Leading with Agility and Stability

Thomas Winston

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

  Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.
                                                                          – Voltaire

Covid-induced disruption of the business world created an urgent demand for change. But, unfortunately, it appeared to deal Thomas Winston a weak hand when he ascended to the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority’s top leadership role in 2019.

The pandemic resulted in substantial financial losses for airlines due to reduced passenger traffic. In addition, escalating trade tensions, such as between the U.S. and China, have disrupted supply chains and led to a decline in the number of vessels making calls at U.S. ports.

Yet, Winston has been able to maximize the hand he was dealt by creating a carefully balanced system that utilized agile change to achieve organizational stability and sustainability.

Here is a portion of our recent discussion concerning his approach to leading the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

Perryman: Talk about your life path.

Winston: I was born and raised in the Wicker Park area of Chicago before it became Wicker Park which it is now. I attended high school at Lincoln Park High School on the lakefront. I did my undergraduate work at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Thomas Winston

Perryman: How about graduate school?

Winston: I went back home to Chicago after undergrad and worked for an investment banking firm, Nuveen Investments, a niche municipal barn investment firm. I pursued my MBA at Loyola University Chicago and finished in 1998 with a double major in finance and marketing.

Perryman: How did you arrive in Toledo?

Winston: I started with Pfizer serving as manager of international treasury in New Jersey, so I relocated, leaving Chicago, relocated right outside of New York City. That experience allowed me to travel the world and work with global affiliates.

Perryman: What were your duties?

Winston: I was doing more global finance work dealing with foreign currency, financial planning, and analysis work.

A similar role was opening at Owens Corning, which recruited me to the Toledo area. So, I came to Toledo in late 2003, taking a management position in the treasury department. At Owens Corning, I also did a lot of international traveling and mergers and acquisition work, where we acquired companies around the globe. So, I had a great experience at Owens Corning when the opportunity presented itself at the Port Authority in 2010.

Perryman: What made you attractive to the Port Authority’s decision-makers?

Winston: We’ll say, my predecessor, as he was recruiting me, he consolidated, as he mentioned, three jobs into one. They wanted somebody with a diverse background and experience, with my financial acumen, doing a lot of recruitment and H.R. work, and understanding the global business landscape. So, the role they put together at the Port Authority attracted me, and I took the role at that time in 2010.

Since arriving, I am intrigued by the breadth and depth of the Authority’s work and the fact that it isn’t just a maritime or seaport port authority. It also entails other development areas, including providing accessible capital through bond issuance and financing, which I previously had exposure to.

Perryman: Please tell our readers what the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority does

Winston: Well, we have this saying: “We’re more than the port!” That’s because when you look at a port, you think about water and maritime seaport operations. But, yet, the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority is quite broad in our operations.

So, when you look at our mission to develop expertise and assets that drive and grow the region’s transportation and logistics infrastructure, our focus is on providing “economic prosperity for all.”

We live out that mantra through our work as it relates to our maritime operations, airport operations, the work we do in our building management and our financing program.

Perryman: Since you assumed the role of president in 2019, much has changed that has affected port operations across the nation. As the “economic heartbeat” of the region, as your website describes, how have you dealt with the threat of a declining economy from structural changes?

Winston: My focus has been on ensuring that we invest in our infrastructure, which are our physical assets and our programs. Doing that provides value added to the community where we can undoubtedly make an important impact towards economic development for the community.

We did over 11 million tons of cargo that went through the Toledo Port last year, and we continue to see some growth in that area.

We have a very aggressive capital improvement program (CIP) across all of the assets that the Port Authority manages, including an ongoing 5-year CIP plan to invest over $150 million into our infrastructure. Most of that is at the port of Toledo. We’ve already secured over $24 million through federal, state, and other funding to improve the infrastructure at the Port of Toledo.

But over $150 million in capital improvement projects are slated throughout our infrastructure. That includes the Port of Toledo, the Martin Luther King Jr. train station, the airports, and the garages we own downtown. The investment also includes One Government Center and our building 1 Maritime Plaza where our offices are.

Perryman: Your strategy also includes economic investments in the community. Your engagement with the community is a core strength.

Winston: Yes. When we talk about economic development and all the things that the port authority does, a lot of it is through our financing programs, which are quite varied that reach small, medium and large size organizations both on the private side and on the public side.

We’ve offered to our small businesses programs consistent with the US SBA 504 Program and for businesses dealing in manufacturing and warehousing, the Ohio 166 Program.

But we also know that there are other businesses that don’t fit in that category. So, we went out and successfully secured a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. and put $600,000 of port authority funds into it to create a $3 million revolving loan fund. That revolving loan fund is intended to help those small businesses that require a little extra assistance to, in essence, get them over the hump to allow their entrepreneurial endeavors to come to fruition.

I’m happy to report that the first loan we did on the revolving loan fund, we did a groundbreaking for the Quality Time Childcare Daycare Center, and I was ecstatic. This was a 1500-square-feet facility at 2337 Dorr Street, and it was the first loan in this program. We did it in partnership with other financial institutions, including Signature Bank and our own Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union. There will be more of these that will be derived from our revolving loan fund.

Perryman: Are you working with nonprofits as well?

Winston: We are working with nonprofit organizations abs supporting groups and some of the initiatives that they are undertaking. We’ve worked with the Historic South Initiative, St. Paul’s Community Center, Lutheran Social Service Foundation, the Mareda, and the Padua Center. We’ve helped support the Center of Hope, The First Tee of Lake Erie, and the Boys and Girls Club. I could go on and on.

We’ve supported Lucas Metropolitan Housing and financed their new headquarter building downtown. We worked with the Lucas County Homelessness Board or provided some grant funding for that organization. The Toledo School of the Arts has been our great partner in their expansion; we’re providing financial assistance for financing their expansion that’s taking place downtown.

So, there are just several institutions that we’ve worked with.

Perryman: I’m impressed that you’ve given community economic engagement more high-profile attention than your predecessors. But I’ve also heard you’re doing a marvelous job, traveling across this country trying to drum up business for our airports. What is the future of our two airports?

Winston: Let me say this. All of us in economic development express a desire to attract businesses here and particularly a big-plan operation. So, there is a lot of due diligence that’s being performed. We’ve operated and managed them, but the City of Toledo owns the airports. So, it has all the right to explore the future of any airport they have. So, we’ll see what that leads to.

As it relates to Toledo Express Airport, there are certainly a lot of discussions on that, and it has centered on commercial service. I would say to you, as it relates to commercial airline service, the industry has changed.

The industry has changed, and that change has been global and has been exacerbated by the last few years through our pandemic. However, when it comes to air service, it’s continued to be a challenge for many reasons, including shortages of human capital, particularly pilots.

We’re impacted by those events coupled with the fact that we have very close proximity to an international hub airport only 45 minutes away with several hundred daily flight options for those within an hour-and-a-half to two-hour drive to them. So many legacy airlines are concentrating much of their activities not at smaller alternative airports like ours. Instead, they are focused on much of their activity at the large international hubs.

You’re right; we’re going around the country meeting with them regularly, and this is just the new norm. It’s nothing that we like, but the realities of the industry and change in dynamics are such that the phenomenon is pushing business to hub locations.

Perryman: What has been your strategy to play the hand you were dealt as a result of changes? It’s obvious you are not just standing pat.

Winston: In the interim, we now have what we call leisure service through Allegiant. We’re ecstatic about this service. They are delighted with the offering out of Toledo Express Airport. Last year, we were able to add a new route to Phoenix/Mesa, Arizona, due to the community supporting the offering provided by Allegiant Airlines.

We had a record year of passengers flying on Allegiant through Toledo Express last year. We had over 120,000 passengers travel through the airport last year, and this year, year to date through March, we’re up from last year’s numbers.

Based on discussions, particularly with Allegiant and some of the other carriers, I’m confident that we will begin to add additional service to destination locations as we continue to go through some of the challenges in the airline industry.  The opportunities for us are what we call ultra-low-cost carriers like Allegiant.

Perryman: Please talk about alternative programs and services at the Airport.

Winston: Other than the air service, I always talk about when you look at Toledo Express Airport; you have to look at it in totality. We did a study last year, and the economic impact of Toledo Express contributes over $580 million to the community’s annual economic output and has an effect of over 2,900 jobs, which is a result of a number of things.

You have the national air guard, and you have Tronair, a business there that does manufacturing for the aviation industry and has over 400 jobs operating at that airport. You hear very little about this. In addition, we successfully secured an Amazon air gateway operation, one of only 35 in the country, and they have over 110 jobs in that operation at the airport.

We also have operators like Toledo Jet that do manufacturing on aircraft there. We have fixed space operators like Grand Air and National Flight Services that do great work. We also have Interjet West, one of the country’s leading woman-owned operations dealing with aircraft operations. We have that at the airport. So, you have to look at that.

In addition, we’re one of the leading aviation education airports in the region. We have TPS Aviation School operating out there, and specifically, we have the TPS Aerospace and Natural Science Academy of Toledo; they call it ANSAT Aviation Center. These kids are graduating with certifications to work on any aircraft worldwide. They’re leaving as 18-19-year-olds with these certifications, earning $60,000 upon graduation or more. In addition, we have the Federal Aerospace Institute (FAI), an adult program that provides certification for individuals to work on any aircraft.

So, what we’re doing in Toledo Express through the TPS ANSAT School and FAI is filling the gap for an industry that needs individuals with certifications to work on these aircraft.

That’s the adaptability that I mentioned. Just at that airport, so many other things are going on that make it viable and conducive to the economic output for our community.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at drdlperryman@enterofhopebaptist.org