As the SC Ports Authorities new CEO, Barbara Melvin has two goals: take care of her people, and keep the containers moving

Charleston District Corporate Communications Office
Published Sept. 21, 2022
South Carolina State Ports Authority CEO Barbara Melvin, July 1, 2022

South Carolina State Ports Authority CEO Barbara Melvin, July 1, 2022

Driven. Strategic. Others use these words to describe Barbara Melvin. The word she uses to describe herself: Tenacious.  

These words fit perfectly with Melvin’s new position as the CEO of South Carolina Ports Authority and the path she took to become the only female CEO of one of the nation’s top ten container ports.

Serving in several different roles over the past 20-plus years at the port, each of Melvin’s promotions has led to more responsibility. Her new role as the sixth leader of the port comes as she succeeds Jim Newsome who retired at the end of June.

Her job is to keep freight moving through the port and their intermodal facilities in Dillon and Greer.

That is a tall order considering the Ports’ 15 consecutive months of record cargo growth, supply chain challenges and an uncertain global economy. Melvin plans to trust her instincts, continue building and nurturing vital relationships and look at each new endeavor as an opportunity to continue learning.

She credits her decision to move from her government relations role to the operations side of the house in 2015 as pivotal to her career. First, she served as the senior vice president of terminals and operations. Three years later, she became the port’s first chief operating officer.

“I learned everything from the ground up. I gained a deep understanding of what we do, how our port works and all the amazing people in our maritime community who keep freight moving for our supply chain,” said Melvin. “Operations truly gave me the foundation I needed to step into the role of CEO.”

Initiating her “Care for our Port Team Members and Maritime Teammates” as a strategic priority in her first month is telling of her leadership focus. Arriving at the port’s headquarters office by 7 a.m., after a 3:30 a.m. workout, she first checks in with her team and looks at terminal stats. Soon after, she heads to the terminal to see maintenance work their magic or checks out one of the Ports’ new ship-to-shore cranes work in action.

“Our days are fast-paced, exciting and challenging. Every day is different, but the goal is always the same: keep freight moving and take care of my people.”

Finding innovative solutions to mitigate congestion, including adding gate hours for motor carriers, prioritizing vessels, deploying new chassis, and hiring an additional 150 people in operations, has also helped relieve some of the pressure of her first month in charge.

“No one part of the supply chain can do it on their own. We are all dependent on one another and have to work together,” she said. “Relationships are key, and I will spend about 50 percent of my time nurturing and building relationships.”

The port’s relationship with the Corps, elected officials, business leaders, the maritime community and logistics partners have ensured that the Port of Charleston works well and that the supply chain remains fluid.

Being directly involved with the Corps of Engineers’ project delivery team for the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project gave her great insight into one of the most significant infrastructure projects in the state’s history.  

“The new 52-foot depth this project provides has already proven to be the right path forward,” she said. “We have handled more cargo than ever before over the past year. The influx of cargo, growth in container ship sizes and the ongoing supply chain challenges require a deeper, wider harbor that makes it easier for ships to navigate any time, any tide. Enabling the port to compete on a global scale has attracted more port-dependent businesses to the state, ultimately creating more jobs and bringing more investments to South Carolina.”

As the non-federal sponsor for this project, she encourages others working with the Corps to get to know the people they are working with, to do their homework, challenge the process and get creative to achieve their goals.

“Engineering work has lasting and meaningful impacts on our communities today and into the future, and the relationships with your partners are critical to their success,” Melvin said.

Drawing inspiration from her dad, who taught her not to be concerned with any boundary that society puts in her way, serves her well. She is hopeful that her role as “first female” CEO in the industry will present opportunities for others.

“I typically do not look at things from a gender perspective. It is not my default,” said Melvin. “I celebrate the awesome honor of being the first female and will leave the door open behind me.”

Prioritizing health and fitness, fishing in the Florida Keys with her husband and playing with her two dogs keep her busy when she is not thinking about port operations.

“The pandemic has made ‘supply chain’ a household term and people now understand that ports are vital to keeping the supply chain fluid,” she said. “I hope this awareness instills a deep gratitude for all those behind the scenes to ensure our hospitals have medical supplies, our store shelves are stocked for families and our manufacturing plants have the parts they need to operate. SC Ports is proud to keep freight moving for our communities. My team loves what they do, and it keeps me going every day, along with the positive impact we have on the state’s economy.”

Drive, strategic thinking, and tenacity will undoubtedly help her achieve her vision with SC Ports to yield economic benefit to our state for generations to come.