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Clean- Up Outfit Spiffs Up Operations

In January, former British Petroleum executive Steve Benz assumed leadership of Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC), the oil spill response organization born of the Exxon Valdez accident in 1989. Since Mr. Benz has come onboard, the company has undergone an aggressive restructuring plan characterized by significant layoffs, the formation of a new affiliation of environmental service providers known as STARs (Spill Team Area Responders), and a reorganization of national resources from five regions of concentration into three.

Maritime Reporter recently spoke with the company's newest recruit, former National Response Corp. executive vice president, and current MSRC Executive Vice President Don Toenshoff, about the changes taking place within the company. The following is a partial transcript of the discussions that took place. MR/EN: With 115 people laid off recently, 40 percent of your workforce, how has MSRC's approach to providing dedicated spill responses been adapted? DT: I'd like to cite a little bit of history. Prior to embarking on the past restructuring, Steve Benz, our president, outlined three major corporate goals. They are: total customer satisfaction; focus on external reputation; and commercial efficiency. By embracing and implementing a strategy which attains these goals, we have been able to effect this downsizing without any change in the scope of dedicated response capability.

MR/EN: Let's look at the team assigned to one of your response vessels, say New Jersey Responder. Has company downsizing affected the size of the boat's crew? Will the company's restructuring affect the operation of the vessel in any other way? DT: Absolutely not. We're still ready to go and deploy. Our planned performance is totally unchanged with the downsizing.

MR/EN: Is it fair to say that your company's cost-cutting strategies were implemented as part of a strategy to win old customers back? DT: We're basically right now looking at retaining our present customer base and looking for new owners, specifically shipowners and oil companies. We're in the process of embracing programs that will be of interest to both of those customer groups.

MR/EN: How will the formation of STARs positively impact MSRC's spill response capabilities? DT: Many of the STARs participants are regional response organizations with very strong infrastructure in their area of operations ... It really is the classic case of a pyramid strategy. You use the STARs structure to provide support... They are the local experts. MR/EN: When did the plan to launch STARs get underway? DT: We've always had these contractors under contract. The program was initiated to bring them closer to the fold about eight weeks ago, in the beginning of May.

MR/EN: Is STARs at all similar to NRC's Clean Pacific Alliance? DT: In terms of contractor network, it's the same general concept of support. The other organizations have less dedication.

MR/EN: Is Steve Benz responsible for initiating these changes within MSRC, or were plans to restructure the company in the works while Jack Costello was at the helm in 1995? DT: Steve came onboard January 1 of this year. His mandate was to initiate the three goals that I identified previously. Part of the restructuring was to push responsibility and accountability for operational readiness down to a regional level, with headquarters providing a stewardship role. It is at the regional level, which we are now three regions versus previously five, that local or regional client issues can be addressed and responded to in an efficient manner. Also more indicative of these changes, we've now done away with 'headquarters' and are now termed the Virginia Support Group. We will be moving (from D.C.) to northern Virginia suburbs as part of our cost-cutting structure in the near future.

MR/EN: Ultimately, what factors compelled you to leave NRC and go to work for MSRC? DT: I thought it was an opportunity to grow in a larger organization, in a broader geographic base. It was a challenge.

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