Commencement 2001

Dr. Frank J. Iarossi, Sc.D. (Hon.)
Webb Institute, June 16, 2001

Thank you for your very kind introduction.

Good afternoon Chairman Visconti, Officers, Trustees, Honorary Trustees, Faculty of Webb Institute, proud and somewhat relieved parents, and especially to you, the graduating class of 2001 -- the first graduating class of the 21st century.

On a personal note, I am honored and pleased to share this day with you and to receive this Honorary Doctorate. I haven't worn a cap and gown since high school graduation, so we really are sharing a common feeling right now.

ABS is proud of its long association with Webb. I note that I am the third ABS Chairman in recent years to be honored by the Institute. ABS has been fortunate to have a number of Webb graduates take leadership positions in the Bureau, and the reverse is also true. Currently, two of the corporate officers of ABS are also trustees of your alma mater. Webb Institute richly deserves its reputation and ABS is proud of its long-standing support.

My wife, Millie, and I are pleased to be here today to add our congratulations to you graduates, and to your parents, on a job well done. We offer our best wishes to each of you as you leave the serenity and security of the Webb campus and venture into the unknown. Don't be apprehensive, don't be reluctant, put aside your anxiety. The learning and experience you have gained while a student at Webb have prepared you well to assume future leadership roles in the marine industry.

Some years ago, an anxious graduating student approached his wise, accomplished professor on graduation day. The student stated he had learned a great deal in the past four years; however, he did not feel totally prepared for the future. He asked "Oh, wise and accomplished professor, what is the most important characteristic I need to develop to become as wise and accomplished as thee?"

The wise professor scratched the white stubble on his chin and replied "good judgment."

"But how do I develop good judgment?" asked the graduate.

Again, the wise professor stroked his white stubble and replied "experience."

"But how do I gain experience?" asked the graduate.

Once again the wise professor stroked his chin and said, "bad judgment."

While I am certainly not a wise professor, I do have white stubble on my chin, so let me attempt to explain the meaning of this parable, starting with the last, first.

Bad Judgment If you study the lives of great leaders such as Washington, Lincoln, Churchill and Kennedy, you will learn that each of them made some wrong decisions, some bad judgments in their lives, but each learned valuable lessons from those early failures. The same is true for many of our professional and business leaders. Risk taking, in an attempt to stretch our capabilities, in an attempt to achieve challenging goals, is an important part of being a leader. If you are afraid of momentary failure, you will not take the risks that sometimes go with being a leader. Most true leaders have experienced failure in an attempt to go beyond the conventional. When he or she does fail to accomplish their goal, the true leader acknowledges the bad judgment and learns a valuable lesson for the future.

Experience You have learned the principles of Archimedes and Bernoulli, but it will take more than these to become a leader in the marine industry. Hopefully, exercising your share of bad judgment will not be your only means of acquiring experience. Study the lessons to be learned from the past. Rent a video on the movie "Titanic" and watch it a few times. What can we learn from that tragedy? Rent a video of the movie "Perfect Storm" and watch it as many times as you can. Better yet, read the book. Read all the books and case studies of marine disasters. Unfortunately, there is plenty of material available. But most importantly, learn something from your own activities each day. Seek out opportunities to experience the awesome power of the sea, and then reconsider how a tiny vessel can safely respond to that power. Don't just pass trough life, make learning a continuous process as you live life to its fullest.

Good Judgment We seldom are blessed with all the relevant information we need to make sound decisions. Often, leaders are required to make decisions with only 70 or 80 percent of the information they would like to have. The same is true of life in general. Most decisions are based partly on relevant information and partly on judgment, with intuition being a major factor in that judgment. As you develop and mature, don't underestimate the value of reasoned intuition. Trust in your judgment. Trust in your instincts. You will need both as a leader.

I graduated from the Racham School of Graduate Studies at the University of Michigan in 1965. At the time I was a Lieutenant in the Coast Guard and following graduation was assigned to its merchant marine technical branch in New York City. There were ten officers in the unit, mostly graduates of MIT and Michigan, but as I recall, one reserve officer was a Webb graduate. We were responsible for the safety review of all vessels being built in east coast shipyards. Back then, there was considerable shipbuilding activity and it was a very exciting time for a young marine engineer.

In the following four years, the LNG ship, the container ship, the semi-submersible drilling unit and the very large crude carrier were all created during an explosion of technology development in the marine industry. And much of that development occurred in and around New York City. The aftershocks from that technology explosion continued to be felt around the world until about 1975. It was truly the golden age of shipbuilding and of marine technology development. That burst of energy was followed by 20 years or so of relative inactivity, with only very minor step improvements in marine technology. Not much to be excited about.

Class of 2001, rejoice. You are about to be as fortunate as I was in 1965. The world of marine transportation is once again in a burst of technology development that should continue at least through this decade.

I was there in 1965 when Malcolm McLean created the first container ship. The evolution continued slowly until, just a few years ago, we marveled at new vessels capable of carrying over 3,000 container units. In less than five years, container ship capacity has increased to over 7,000 units and average speeds to over 25 knots. This development is far from over. ABS is deeply involved with one prominent ship owner in the development of a container vessel capable of moving more than 13,000 container units. Other companies are reportedly contemplating the ultimate container ship of 18,000 units.

I was there in the late 1960s when the LNG vessel became a commercial reality. Today, the design and construction of LNG vessels is again receiving wide attention with more than 50 such vessels on order for gas import projects into the USA, India, China and Korea.

In 1965, the passenger/car ferry was a sluggish tub of a vessel moving from Staten Island and New Jersey to Manhattan and back. Today we can see very large, high-speed passenger/car ferries crossing the Mediterranean, the Baltic and the North Seas. The most advanced of these vessels, classed last year by ABS can carry 1,800 passengers and 450 cars and trucks at an average speed of 42 knots. This type of vessel will continue to develop as new trade routes are created. ABS is now in the process of classing one such vessel capable of speeds in excess of 65 knots. That is faster than the speeds allowed on our nation's super highways.

In 1965 passenger/cargo vessels were being built to carry 12 passengers and even the largest ocean liners were carrying about 1,000 passengers and 300 crew. The passenger cruise vessels recently built, carry 3,500 vacationers and a crew of 1,500. Some new designs even contemplate as many as 10,000 passengers. And, the first residency/cruise vessel is about to go into service.

But perhaps one of the most exciting areas for marine technology development, especially in this country, involved floating structures for offshore oil and gas production. These structures have recently taken a number of unconventional shapes including tankers converted to floating production and storage units, tension leg platforms, deep draft cassons and greatly expanded semi-submersibles. The largest of these units was recently announced by BP. It will be a 120,000-ton floating platform stationed in the Gulf of Mexico and capable of drilling in 6,000 feet of water and producing well over 100,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Other drilling ships being built are able to drill in over 10,000 feet of water, and we see no reason for this technology development to stop at these levels.

Naval architects and marine engineers are pushing the limits of technology on a number of fronts. Information technology, new composite materials and advanced propulsion systems will provide the momentum to drive this development well into the future. Seven eighths of the earth's surface is covered by water. As the global economy spreads economic development to all corners of the globe, marine transportation will become an even more important factor in the world's commerce.

But, we need to temper future development with a renewed emphasis on the safety of those seafarers who will operate these vessels as well as of the passengers and cargo that will be transported by them. And we certainly need to protect the marine environment, which, after all, is our most precious heritage.

Archimedes, Bernoulli and Murphy. Always keep in mind, if it possible for something to go wrong, it eventually will. As you lead future technology development, never forget to include the safety of life, property and the environment in your systems thinking.

You are the Webb graduation class of 2001, the first graduating class of the 21st century. The leadership challenge will eventually pass to you. You have prepared well. Now go forward and become the leaders of the future marine industry. Be prepared to take calculated, reasoned risks in an effort to extend technology. Learn as you go including from your own failures, inspire others to follow your lead. Live life to its fullest and protect, value and cherish those you love. Good luck to each of you.