How Do You Like It?

How Do You Like It?

Our often noisy and boisterous industry has seemed rather quiet during the past few weeks. As the East Coast maritime labor dispute edged closer to a settlement, the West Coast waterfront labor issues, although not fully settled, moved off the headlines, at least until the OCU voted on Feb. 6 to reject what everyone thought would be a contract agreement.

Carriers, although not having a great year, are also kind of quiet: quiet about rate levels and increases, quiet about capacity, quiet about uncertainty in the market. The overall economy is sending mixed signals: the stock market goes up one day, down the next; then it drifts around for a few days. The overall trend is up, but not many analysts would define this as a new bull market. Is this a new form of stability? How do you like it?

President Obama has been re-elected to the joy of a majority (at least of those who actually voted), to the disgust of fewer (again, fewer voters). Some of the old faces are gone, and some will stay; some new faces have been introduced, others are in the wings, or in the process — but the process is in process.

There are many issues to be addressed: issues of the economy, issues of policy and issues of politics. Some are advancing, while others are not; some won’t be considered. The government continues in a positive or negative direction, depending on one’s point of view, but continue it does. Is this a new form of stability? How do you like it?

Would we be happier, more content, more engaged, more motivated, if we faced an international trade sector in turmoil? With carriers dropping out of trade lanes, or out of business? With tonnage moving in and out of service? With another violent price war? With huge currency fluctuations, fuel prices in the stratosphere, port congestion, and all the resulting, often creative and sometimes hilarious surcharges? (I’ll never forget the SOFA — something about fuel adjustment — but forever to be remembered as the “short of funds again” surcharge.) Not much of this is happening just now. Does this mark a new form of stability? How do you like it?

Frankly speaking, and at least for myself, I’ve always found conditions with a solid dose of chaos to be much more interesting. This is not to say that things aren’t interesting these days — they are, just not that interesting. Most of us made our careers successful not by hiding from problems but by solving them. It’s always seemed to me that the best way to succeed in our business has been to be a top-notch exception manager.

Let’s face it, pretty much anyone can get it done when things are quiet, stable, uncontroversial, consistent, perhaps even a bit boring. But how do you perform when everything is in turmoil, every day brings a new crisis, and the world may end tomorrow unless … someone gets it done.

Those are the conditions that get the blood flowing, the competitive juices rising; that force you to focus and find new ways to solve old problems.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not looking for trouble or problems. At my age, and at this time in my career, a bit of peace and quiet is welcome. Even now, I’m writing this column on a lanai at a condo on Maui. So, I’m not looking to stir the pot or jump into the fray, at least not today.

The Northeast is in the midst of a blizzard and it’s 78 and sunny, with a light breeze here. This is the kind of stability I can live with, at least for today. But when the holiday is over, I want to get back to grabbing hold of some new project, assisting a client with some huge problem, getting a job done. Maybe creating some stability.

The good news is that even if we’re in a kind of quiet time, I think it’s highly unlikely to last. We need to be tested; we need to test ourselves and our organizations and our industry. Without a doubt, before too long, our slightly stable universe will erupt and we’ll be scrambling for solutions, sharpening our wits, and getting the cobwebs out of our brains. Stability, what stability?

And can you think of a better way to shake off the winter doldrums than our annual industry reunion, conclave, fraternity/sorority party, networking riot, conference: The 2013 TPM Conference in Long Beach is just a couple of weeks away. The JOC-TPM team has been ceaselessly working all winter to put together another exceptional program of topics and speakers.

Safe travels, and see you in Long Beach.

Barry Horowitz is the principal of CMS Consulting Services. Contact him at 503-208-2232 or at