the inner harbour marinas, including the Pioneer Waterfront Plaza, the Visiting Vessel Pier for large yachts, Swy-A-Lana Lagoon Walking Pier and the Seaplane terminal.
As a major cargo facility, the NPA supports local, regional, and international businesses to ship goods on and off the
island. They help business owners understand costs, port systems, logistics and economic benefits for their business shipping needs.
Environmental stewardship is also important to the NPA. By using the Duke Point deep sea facility, barges are used to ship goods to the Lower Mainland port to port, providing continuous cargo movement while reducing truck traffic and carbon emissions. This process makes shipping more efficient, economical, and environmentally friendly.
In conjunction with local support from Tourism Nanaimo/Tourism Vancouver Island and the Nanaimo Hospitality Association Ambassador Program and U.S. and International cruise lines, the NPA works hard to increase the number of cruise ships to the port by showcasing Nanaimo and Central Vancouver Island as a unique destination. Many local businesses benefit, including retail, food and beverage, attractions and ground transportation.
The NPA promotes the Port, the City of Nanaimo and Vancouver Island to potential global clientele.