Somerville Announces Retirement from ABS

Press Release
Monday, March 04, 2013

Leadership transition plan to maintain continuity of strategy and operations

Robert D. Somerville, long serving Chairman of leading classification society ABS, has announced his retirement effective April 30, 2013. Under a carefully planned, two year long, leadership transition strategy, current President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher J. Wiernicki has been selected to assume the Chairmanship of ABS subject to final election by the Board of Directors at their next meeting on April 22, 2013.

“It is imperative that an organization of the size and complexity of ABS has a well-defined succession plan in place for all its senior executives and particularly so for the roles of Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, President and Chief Operating Officer,” said Somerville in announcing his decision to step down after 43 years of service with the society. “Over the last two years we have been implementing just such a strategy to ensure that our employees, our clients and all those who look to ABS will continue to receive a seamless and consistent development and delivery of the growing portfolio of safety-related services which we provide.”

April 30 will mark the end of an unbroken 20 years with Somerville as either President or Chairman of the society, the longest ever such period of leadership in the organization’s 151 years of existence.

“This is a venerable organization that fulfills an absolutely necessary function within the overall maritime safety regime,” Somerville commented. “I have always viewed my role as a custodian of that proud tradition, ensuring that ABS is technically and financially positioned to continue its role in the decades to come. I am confident that goal has been achieved and it is now time for new leadership to continue defining the increasingly important and expanding class function for the future.”

Starting as a field surveyor in 1970, Somerville rose rapidly through the management structure of ABS until his election as President and Chief Operating Officer in 1993. He followed Frank J. Iarossi as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in 2004. In 2011 he passed the Chief Executive Officer responsibilities to Wiernicki, remaining as Executive Chairman until his retirement.

A staunch defender of classification and a strong proponent of ever higher safety standards for the shipping and offshore industries, Somerville leaves a lasting legacy not only at ABS but also through his participation at the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS). It was under his chairmanship that IACS finally adopted the much needed, although controversial at the time, Common Structural Rules for Tankers and Bulk Carriers. The initiative was then hailed by Somerville as the single greatest advance in classification safety standards in the history of the sector.

From the time of his election as President of ABS, the class society’s fleet has more than doubled in size to almost 200 m gross tons, its staff has also doubled to more than 4,000 worldwide and it has solidified its position as the leading classification society providing services to the rapidly growing offshore energy sector.

“ABS has never been in a stronger position than it currently enjoys,” Somerville said. “It is poised to continue providing technical leadership and innovative products and services well into the future and I look forward to closely following its progress and successes knowing that it will remain the benchmark for the establishment of standards of excellence within the classification sector.”

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