Port of Oakland director to resign
- Published Tuesday, March 9, 2004, in the Oakland Tribune
Port of Oakland director to resign
By Paul T. Rosynsky
After almost three years as executive director of the country's
fourth-largest port and the Bay Area's fastest growing airport, Tay
Yoshitani will resign in the fall.
Citing family obligations, the 57-year-old Yoshitani told Port of
Oakland commissioners and staff last summer he planned to leave his
more-than-$237,000-a-year post to join his family in Baltimore, where
he once served as leader of that city's port.
While Yoshitani's resignation was widely known among top port brass,
the organization kept his move under wraps until it was forced this
week to announce the Port Commission's plans to interview candidates
for his job.
Yoshitani said the decision was solely based on the needs of his
12-year-old daughter, Taylor, who was born with Down syndrome.
"My wife and I determined, after doing a lot of thinking and soul
searching, that the best chance for (Taylor) to have a good life is to
go back to Maryland where we are familiar with the system," Yoshitani
said. "We were very engaged in some programs there."
Yoshitani's decision promises to leave a large void in the port, where
he helped pilot the organization through its largest seaport expansion
in history and set the framework for its largest airport expansion.
Although Yoshitani pledged a smooth transition and vowed to stay on
until a replacement is found, the move could spark fierce competition
within the organization to replace him.
Among those said to be vying for the top spot are Port Attorney David
Alexander, Maritime Director Jerry Bridges and Deputy Executive
Director Joe Wong.
At least three other candidates from outside the organization are
being interviewed, sources said.
The final pick will have big shoes to fill.
Hand-picked to lead the port by his former boss in Oakland, Chuck
Foster, Yoshitani became instant leader of an organization that was
revamping each of its three divisions: maritime, aviation and real
At the time, it seemed Yoshitani was groomed specifically for the
His background allowed him to relate to Oakland's cultural diversity,
and his job experience gave him instant credibility within the
maritime trade and a business sense that helped him navigate the
sometimes-turbulent political culture of the city, former and current
port commissioners said.
Born in Japan, Yoshitani is a Vietnam War veteran. Before being hired
by the port in 1998 as deputy executive director, Yoshitani had served
as second in charge of the Port of Los Angeles and director of the
Port of Baltimore.
His graduate degree from the Harvard University School of Business
helped Yoshitani in his quest to make the port more friendly to its
neighbors, officials said.
"People with his array of experiences are very, very hard to find,"
said Phil Tagami, a former port commissioner who lobbied for
Yoshitani's hiring when he was on the board. "He really cleaned up
the port's bottom line."
In fact, Yoshitani molded and created a new theme for the port now
found in almost every piece of literature the organization releases.
It is based on the "Three E's:" environmental responsibility, social
equity and economic stability.
"What I brought to the table was a much greater emphasis on getting
the organization to focus on the bottom line," Yoshitani said. "The
hardest task of this job is that you have so many stake holders that
have a vested interest ... it's a real balancing act."
Yoshitani managed to walk that tightrope as he balanced the
conflicting needs of such tenants as airline and shipping companies
with those of city residents who worry about the port's impact on the
Yoshitani was forced to deal with city leaders long frustrated with
the port's autonomy.
"You have to stay nimble," Yoshitani said with a laugh. "Inevitably,
you have to make a tough decision that is not unanimously popular."
But whenever he made a decision, former and current commissioners
said, it was based on what would help the entire community, not just
"He really knew his stuff," said Commissioner Darlene Ayers-Johnson.
"One of the things I really appreciate about Tay is that he was very
conscientious about diversity ... and there was never that ego that
can get involved with the leadership of the port ... he was very
respectful of everybody."
Added Port Commission President John Protopappas: "We are losing a
very experienced professional who has a fantastic reputation
Describing his job as "the best in the world," Yoshitani said he is
saddened to leave just as the port is about to enter a new growing
Its real estate division is working on three large developments that
will change the city; the airport is about to double in size; and the
maritime division has just started refurbishing its outer harbor
"I've been at the helm of an organization that has accomplished an
enormous amount," he said. "But I heard somebody say many years ago
that no amount of success in your job or your career can make up for
failures at home."
Before he leaves, Yoshitani's last job will be to help the commission
pick a successor.
Next Tuesday, the commission will meet behind closed doors to begin
the interview process. Although the group will hear from almost a
dozen candidates, Yoshitani said the candidates list could grow.
Yoshitani said the interviews are only a first step in what will be a
summer-long process that likely may include the input of city leaders
such as Mayor Jerry Brown and City Council-members Ignacio De La
Fuente and Larry Reid.
"The commissioners will decide if they want to keep the search with
this handful that we have or if they want to expand," he said. "I'm
sure that the commissioners will seek my comments, but ultimately it
is their decision with consultation with the leadership of the city."