The author, Frank Major MBE writes his memoir following a career of nearly 55 years service in both the public and private sectors.
He left school at sixteen and joined, as a trainee, the port services contractor Rea Limited.
In 1966 he joined the newly formed cargo handling division of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and over a period of eighteen years rose through the ranks, holding appointments of increasing seniority and diversity, to become Director of cargo operations, effectively running, at that time, the largest cargo handling business in Europe.
One such role was of a uniquely pioneering and innovative nature, leading the transition team that developed and implemented the gradual, evolutionary modal switch from traditional general cargo services towards specialist deep sea container and Ro/Ro operations in the Port.
This was a policy that eventually presented the Port and Industry at large with unpredictable challenges in its already precarious labour relations and a steep decline in the demand for Dock side personnel.
Leaving Liverpool in 1984 he then worked for Scruttons Plc, a London based maritime services company before being appointed in 1985, as General Manager (Chief Executive Officer) of the local authority owned Port of Sunderland.
During his twenty years in the North East he led the strategic transformation of the Port from its shipbuilding and coal shipment heritage towards a more diverse port business.
He was a founder member in 1992 of the British Ports Association of which he was Chairman from 1996/1998.
Working with north east MEP Alan Donnelly at a European and national level he was actively engaged in the promotion of short sea shipping as a strategic growth opportunity for medium sized ports and was a member of several Boards associated with the Ports Industry.
Chairing a joint DCLG/DFT working party on the future of the local authority owned ports sector, his 'legacy' was published in 2006 as Opportunities for ports on local authority ownership; a review of Municipal ports in England and Wales which contained radical recommendations to improve governance and finances.
Since retirement he was appointed by Defra as Chairman serving until 2013, Northumbria Regional Flood and Coastal Committee and was a Non Executive Director until 2014 of QE Gateshead, a Foundation Trust acute hospital.
He is currently Chairman of the 3 Rivers Local nature partnership, Chairman of Sunderland RNLI lifeboat Station and a member of RNLI national Council.
He was commissioned in 2007 as a Deputy Lieutenant for Tyne and Wear and appointed MBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours list 2013 for services to flood and coastal risk management.
He is a Freeman of the city of London and a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights and a Freeman citizen of Glasgow and a member of the Incorporation of Hammermen.
I’ve reached a stage in my life that seems to justify penning my recollections of a career in the Ports Industry.
So what has prompted me to do it? Could it be that I’ve been flattered to receive a letter from a firm telling me that I’ve attained an age when I may possibly have interesting stories to tell or simply that when I see twenty something year old football starlets and other self-acclaimed celebrities writing auto-biographically about their short, tinsel-town lives, I merely think that the world’s somehow topsy-turvy and that the common man may risk having something more interesting to say.
As an avid reader, for some peculiar reason, of obituaries in the Daily Telegraph and the Times newspapers, I am regularly amazed by the exploits of ordinary folk. Ordinary only in the sense that these people often have what they themselves perceive as orthodox interests or pursuits or careers which to many of us are beyond our comprehension.
Misfits, pioneers, highly ranked naval officers, fighter pilots, soldiers, scholars and the landed gentry have carved out their own niches by way of their eccentricities and exploits and by their heroism of the hour, but where do mere Port managers fit it into this complicated matrix of character, pedigree, personality and talent?
I don’t really know, but it’s probably worthwhile trying to find out.
By the way, I’m not setting about writing my own obituary; this will be more of a canter through the first forty or so years of my life of which, significantly, some twenty-five years was spent in a fascinating industry characterized by so many wonderful people.
It is also a recollection of some incidents and experiences that, upon long reflection, reveal the gritty and witty side of an industry that for many still remains a mystery.
It may even be viewed as an informed commentary about a remarkable and turbulent twenty-five year period in the social and economic history of a great institution, the Port of Liverpool. If I have learned one lesson from my experience in business, it’s simply to have fun in whatever you choose to do!
In a timely book entitled Cargo Handling and the Modern Port published by Pergamon in 1965, the author R. B. Oram observes that:
It is becoming an increasingly recognized fact these days that no single factor can so directly affect the standard of living of a maritime people as the speed with which ships can be turned round in her ports. In addition, the last 15 years have seen an increasing Government interest in the running of our ports, a distinct raising of the status of the port worker by the wholesale introduction of modern machinery into dock work, and the development of an entirely new conception of the functions of a port.
Already emerging is a kind of port physically different from its conventional predecessor; the port that both in America and Europe is becomingly increasingly integrated into the new forms of national economy.