Q&A With Kelly Teichman, New Chairman Of AWO

Kelly Teichman
Kelly Teichman

Kelly Teichman, who serves as chairman of the board of T&T Marine, was recently elected to lead the board of directors of the American Waterways Operators (AWO). Teichman’s father, Rudy Teichman, started T&T Marine Ways Inc. in 1957. That company has now grown into T&T Group, which includes marine, salvage, offshore, marine salvage and survey subsidiaries. The Waterways Journal recently interviewed Teichman to learn more about her family history in the maritime industry, how she got her start, what challenges and opportunities the industry is facing and how that will shape her time as chairman of AWO.

WJ: How did you get your start in the industry? How has multigenerational leadership at T&T Group shaped your experience and your approach to serving as chair of AWO?

Teichman: I was originally temporarily hired at T&T to develop the company’s safety manual in 1992. At the same time, the operations manager decided to put in place a retirement plan, and I was hired full-time. I worked with our inland fleet, and as our operations expanded to include oil spill response, I also began working in the field, as well as in incident command, filling positions in planning, logistics, finance, operations and eventually documentation.

I was fortunate that T&T offered me the opportunity to work in multiple areas (safety, HR, spill response, salvage) at the beginning of my career. This has proven to be invaluable in my professional development and my ability to look at issues from many viewpoints.

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WJ: Talk about the history of T&T.

Teichman: My father Rudy Teichman founded the company in 1957 after returning from a stint in the U.S. Army. In the beginning, when Rudy established T&T Marine Ways, my grandfather worked at the company, followed in 1966 by my mother, Donna, my brother, Kevin, and me in the early 1990s, and finally my nephew, Curtis, in 2022.

Donna would become an integral part of T&T’s success.  While Rudy was the “face,” and admittedly the genius, Donna was the silent behind-the-scenes financial controller. It was through her careful accounting that Rudy had the capital needed to expand and improve throughout our history. Although there have been many influential women who have been mentors to me, it was Donna who taught me the quiet strength of influence.

Like many AWO member companies, we are still family-owned and -operated and, as AWO President and CEO Jennifer Carpenter recently observed, T&T “has that small company vibe.” Working with family is not always easy, but it is the most rewarding. As anyone employed in a family-owned business knows, there are no job titles, just work that needs to get done! I think this “all hands on deck” mentality set the stage for my “all-in” engagement with AWO and its initiatives. T&T was able to take advantage of all the member benefits, and I would eventually be nominated for vice chairman due to this involvement.

T&T is a group of independent companies working cohesively to provide our clients with unparalleled support. T&T owns and operates a large assortment of equipment, providing a wide range of marine services around the world. With a number of locations in the United States and its territories, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa, T&T has strategically positioned offices and alliances across the globe to provide a full range of maritime services and emergency response solutions. T&T owns state-of-the-art portable equipment capable of being dispatched anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice. The equipment is packaged so it can be easily transported by air, land or sea.

WJ: How has T&T’s global operation shaped or informed your approach to your role with AWO?

Teichman: T&T’s work in this area has allowed me to gain a different perspective as well as insights into international initiatives and cultures. I believe that my early exposure to numerous aspects of the industry, coupled with the global awareness I gained from working at a company that operates internationally, gave me an appreciation for the many similarities and differences that make the industry unique, both in terms of challenges as well as the strengths.

WJ: You have described the maritime industry as having a place for everyone and have highlighted the rising role of women in the maritime workforce. Can you discuss workforce challenges facing the industry? What are we doing well? What needs to be improved?

Teichman: People are our most important asset.

Recruitment and retention are both challenges that have become increasingly apparent in all business sectors. AWO has established its Workforce Action Plan to address the barriers that impede companies’ ability to recruit, retain and advance the next generation of mariners.

When I first started working with our inland towboats, most of our personnel were from farming areas, and we gradually started recruitment in inner cities. Today, traditional techniques are not sustainable to recruit future mariners. Social media content, especially when developed by current mariners, is the most effective tool for recruiting and for highlighting the benefits of our industry. The importance of getting our message to potential mariners is key for future recruitment—and this occurs by educating middle school and high school students on what the industry does and what it has to offer.

This recruitment also includes one segment of the population that has not typically considered the maritime industry as a viable career: women. Through increased education, including a strong focus on bringing females on board as mariners and shoreside personnel, more and more people are viewing the maritime industry as a viable career option. Are there opportunities for improvement in this area? Always.

As the industry looks to recruit new mariners, we also are focused on retention. This aspect of employment is as important as recruitment. Our industry strives to provide an inclusive and safe workplace and continues to offer positive pay scales, ability for promotion, use of advanced technology, flexibility and a host of benefits. Increasingly, we are challenged with the expectation for work/life balance, and we will continue to address this challenge given the nature of our business models and work environment.

As an industry, we are getting better at developing platforms attractive to potential mariners and getting the positive message out to a broad audience about our industry and its critical role in the American and global supply chain. To further this, AWO has developed a platform to recognize our mariners and at the same time highlight what the industry has to offer. AWO created the American Waterways Honor and Excellence in Rescue Operations (or HERO) Awards to document and recognize rescues undertaken by AWO member company employees that demonstrate selflessness, skill and bravery, and that embody the safety culture of the American tugboat, towboat and barge industry.

WJ: Speak a little more about safety and sustainability. How is safety culture a hallmark of the maritime industry? How do we continue to improve?

Teichman: Safety and sustainability together are an important aspect (and foundation) of our industry and an area where AWO has had notable achievements, while always pursuing continuous improvement. The industry has shown its dedication to the health and safety of our personnel through our continued support of the Responsible Carrier Program as a condition of membership. The RCP, in turn, played a critical role in the development and adoption of Subchapter M, which was itself the product of close collaboration with the Coast Guard over many years through the Coast Guard-AWO Safety Partnership.

From its inception to today, there have been many changes to the RCP, but the underlying commitment and work product continue to evolve through the Safety Leadership Advisory Panel and its associated subcommittees, as well as the Safety Committees’ annual meeting.

As I reflect on my introduction to the industry, it is safety that defined my initial participation with AWO. I had a lot to learn and a very limited amount of time to get up to speed on the most important job—keeping the T&T team safe. Thankfully, we are an industry that helps one another whether on the water or shoreside, and I had quite a few mentors who helped along the way.

WJ: You’ve spoken about the importance of building a strong foundation. What gives the towboat and barge industry a strong foundation? What are some of your priorities as chairman of AWO?

Teichman: In 1944 the American Waterways Operators was established and over time would incorporate other associations to become the tugboat, towboat and barge industry’s advocate, resource and united voice for safe, sustainable and efficient transportation on America’s waterways, oceans and coasts. AWO has continually built on our foundations of advocacy (a major focus of which includes defending and expanding support for the Jones Act), safety and member service to meet our mission statement and achieve our long-term goals and operating values.

On diversity of membership: geographic region, company size, services provided, operational areas, ownership types, weather challenges (ice, high/low water, inclement weather) all contribute the uniqueness of our industry and collectively create a vast network of opportunities for members to share experiences, challenges, lessons learned and even services. On the water, this allows for mariners to work together while maintaining their individuality as well as company “colors” to ensure safe and efficient transportation of commodities. In Washington D.C., or state capitals, this diversity allows policymakers to get a fuller picture of our workforce and the impact of our industry on the economy and the supply chain. Through our diversity of membership and the diversity of services offered by our affiliate members, we can tell the whole story of our role in moving the nation’s commerce.

AWO’s immediate past-chairman, Rick Iuliucci, stressed “Diversity of Thought” and his roots as a hawsepiper as part of his chairmanship. I also consider diversity of thought to be important and have the utmost respect for those who not only started on the deck but remember their foundation. Rick has become a mentor and friend, and as I approach my chairmanship, I realize diversity and respect can only be achieved by acknowledging different perspectives. My focus will be ensuring that diversity of thought continues to be prioritized and that there is a platform for all members to voice their questions, comments or concerns, no matter how large or small their company, what region they operate in or how forward-thinking the topic.

As AWO approaches the end of the current three-year cycle of its strategic plan, the board of directors can evaluate this plan and determine the metrics for the next three years with input from the membership. I encourage all members whether carrier or affiliate to become part of the process through participation at regional roundtables.

As we celebrate 80 years of American Waterways Operators, we also remember the generation 80 years ago that brought together “the land, air and sea forces of what became known as the largest amphibious invasion in military history” to begin the liberation of Europe, D-Day.

Military service has been a common theme (and foundation) within our industry both with mariners as well as two of our regulatory partners, the Army Corps of Engineers and the United States Coast Guard. Service, respect, honor, integrity and courage are values that the industry exemplifies.

It is also interesting to note that during World War II, women were exposed to the workplace and increased their earning power when they were called to fill the employment void left by departing soldiers. Maybe it is fate, maybe coincidence, or maybe just plain luck that I would be the first female AWO chairman during this time, when we commemorate 80 years since the defining military campaign of that era—a time that was also a defining moment for women in the American workplace. As a student of history, I have to acknowledge the significance as well as the responsibility to females both in the industry today and those to come.

AWO’s 80th anniversary year is a year in which to be proud of the organization’s many achievements in pursuit of our vision since 1944. I’m very much looking forward to working with all our members in building tomorrow’s legacy.