Despite a global career, alumnus still values Buffalo roots

October 2005

When Bob Wilder ’80 began his maritime industry career as superintendent of a stevedoring operation, he didn’t have a clue what words like "breakbulk," "canary" or "Christmas tree" meant, let alone what a "container" was.

After nearly two decades in the job, he not only can define the terms, but uses them fluently in his daily work conversations as well.

After graduating from the UB School of Management, the Amherst, N.Y., native had a brief stint in sales and marketing for Hyatt's All Things Creative, a Western New York art supply chain. After two years, he decided it was time to "spread his wings" and move on while he was still single and relatively carefree. He headed west by car with a lifelong friend, Bob Schneider '81 meandering across the United States for four months with no grand plan in mind. When they hit California, Wilder decided it was the place for him. He landed a job in sales for a company called Athana, which manufactures magnetic media storage devices for computers. In the process, he discovered San Pedro, a Los Angeles-area harbor town known as a shipping and maritime community.

SSA Marine, formerly Stevedoring Services of America (SS of A,) is headquartered in Seattle, Wash., and has operations in every major U.S. port as well as overseas in such places as Panama, South Africa, New Zealand and Chile. The company is a dynamic, family-owned business that employs 10,000 people on any given day. A stevedoring company's primary business is loading and unloading ocean-going ships. In the U.S., which relies so heavily on imported goods from both Asia and Europe, shipping operations are key to delivering the majority of products used in American homes, from appliances to automobiles. With the stevedoring industry come related ancillary businesses as well, such as terminal operations, equipment procurement, management information technologies, warehousing, project and specialty cargo handling, logistics services, port development and trucking, to name a few.

According to Wilder, "shipping is an old, established industry. It may have moved forward technologically more slowly (than other transportation industries), but when it comes to speed and capacity, it is actually more efficient. Now, facilities around the world need to meet these efficiencies and be able to accommodate the size of ships today which are massive, with some over 1,000 feet (more than three football fields) long."

Wilder joined the company in 1986 as a general superintendent, a title that, he admits, was nebulous to him at best. But he quickly caught on, and rose through the ranks to achieve his current title of assistant vice president. Along the way he also served as an automobile superintendent, container superintendent, safety director and security director before becoming a member of the marketing and contracts team. "In our profession, we basically do whatever it takes to get the job done. In an industry that encompasses a 24/7 schedule, time is always a challenging component to manage," Wilder says.

In 1994, SS of A expanded its operation overseas, which afforded Wilder a wonderful opportunity to travel throughout the world. His work takes him to Japan twice yearly, where he travels extensively throughout the country, and he has also traveled throughout Mexico, Singapore, Panama, Alaska and around the continental United States. In addition, the company played an important role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, loading military gear and equipment in Southern California and areas on the East Coast. To assist in the reconstruction of Iraq, SSA Marine was recently awarded a U.S. government contract for the port city of Umm Qasr. The contract calls for SSA Marine to manage and operate Iraq's only port complex. The company is also responsible for providing training and education of the Iraqi people in proper handling techniques (stevedoring) for the incoming humanitarian aid cargo, which will soon be arriving from around the world.

SSA Marine has also ventured into the entertainment industry, providing authentic waterfront locations as backdrops for still photography, television, commercials and big-screen movies, a task for which Wilder is responsible as well.

Wilder and his wife, Ada, and two children, Staci and Jordan, visit Western New York often because Wilder's father and sister still live in the area. "I love Buffalo and it will always be my home. I always enjoy going back to visit and seeing the things that make me so nostalgic! I never miss a visit to the UB campus either…my UB t-shirt, hat, coffee mug and sweatshirt collection gets bigger every year." Wilder adds, "Nowhere on the planet can you eat wings, pizza, Ted's hotdogs, beef on weck and Anderson’s ice cream like in Buffalo." And although he misses the changing seasons in Western New York, he somehow manages to find happiness in an area where he "can go snow skiing, play golf in Palm Springs and surf in the Pacific Ocean all in the same day!"

About his UB education, Wilder says he, like most people, "never appreciated my education as much as I should have while I was in school. But now I know it helped me become well-rounded and provided a strong foundation for my future."

Written by Barbara A. Byers, APR