Ready for the resource rich future

June 2024

Newly minted CEO Chris Heikkinen proved he was up to the task in the last three months of the 2023 shipping season amid both a seaway strike and surge in grain and potash shipments. The latter, obviously being more to his liking.

Heikkinen took over from long time CEO Tim Heney on Oct. 11, 2023 after being with the port authority since 2010 in various positions, his last being Director of Business Development and Terminal Operations. We sat down with Mr. Heikkinen recently for an interview in which he offered some insights into what the port is all about.

Q. When you became CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority, what were your first thoughts about your new role?

A. I was thrilled and honoured to be chosen as the next CEO. It is a privilege to take on this role. It carries a lot of responsibility. There are opportunities and challenges ahead and I feel strongly that my leadership will contribute positively to the port’s strategic and operational success. I love challenges and solving problems, so I’m in my element in this position.

Q. You have been with the Port Authority since 2010...give us an idea about your background and what have you learned in these past 14 years that will assist you in your position?

A. I hold an Honours Bachelor of Commerce from Lakehead University, and during my time with the port became a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA). My education in business was foundational in preparing me for a career with the port. The port is an economic engine, and attracting sustainable business is core to its success. It is a considerable challenge to execute a strategy in this complex industry with many moving parts.

I’m fortunate that I’ve had exposure to many facets of the organization and industry through my various roles in the organization, which included responsibilities in communications, research, accounting & finance, terminal operations, and business development.

Probably the most important thing I’ve learned so far is that it takes teamwork and collaboration to accomplish lofty goals. I’ve also realized that there’s always more to learn. Lifelong learning and innovation are important in business, or you risk being left behind by your competitors.

Q. The Port has seen a lot of changes since you first arrived... in your opinion, what are the most important developments you believe our port has achieved?

A. The attraction of regular inbound cargo business at Keefer Terminal is something that has had a positive ripple effect in the port. In addition to generating jobs and providing more work for port service providers, bringing additional vessels to port increases the available capacity for export cargoes. Thunder Bay is a strategically important export port for Western Canadian grain and potash. Enabling two-way cargo operations in our port improves the competitiveness of the system for our Canadian shippers.

Another development has been the improvement of the port’s profile nationally and internationally. We’ve done a lot of work to promote our port, its benefits and competitive advantages. Success is the best marketing tool, and the port’s recent successes in bulk, breakbulk, and general cargo operations have been noticed. We’re fielding a lot of inquiries these days. Our efforts are paying off.

Q. You are a relatively a young man with quite a few years ahead of you as the leader of this port... put your ‘crystal hat’ on and give us an idea of what you believe the future holds for the Port of Thunder Bay?

A. The Port of Thunder Bay has a bright future. I believe Thunder Bay will play an increasingly important role in the Canadian and global supply chain. Canada’s economy is reliant on our trade, and trade is enabled by efficient, effective supply chains. As the world continues to grow, so too will the demand for Canada’s resources as crucial inputs for food and other essential goods. As the furthest inland port in Canada, Thunder Bay is ideally situated to handle exports from our resource-rich Northern Ontario, in addition to the growing trade between Western Canada and eastern markets in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The port and the St. Lawrence Seaway System have available capacity to handle increased volumes of cargo.

Q. You have taken over from Tim Heney who has been a spearhead for many positive developments for over 20 years... what have you learned from him and what will you try to do in your tenure to promote an already successful port?

A. Tim’s leadership and ability to develop and execute strategy contributed significantly to the port’s success over the past two decades.
Tim focuses on connections, fostering an understanding that networking and building bridges is beneficial, even when there’s no clear return on the investment of time. Tim has been an important mentor in my career, and his influence has certainly helped shape my business judgement and perspectives. I now have the responsibility and the privilege to lead a team in pursuit of further growth and success for the port. Achievement of our objectives will largely rely on the development, cohesion, and culture of the team. I have a group of great colleagues I know I can rely on, and I am excited to foster their further development and to share in challenges and successes together in the years ahead.

Q. The beginning of the Shipping Season has started off with a ‘bang’ with the arrival of the earliest ‘Salt Water’ vessels ever Mv Federal Franklin...can you comment on that auspicious occasion?

A. It was an exciting way to start the salty shipping season with the earliest ever arrival, beating the old record by two days. Warmer winters are helping to extend the shipping seasons on the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway with earlier openings and later closings taking place often. Over time this has a material impact on the cargo shipping capacity of the Seaway and may give access to new cargo opportunities for the system. It was a pleasure celebrating this occasion with the crew of Federal Franklin and our Thunder Bay port community.

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