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Port of Tacoma CEO sees strength in community

March 30, 2011

Port of Tacoma CEO sees strength in community

Northwest native and Port of Tacoma CEO John Wolfe ’87, prides himself for being part of an organization that creates jobs. Established by the citizens of Pierce County, Wash., in 1918, The Port of Tacoma is among the largest container ports in North America. But Wolf sees the port as so much more than that – as a catalyst for community vitality, and a creator of economic growth for both the county and the state.“At the end of the day, if we are creating more, healthy, family wage jobs, then we’re winning,” Wolfe said.

According to port statistics, activities directly and indirectly connect the Port of Tacoma to about one in six jobs, or more than 43,000 jobs in Pierce County and 113,000 jobs statewide.

Wolfe arrived at the Port of Tacoma in 2005 after five years at the Port of Olympia (Wash.), and 12 years with Sea Land, a North Carolina–based container shipping firm. Wolfe served as deputy executive director at the Port of Tacoma until June 2010, when he was named CEO by the port’s publicly elected board of commissioners.

“It was really humbling to me to be accepted because there were some great candidates for this position,” Wolfe said.

Modesty, Wolfe said, is one of many things he learned at PLU.

Wolfe graduated in December 1987 with a degree in business administration. A “red shirt” freshman during his first year at PLU, Wolfe stayed in school an extra semester to play football, an activity that allowed him to learn many life lessons from retired head coach “Frosty” Westering.

“I learned humility from him,” Wolfe said. “That was a huge lesson. At that time in my life, it was very easy for me to get full of myself.”

One such lesson occurred during Wolfe’s junior year when he was asked to switch positions. He initially balked at the idea.

But Westering and Paul Hoseth, an assistant coach, told Wolfe something he says he will never forget. “They shared with me that it’s not about what I need,” said Wolfe, “but what the team needs.”

Westering stressed how to be part of a team and how to work together toward a common understanding of success. In his position at the port, Wolfe draws on his PLU experiences daily as he works with commissioners, customers and the community.

Wolfe’s role at the port includes working with the Board of Commissioners to ensure strategic alignment, customer satisfaction and community involvement.

“We invite the community in,” Wolfe said. “It’s really important that we connect with the community because they own the port.”

Community means a lot to Wolfe, who grew up in Puyallup and still lives there today with his wife, Debbie, and two children, Alyssa, 16, and Zach, 15.