When Ron Widdows retires as group president and CEO of Neptune Orient Lines at the end of this year, the container shipping industry will lose a tireless advocate and its most visible spokesman. It will also lose the only American who is head of a major global shipping line, and the trade press will lose a source who went out of his way to explain the very complex issues of the container industry.
Widdows to Retire news from JOC:
Widdows to Retire from NOL, Ng Named Successor
Often described by his colleagues as a "rock star," Widdows has often worn more than one hat. When he was CEO of NOL's container line APL from 2003 to 2008, Widdows wore three. He also served as chairman of the Transpacific Stabilization Agreement among carriers from 2006 to 2010. He transformed it from a shrill advocate of carrier interests into an information-sharing forum where carriers and shippers could share concerns and discuss solutions.
And he took it upon himself to organize and lead a group of carriers and big U.S. retail importers to lobby Congress and the Bush administration on the need to beef up critical U.S. port and transportation infrastructure lest it fall behind in global economic competition.
When he became CEO of NOL in 2008 he donned still another hat. He became chairman of the World Shipping Council, the Washington, D.C.-based association of 27 container shipping lines and two auto carriers that acts as a global watchdog of their interests.
Throughout his career, Widdows has pioneered the application of innovations made by APL that have helped transform container shipping in the U.S. He personally drove APL's breakthrough development of operating multiple large "gateway" terminal facilities with integrated "on-dock rail" on the U.S. West Coast -- a key step in the advance of multi-modalism. Under his leadership APL developed double-stack intermodal rail service in India from Mumbai to Delhi.
He has also been a key figure in the evolution and development of the carrier alliances, such as the New World Alliance of APL, Hyundai Merchant Marine and MOL, which have created worldwide service networks.
On a purely personal note, Ron was of enormous help to me as a reporter covering an industry that is often opaque to outside observers and actively avoids talking to the press. He treated my questions with patience and good humor.
He understands the value of open communications through the press with both the retail customers that buy transport services from container lines, and the governments and politicians whose decisions can have an impact on the industry.
He will be sorely missed. I can only hope that he remains in the industry in some function.