Changing of the Guard at Tidewater Inc.
Tidewater Chief Taylor Retires After Era of Fleet Growth; Jeff Platt Steps into the Top Spot
Dean Taylor bid farewell to his post as Tidewater Inc.'s chief executive officer on May 31, following a prosperous, far-flung career of 34 years at the New Orleans-based company. Chief Operating Officer Jeff Platt, who has worked side by side with Taylor for fifteen years, took the helm. And Jeff Gorski was named the new COO.
In his decade as chief, Taylor guided Tidewater's fleet expansion. The company has poured hundreds of millions of dollars yearly into an energetic building-and-acquisition effort. Tidewater owns 342 vessels, the world’s largest fleet serving the global, offshore-energy industry.
Taylor is modest about his record, however, and said in late May "my biggest accomplishment as CEO won't be known for some time. I believe the company will benefit from our investments in people and equipment, but the results won't be truly evident for awhile."
Tidewater has nearly 7,700 employees, with corporate headquarters in New Orleans, sales in Houston and a number of overseas offices. Its fleet works in more than sixty countries, with the Gulf of Mexico providing just 6 percent of total revenues. The firm operates Quality Shipyards, a wholly-owned subsidiary, building and repairing vessels in Houma, La.
During Taylor's tenure, Tidewater had three, consecutive years of record revenues from 2007 to 2009. The company's stock reached an all-time high in mid-2007. This year, Tidewater's profits for the fiscal quarter ended in March 2012 exceeded expectations. And the company has managed to avoid accidents and injuries, keeping its insurance costs in check.
Taylor started as an assistant manager at Tidewater in mid-1978 in Morgan City, La., after serving as a U.S. Navy officer for seven years. A series of rapid promotion at Tidewater took him and his family to posts around the world.
"To date the biggest growth area for Tidewater has been West Africa, and we've had good opportunities in the Middle East, Far East, South America and Mexico," Taylor said. "Other opportunities will continue to evolve in the immediate future because of increased demand for offshore drilling since last year."
In the quarter ended in March, the company's Sub-Saharan Africa-Europe regional operations contributed nearly half of the company's profits from vessels. Another lucrative area was the Americas, followed by Asia-Pacific and the Middle East-North Africa.
When asked, Taylor said "the healthiest part of the global marine industry is the offshore segment. Most other segments are plagued by overcapacity and under-utilization of equipment. Offshore isn't in that situation yet, though it could be if it overbuilds.”
In a May 21 conference call on earnings, Taylor was optimistic, predicting “this decade will trail only the 1970s for fleet growth in the 60-plus-year history of the global, offshore-drilling industry.”
Separately, he said in late May “a major risk for any capital-intensive business is having too much supply. But, in our case, the supply of offshore ships is not excessive for the demand at hand."
Taylor's Career Spans Five Continents
Taylor was appointed General Manager of Tidewater's business in Italy in 1979, and in 1981 was named General Manager of the company's Brazilian activities. He was promoted to Regional Manager for the Middle East, India and East Africa in 1985. He directed Tidewater's joint ventures and businesses in Mexico starting in 1986, and began steering its Venezuela activities in 1992.
Taylor was designated corporate Vice President in 1993. In 1995, he directed Tidewater's business in the Americas south of the Rio Grande, including the Caribbean. He was promoted to Executive Vice President in late 2000, with ongoing operations responsibilities in Brazil, Mexico, Trinidad, Venezuela, Angola, West Africa, Nigeria and the North Sea. He steered all international sales activities.
In October 2001, Taylor was named company President and in March 2002 he took over as Chief Executive Officer from former Chairman and CEO William O'Malley. Taylor has been a member of Tidewater's board since 2001. He was appointed Chairman in July 2003 and will remain non-executive Chairman through 2013.
Taylor was at the helm when Hurricane Katrina closed the company's corporate office in New Orleans for three months in 2005, sending employees to Amelia, La. and Houston. In a momentous event during his watch, the company's vessel Damon B. Bankston in late April 2010 rescued all 115 survivors from BP's Deepwater Horizon well explosion.
Assessing his record, Taylor said, "I think any CEO is only as good as the successors who follow him. I'm confident Jeff Platt and his team will do a great job. Of course, they still need to do it.”
He added “if I've haven't done a good job preparing them, then results of my efforts won't be as good as they could have been. My biggest accomplishment will be if Jeff Platt and team have a remarkable run as leaders of this company."
Taylor has served as director of the American Bureau of Shipping since 2003 and was director of Whitney Holding Corp. from 2002 to 2011. He is a 1971 graduate of Tulane University with a BA in English, and graduated from Boston University in 1977 with a MS in Business Administration.
Platt Has Worldwide Management Experience
After a 15-year career with Schlumberger Well Services and Rollins Environmental Services, Jeff Platt joined Tidewater in 1996 as General Manager of business in Brazil, and soon moved up the ranks and around the world.
Platt said “one of my biggest accomplishment at Tidewater to date is participating in an effort led by Dean Taylor to renew and expand our fleet, while still maintaining our financial discipline. The company today has the newest and largest OSV fleet in the world.”
When asked about challenges for Tidewater in the next few years, he said “we'll continue to concentrate on fleet modernization, continue adding to the fleet and expanding our service offerings. Dean has left the company in great shape, operationally and financially.”
Platt said the company has grown during a period of financial turbulence around the world. “That has strengthened Tidewater, giving us lots of opportunities in the future,” he said. “We'll find ways to build on our opportunity, build our market share and capabilities so we can continue to grow the company.”
Platt continued, saying “all international companies face the challenges of understanding the countries we operate in, conforming to local laws, tax regimes and national content requirements. Getting the right structure in place is key to our continued success."
He added “we obviously need to have the right people in place to get the job done. We need to continue bringing in talent and developing it.”
During his Tidewater tenure, Platt lived overseas for three and a half years, mostly in South America, and has logged in many frequent flier miles. In September 2001, he was put in charge of Tidewater’s business and joint ventures in Mexico. In November 2001, Platt was promoted to Vice President, managing the company's activities in South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. In March 2004, he was named Senior Vice President, responsible for operations in the Americas, Middle East and India.
In July 2006, Platt became Executive Vice President, overseeing the company's day-to-day, marine operations, domestically and internationally. In March 2010, he was promoted to Chief Operating Officer.
Platt lives in Mandeville, La., with his wife Sandra and their two sons, and works out of New Orleans. He is a 1979 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, with a BS degree in Electrical Engineering.
As for his new role, Platt said “I am very honored the Board chose me to replace Dean Taylor. I have big shoes to fill following Dean. He is a remarkable man, very genuine, a truly great guy and a great personal friend of mine.”
Taylor Will Keep Busy From His Mississippi Base
Looking back at his 34 years at Tidewater, Taylor said "it's been a privilege to work for such a wonderful company for most of my career. I'm grateful to John Laborde and Bill O'Malley for putting my set of skills to work, and for the opportunities I was given. The company and industry have been a love affair for me."
John Laborde retired in 1994 as Tidewater chief, and was followed by William O’Malley, before Taylor took over in 2002.
Taylor will kick off his retirement with a trip to Normandy and Paris with his family in early June. "I have a wonderful wife, five daughters, a son and three grandchildren, and plan to spend more time with them.” He plans to keep up with friends in nearly every part of the world. “I'm looking forward to traveling and using languages at a pace that's different from business," he said
Taylor speaks Italian, Spanish and Portuguese fluently and reads French. How did he learn those languages? "I've worked at it," he said. "You can't learn by buying lots of books. People get discouraged partway through books one, two and three and give up on each of them. My advice is to buy one book and stick with it to the finish.”
He added “I think there's an inverse relationship between the number of language books you buy and how much you learn."
Taylor lives with his family in Kiln, Miss. in what he said is a ramshackle farm where timber's the best business. “In the yard, we have pretty, fat and sassy horses that aren't very functional,” he said. “I call them yard ornaments.”
“We also have a house 14 miles away in Bay St. Louis, where I love to fish,” he said. “Between family, friends, hobbies and Board duties, I don't expect to have much idle time." end
(As published in the June 2012 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News - www.marinelink.com)