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I was very interested to read this profile of Abraham Somavarapha, the new business development manager at the Port of Sydney Development Corporation, in the January 22nd edition of the Cape Breton Post.

I do not know Somavarapha nor do I have reason to think he is anything other than a nice guy, but I do have to question his qualifications for his new job.

I had asked him myself about his credentials and he told me by email on January 14, 2016:

“About myself, I am a CERTIFIED PORT EXECUTIVE™ and a Certified member of the INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MARITIME & PORT EXECUTIVES™. I have worked extensively with ports across the globe including Jebel Ali, one of the world’s premier ports. I also have a Bachelors in Commerce with a specialization in Business Management and a Post Graduate Degree in Global Business Management.”

The Post profile also notes the 27-year-old Somavarapha is a “certified port executive trained through the MacDonnell Group.”

What neither Somavarapha nor the Post makes clear is that becoming a CERTIFIED PORT EXECUTIVE™ through the MacDonnell Group takes five days. I found this out by googling “CERTIFIED PORT EXECUTIVE™” (as has at least one commenter on the Post site).

But what a jam-packed five days. Over that period of time, students cover:

Knowledge of the marine transportation system and operations

Port governance, port authorities and organizations

Recognizing types of vessels and their uses

Port and terminal management

Roles of port professionals

Managing communications, media, port and terminal administration

Emerging requirements and regulations that affect ports, marine facilities and vessels

Managing risks and threats in the port environment

The scope of port security and safety plans

Comparing various methods of cargo storage and handling

Examining harbour geography and aids to navigation

Preparing a strategic plan, master plan and business plan

I also asked Somavarapha to tell me at which ports he’d worked, for how long and in what capacities. He replied: “Thank you for your interest! I wish you all the best.” So, nice guy, yes, but port expert? (In the Post profile, he dials back this claim of extensive experience in ports around the world, saying instead he had dealt with ports “on a regular basis” as a co-founder of the IT firm Ezeesoft Technologies FZE, where “a lot” of what they did “was import and export with regards to IT.”)

In his defense, according to the ad that appeared in the Post on September 1, 2015, knowledge of actual ports was not deemed necessary for this job:

Qualifications (includes but not limited to):

Masters or Bachelor’s Degree in Business or Marketing or three to five years of relevant experience in logistical sales
Effective oral and written communication skills
Problem solving and analytical skills
Ability to multi-task
Proficiency in the Microsoft Office suite of software applications

I emailed Port of Sydney Development Corporation CEO Marlene Usher to ask how many applications were received and how much the position pays, but she has yet to reply — I guess she figured I could just read today’s  Post, where she says 20 applications were received. The salary attached to the position has not been published.

I think, at a more basic level, it’s fair to ask why a business development manager is needed. Usher told the Post the position was required because the CBRM “broadened” the mandate of the not-for-profit port corporation to include business development.

But when Usher was appointed CEO of the new and improved Sydney Port Development Corporation (which replaced the old Sydney Port Corporation) in February 2015, CBRM CAO Michael Merritt said the purpose of her $200,000 per year, executive- level position was to offer strategic guidance and enhance marketing efforts for future port development.

If an executive level position was necessary at the Port of Sydney Development Corporation (and I’m not saying it was) could we not simply have tasked that executive with “business development?” Couldn’t offering strategic guidance and enhancing marketing efforts be tucked under the rubric of “business development?” And might it have made sense to hire someone with relevant experience?

As it stands, we now have two people in important positions at the Port of Sydney Development Corporation who do not have any experience in port development.

On the bright side, they’ll go well with our team of port marketers who have no experience marketing ports.

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