Spotlight on Suderman & Young Towing Company
By Kyle Beam, GHPB
High above Buffalo Bayou, overlooking the Downtown Houston skyline resides the headquarters of one of the oldest and most vital pieces in the puzzle of what makes the Houston Ship Channel work. It’s safe to say, without this piece, the ship channel would cease to function at all. Now, in the midst of transition, with a new president, Suderman & Young Towing Company (S&Y) looks to the future, while never taking an eye too far off of the past.
Suderman & Young’s history dates back over 100 years to the 1800s, before the existence of the ship channel. The company was founded when Charles Suderman and Ben Dolson began stevedoring operations in Galveston. Soon after beginning operations they purchased their first steam tugboat, LOUISE, and began to shift cargo handling deck barges. But as the need for tugboat towing services rose, the LOUISE began assisting ships in Galveston Harbor.
Dolson’s share in the company was bought, in 1916, by John Young, who added six tugboats to the fleet. One of the tugs was the first diesel tugboat on the Texas Gulf Coast, and it was considered the most modern and powerful technology available at the time. After Young’s purchase, the company became known as Suderman & Young.
In the 100 years since, Suderman & Young has grown immensely. In 2001, the company merged and combined fleets with Intracoastal Towing and Transportation, thus adding ITT’s three diamonds to the S&Y logo. What started as just one steam tug has grown to 19 Suderman & Young tugs.
Suderman & Young operates in most of the major ports in Texas: Houston, Texas City, Galveston, Freeport and Corpus Christi. The fleet is maintained to the highest degree and consists of a wide variety of tug sizes. Each tug complies with, and is certified by, both international and domestic safety standards such as ISM (International Safety Management) and the AWO RCP (American Waterway Operators Responsible Carrier Program). These certifications indicate a high standard of achievement in the continued safety of the tug crews, the tugs and the environment.
A key component in the company’s success is having the right tugs to fit the customer’s needs. “We are always mindful of customer requirements and we want to maintain the right equipment,” said Kirk Jackson, president. The latest additions to the Suderman & Young fleet were four Robert Allan designed Z-Tech 24-60 tractor tugs, the newest of which was delivered in late-2016. The Z-Tech 24-60 adds to the tug mix, and the fleet’s existing Z-Tech 30-75 tractor tugs, for use in a vast, changing and dynamic channel such as Houston. The Z-Tech 24-60’s are 79 feet in length, but provide more than 132,000 pounds of bollard pull enabling them to work the larger ships that are coming to Texas, while also being able to work in the smaller confines found in some areas of the Houston Ship Channel. Suderman and Young recently executed a construction contract to add four Z-Tech 30-80 tractor tugs to its fleet with the first delivery expected in late-2018. “These four new tugs will complement our existing Z-Tech tractor tugs, have a length of just over 98 feet with an estimated bollard pull in excess of 176,000 pounds,” Jackson said. But just having the right tugs for the jobs that fit the customer’s needs is only part of Suderman & Young’s success. The tug crews also play a key role.
The maritime industry as a whole is facing challenges of recruiting new employees from outside of the industry. Much of the current workforce in the industry is approaching retirement age, and many companies are having to work harder to find quality employees for their openings. “The mariners operating the tugs are highly competent professionals, many of which have been recruited through the maritime academies,” Jackson said. “It’s a very interesting industry to be involved in…it’s a dynamic and growing industry as a whole with more and more opportunities,” he added. The recruitment at the academies has proven to be successful, which Dennis Hansell, executive vice president (and GHPB Immediate Past Chairman), credited to the growing awareness of the industry. “There is far more awareness of opportunities because of the information available,” Hansell said. “Crew training is comprehensive and ongoing,” Jackson added.
The operations center that makes sure the tugs are at the right place at the right time is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year. “The operations center staff does a great job of effectively and efficiently stationing tugs where they need to be to meet customer requirements”, Jackson said.
Meeting customer’s needs is something Kirk Jackson is no stranger to, but for most of his career he has done it on a behind-the- cenes level. Now, he is front and center as the new president of Suderman & Young.
Jackson started at Suderman & Young in February, but before that he had a long and varied career in and out of the maritime industry.
Jackson is a CPA, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting from Sam Houston State University. After college, he spent a few years in Austin working as an accountant with a public accounting firm, but the Gulf Coast kept calling his name. Jackson grew up in Galveston County, so he wanted to move back to the area to be closer to home.
Jackson accomplished this when he became the director of accounting for the Port of Galveston, where he worked for four years. Of his time there Jackson said, “There were a lot of good experienced people that I learned a lot from about the Port and the maritime industry in general.” When his time at the Port of Galveston was finished, Jackson moved to G&H Towing Company as their controller, eventually becoming CFO and senior vice president, where he stayed for the next 30 years.
When Jackson joined G&H, in 1987, they were a much smaller company. Operating a fleet of about 25 tugs with only four senior staffers, Jackson was thrown in to the midst of what would soon become a quickly growing industry. “We had to be a jack-of-all-trades,” Jackson said, . “It was a great learning process for me to be able to participate in the day-to-day decisions”.
After 30 years of learning and helping grow the industry, Jackson decided to seek a new challenge when the opportunity to become president of Suderman & Young arose. Jackson credits the past presidents of Suderman & Young he interacted with as one of the reasons for taking the job. “They had been great inspirations for me in the tug business, and my admiration for them has been a big motivation for me,” Jackson he said.
Sitting in the president’s chair for the past few months has given Jackson the chance to look back and reflect, as well as look forward. “I’m very appreciative for this opportunity and proud to be part of this great company,” he said of the president’s job. Along with meeting and getting to know the customers, Jackson is excited to put his own stamp on the company, and said “being able to look to the future and help mold it for this company,” is very important to him.
He is quick to point out this would not be possible without the staff of Suderman & Young. “We have a great staff who have helped me tremendously since my arrival,” many of whom he said have been with the company for over 20 years. “Our staff’s many years of experience coupled with their variety of professional backgrounds, gives us a unique perspective on the harbor tug industry and enhances our ability to be responsive and flexible when meeting customer needs,” Jackson said.
Away from the office, Jackson is a family man, who enjoys spending time with his wife, son and daughter and their spouses. When his children were in school he was heavily involved in their organizations, but now that his children are grown he is a man in search of a new hobby. At present however, learning his new position is taking up the majority of his time as he strives to achieve his goals for the company.
“I want to continue our tradition of providing great customer service, meeting customer needs and having the right tugs available,” Jackson said. With over 100 years of tradition, Jackson has much to look back on and look forward to as the ports of Texas continue to expand. and as Jackson pointed out, “Suderman & Young is excited to be doing our part to help our ports grow and be successful.”
- Date July 26, 2017
- Tags July 2017