FMT maximizes niche position in North American terminals

By: | at 07:00 PM | Channel(s): People  Interviews  Ports & Terminals  

FMT has terminals spread throughout the US East Coast/Gulf Coast and in the Great Lakes. The company’s unique mix of services and commodities has helped weather the storm.

Tony Develli, Vice President of Commercial Development for Federal Marine Terminals, Inc. (FMT) (a subsidiary of Fednav Limited), stumbled into the stevedoring business through the back door or at least the gym door. Develli started out on the finance side working in high tech and found himself looking for a job. Through his contacts at his local gym he was offered a job at a stevedoring firm as comptroller. Develli took the job wisely defraying from telling his future employers that he didn’t know what a stevedore was, or more importantly, what they did. “I went from Hi-tech to Low-tech,” Develli said of the move. Over the subsequent years, Develli migrated from financial to operational. “I found I loved it.” “Even though I was born land locked, I felt it was in my blood,” Develli said of landing in the terminal and stevedoring business. “There’s a real human element to the business,” he added.

FMT operates eight marine terminal facilities and three stevedoring operations in the US East Coast/Gulf Coast and in the Great Lakes. Unlike many other marine terminal operators, FMT is primarily an under the hook operation, which as Develli noted has a large human component. The company doesn’t regularly handle containers. The bread and butter cargos are cement, cocoa, gypsum, machinery, steel, sugar, wood pulp, forest products and project cargo.

FMT’s ports are a little off the beaten path, for example: Albany, New York in the northern reaches of the Hudson; Eastport in northern Maine; Manatee in Florida; Cleveland, Ohio; Mobile, Alabama; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Hamilton, Ontario, and Burn Harbor in Portage, Indiana. Interestingly, each port is run as a separate profit center with the local manager having a great deal of autonomy in day-to-day operations. The Charlotte, North Carolina commercial office offers back room support services, and central tasks such as legal and accounting. The same autonomy works in the relationship between FMT and the FedNav Group. The terminal company acts as an independent arm, with separate books, within the Group - a necessary division as FMT’s customers could well be competitors to FedNav’s carrier component.

The combination of commodities (particularly steel and related products) and port placement gives FMT an unusual insight into the economic well being of North America. “We often have a sense of what will happen earlier because of commodity shifts,” Develli said. “2010…not a great year but it has been a decent year.” Develli noted. “Up until mid-summer it was going very well. However, with us [FMT], one big customer can make a significant difference. If a steel producer shuts a mill, the contracts on the books vanish.”

“One thing we’ve noticed this year is that we’ve not had the same demand for warehousing and storage. It seems as if the shipments are really moving “just-in-time,” and there is very little inventory build up, which could be good later,” Develli added. But Develli added a note of caution saying, “Right now the steel market in the US is a little unsure, and we’ve seen virtually nothing for the home building/construction

The project side of the business has been going well for FMT. Recently in the Port of Cleveland, FMT handled a two million pound machine designed to cut 3 inch thick by 86-inch wide steel. The machine made by Butech Bliss Company in Salem, Ohio was for export to ArcelorMittal plant in Bremen, Germany.

The project business is often as much about getting the right people together as it is equipment and management. Develli said of the project business, “We try to bring the parties together, we try to take it to the next level to make business happen.” FMT’s partners in the project business include specialized project cargo carriers like BBC, Big Lift and Beluga.
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American Journal of Transportation