David E. Meehan, who ordered that all business at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard be conducted in English when he became its chief executive officer five years ago, is moving on to a new role in the global Aker Group of companies.
His tenure here saw a rapid rise in productivity and a dramatic reduction in worker injuries. When he came here from Aker's engineering group in Pittsburgh in 2003, the South Philadelphia yard had just delivered its first ship, and it was producing only the equivalent of 70 percent of a ship that year. This year, the yard will build 2.7 ships, and it is on a pace to be building three ships a year by next year.
Meehan will be succeeded June 30 by Jim Miller, 52, president of the U.S. unit of Aker Solutions Process & Construction, which is based in Pittsburgh.
Miller has been with the company now owned by Aker for 30 years, 24 of them in executive roles. The unit he now heads employs 7,500 people and has been involved in building and commissioning complex petrochemical, acid, power-generation and metals plants. He is a graduate of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, in the northwestern part of the state.
Meehan, a Pennsylvania State University engineering graduate, said he learned to manage people from the school's legendary football coach, Joe Paterno. Meehan came to the Philadelphia yard from the unit Miller heads in Pittsburgh. His new job with Aker was not announced.
When he became CEO at the yard, Europeans were still in many management and training roles, and they discussed their work in Norwegian, frustrating local workers.
"The Europeans are here to teach, and they can't teach if they don't talk about what they are doing in English," Meehan said in an interview early in his second week on the job.
The yard employs about 1,300, including outside contractors, and it says 90 percent of the workers are from the United States, 85 percent from this region.
The yard was built on the site of the old Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, which closed in 1996, by Kvaerner A.S.A., a London-based conglomerate, with $400 million in construction and training aid from local, state and federal government sources.
The yard sputtered initially, taking three years to build its first ship. Then, in 2001, Kjell Inge Røkke, a former deckhand on an Alaskan fishing boat, won control of Kvaerner in a hostile takeover and began investing heavily to boost productivity.
Meehan's departure was announced several hours after the yard began work on its 12th vessel.
This ship will be the eighth in a series of 12 tankers built under a $1 billion agreement signed in 2005.
The ship will be the same basic design as the others in the series. But it will have additional equipment and modifications to enhance maneuverability so it can dock at floating offshore oil-well platforms. It will carry crude oil from deep-water wells in the Gulf of Mexico to pipeline terminals onshore.
The yard's first four ships, purchased by Matson Navigation Co. Inc., of Oakland, Calif., now carry cargo packed in truck-size containers between California and Hawaii, Guam and two ports in China.