Volume 7, Number 2, 1998

Ships ahoy! Port's new head
involved in global economy

Studies at UD in history and at the University of Michigan in urban history have led to a career in which Andrea Weber Riniker, AS '69, has developed and improved economies and communities.

Along the way, she has been a pioneer in traditionally male occupations-from city manager to airport director to her current position as executive director of the Port of Tacoma, Wash.

Riniker assumed the position in September 1997 and is only the second woman in the nation to head up a large international container shipping port.

Tacoma is the sixth largest container port in North America and among the top 25 in the world. Each year, the port handles more than 13 million tons of cargo-from shoes to cars, logs to electronic equipment. More than $23 billion in international trade, much of it from Asia, enters and exits the U.S. through the Port of Tacoma.

In her position, Riniker works to develop a long-range strategic plan, build community support for the port and ensure that customers are well served. The port's staff of 250 employees is one of the smallest she has led.

A love of cities guided her education and fueled her early career, and heading up a shipping port involves many of the same day-to-day and long-term challenges as running a city, she says.

"I really enjoy developing a competitive, strategic view of the future," she says, "and working in a field that has a real operating pulse, where not only do you have to have a strategy and deal with those complex issues, but you also need to be attuned to operating a facility that must perform 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

Whether it's making sure her employees have the flexibility to spend needed time with their families, negotiating with organized labor or using her public policy background to guide a major construction project, Riniker brings to her work the knowledge and skill to get things done.

In 1980, after 10 years with the city of Austin, Texas, Riniker was recruited by Bellevue, Wash., to guide its transformation from a residential suburb to a city. "We redeveloped the entire downtown area, and now it's a major employment center for the whole region," Riniker says. "It went from two- or three-story buildings to 30-story high-rises." She later went on to lead the Washington state department of ecology.

And, Riniker's public policy experience was integral to her success as director of the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, where she spearheaded a $1.6 billion expansion that included adding a third runway. In that job and her next position as deputy director of the Port of Seattle (a sometime competitor, sometime collaborator with the Port of Tacoma), she was part of the "fascinating" international trading environment when global trade exploded in the late '80s.

As a woman in a position of power in a male-dominated industry, Riniker has faced challenges, but she minimizes those, saying that most people are "just curious," not uncomfortable, dealing with a woman in a leadership position. "And, if they can deal with [Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright and [former U.S. Trade Representative] Carla Hills, they can certainly deal with me," she quips.

Although women remain an anomaly in the transportation industry, Riniker says she hopes to see that change. "I feel a special sense of responsibility in trying to do the very best I can in my work so that it creates other opportunities for women in these traditionally male businesses," she says. "These are great jobs, and I feel very lucky to have one. They're also jobs that I'd like to attract more women to. This is an increasingly global economy and I want to see women comfortable in positions related to global trade and global economics."

-Theresa Gawlas Medoff, AS '94M