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sarah d_scalet
Senior Editor

Graham Kee: The Mediator

Jun 01, 200513 mins
CareersSecuritySupply Chain Management Software

To get the job done at a major seaport, Graham Kee convinces dozens of competing stakeholders that collaborating on security helps everyone s쳮d

The thin, white card that Graham Kee keeps in his wallet doesn’t look like anything special. Roughly the size of a credit card, it displays his picture and name, along with the logo for the Port of Vancouver, an identification number and an expiration date. Yet the card carries much more meaning than its flimsy weight suggests.

In 1997, when Kee took over as CSO for the Port of Vancouver, there were plans in place for not one kind of ID card but several. In fact, there might have been dozens if each of the port’s 27 terminal operators had created its own system. Somehow though, Kee, an unassuming sailor from small-town New Brunswick, Canada, drew together the port community’s 23,000 diverse membersfrom longshoremen to law enforcement, from truckers to union bosses, from tugboat operators to government regulators to 160 port authority employeesto develop a standard smart card system now used to access all the different areas of the 160,000-acre port.

The standard ID card didn’t happen because the port authority had a lot of money to throw around. (Until recently, the Canadian government could not give security grants to its ports.) It didn’t happen because the groups involved had a history of smooth relations. (When Kee started, the longshoremen’s unionlong linked in Canadians’ minds with organized crimeand law enforcement officers could hardly bear to be in the same room.)

No, observers say that the cards came about because of Kee’s polite insistence on asking, not telling, the port community about the best ways to improve security and business efficiency, and then building a system that incorporated that feedback. This method of simultaneously building trust and influence is the same one that Kee brings to his next big challenge: getting union bosses to accept a new background checks mandate.

“Graham has taken an inclusive approach to security rather than a dictatorial approach, and I think that’s largely why we’ve succeeded,” says Onkar Athwal, vice president of operations at the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association, which represents ship owners, wharf operators (including container terminals) and stevedores for Canada’s West Coast. “If I tell him, Graham, I don’t like that. It doesn’t work,’ he says, What else can we do?'”

Kee, for his part, credits to the organizations he brought together. “I think I get [my approach] from working in small towns,” says Kee, 48, sitting in his office on Vancouver’s waterfront. Behind him, a spring rain is beating down on the port, but business is humming. Seaplanes land, lumber is hauled in, oil is pumped onto ships, and trailer-trucks and trains carry off loaded containers headed inland. This hubbub is Kee’s adopted community.

“In a small town, you rely on everybody in that community to keep the peace,” Kee continues. “You’re not a policeman; you’re a facilitator. And that’s how I see myself: a facilitator to implement security measures for the port community.” It’s a simple but powerful approach to the CSO role. And it makes a useful study for anyone who needs to convince a group of peopleincluding those who may have strained relationsof their mandatory cooperation in a security measure.

Big Changes

“Done much walking?” a coworker asks sympathetically when she learns that a reporter is shadowing Kee for the day. Trailing is more like it. Kee is a fast walker. He has a lot to do.

On this March day, Kee’s schedule is packed: a group meeting about what is happening at the port, the demo of a new intranet dashboard to monitor port activities, plus a show-and-tell for this article that includes a PowerPoint presentation about compliance with maritime security regulations, a tour of the cruise ship terminal, a visit to the security command center and a boat tour of the central part of the port. Throughout the day, it’s clear that Kee isn’t broadcasting that he’s the subject of a CSO profile. When people ask why a reporter is tagging along with him, Kee generically says that he’s participating in an article about “Canadian transportation security.”

Despite Kee’s modesty, it’s hard to understate the transformation that the port has undergone in the past several years. Big ports like Vancouver are, by definition, international trade centers, and as such, they are always in competition with one another on a global field. Controlling port access is a business essential as well as an expense.

The 9/11 attacks heightened the Vancouver port’s sensitivity to security, but big changes were taking place even before then. When Kee took over in 1997, Canada had just disbanded its national port police. The move gave local police officers jurisdiction at the ports. And each port authority established a department to oversee port security matters.

Vancouver needed a CSO who would help draw together police officers in the eight municipalities that have jurisdiction over the port’s 145 miles of waterfront. At that time, Kee was the port’s first and only security leader. Now each terminal has one, and Kee has been named director of security. (Canadian shipping industry titles differ from American business ones; losing the CSO title was a promotion.)

Along the way, Kee has completed a transformation of his ownfrom a response-focused police officer in the eastern Canadian port of Saint John to a prevention-oriented, suit-wearing, strategy-focused security executive for his nation’s largest port (see box, this page). The ID system is only a small piece of what he has done. Still, it seems like every story he tells twists and turns back to those little white cards.

Persuading the Persuaders

More than 60 million tons of cargo stream in and out of the Port of Vancouver every yearoil, lumber, sugar, grain and containers full of everything from tennis shoes to tomatoes. With its mild weather, its stunning harbor protected by mountains and its close proximity to the U.S. border, the port is ideally situated, and it is the lifeblood of Vancouver’s economy. Yet the port authority actually has little authority over its constituencies. It operates more like a landlord than a boss.

For Kee to accomplish much, he knew that he had to convince the port’s stakeholders that security was in everyone’s best interest. The first strategy he pursued as CSO was drawing together those he calls “people of influence.” He set up a stakeholder committee of people through whom he could, hopefully, reach out and touch everyone within the port community. Representatives from law enforcement agencies, associations representing private companies, unions and governmenteveryone had a seat at the table. It’s a Canadian version of the “public-private partnerships” brass ring that the U.S. government has been reaching for since 9/11.

As an example, Kee cites the Chamber of Shipping of British Columbia, an international trade group. “If you look at the Chamber of Shipping, you have tugboat operators, you have agents, you have chandlers, you have training schoolsall of these different sectors in that one association,” Kee says. “How am I ever going to make contact with all of them? So I just [include a representative of] one association; I call it a person of influence.’ When I need something done, and they’re in alignment, they say, Thanks for including me. I’ll get the association behind it.”

Some of the groups were leery of Kee’s approach at first. “This is pretty much revolutionary in the industryto have people like longshoremen and police officers in the same room to talk about security,” says Dave Loban, the director of contract security services for the port. “I don’t know if this is being done anywhere else.”

It took patience, good listening skills and just the passing of time to make it work. It also took some trial and error to find the right people to include. But even that, Kee insists, was pretty easy.

“I’d try to do something, and my phone would ring. They’d say, What do you think you’re doing? That’s a stupid idea.” Here Kee pauses, then continues, sounding like a cook admitting that a recipe is deceptively simple. To the naysayer, he’d respond, “Oh, I never thought about it. Next time I have an idea, can I bounce it off of you?”

The approach eventually worked, and the 65 to 80 members of the committee grew to trust him as a mediator. The ID card program that the team developeda smart card that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to transmit data to security access pointswas better than what Kee could have done on his own, because everyone played a role in developing it and had a stake in its success.

“My boss will kill me for saying this, but we’re very fortunate that it was illegal for the federal government to give us money,” he says. “Say I got a $10 million grant. Can you imagine the mess I would get into? I wouldn’t need anybody, right? I would try to do it all myself, and the local salesman would tell me I could do this and that, and I’d be issuing cards, and it would have been a mess.”

Here’s how it works instead. The port authority issues blank cards, and the port’s various employers issue the personalized cards and have the power to revoke them. If somebody loses or misuses his card, he has to answer to his bossnot Kee. And the port authority paid for very little of the programabout $80,000 up front, with almost no ongoing costs. The associations who actually issue the cards pay for them or pass the costs on to cardholders.

When asked about the system’s payoff, Kee leads this reporter to a common area of the port authority offices, where four large screens display mostly truck traffic making its way into and out of the secure areas of the port.

This is where Kee gets excited. Before, he says, access to the road was unrestricted, and the public used it to skirt past downtown traffic. Now, as part of another perimeter protection program, only authorized vehicles are allowed in. The port is operating at its lowest security level, Marsec 1, so one guard is monitoring 12 access points remotely. When a trucker whose RFID card grants him port access approaches the gate, the gate goes up, and the tire shredders stay down. The trucker barely slows down.

Kee cites the costs and benefits of this setup (here, in Canadian dollars). “It costs $125,000 a year to have someone sitting in that booth. So I’m saving $125,000 there,” he says, starting to point at several computer screens. “I’m saving $125,000 there. I’m saving $125,000 there. There, there, there. There.” He pauses to watch a truck pass through a gate, then continues, almost conspiratorially. “See that? The truck doesn’t stop. When that truck stops, it costs them $3.”

This is the kind of business sense that allowed Kee to convince stakeholders that restricting access to the port was worth the hassle. And here’s another payoff: When the card is read, the crew back at the terminal knows to expect the truck and can start preparing to load or unload it. What’s more, by limiting the amount of traffic on the road, the port authority estimates that it has saved $12 million by eliminating the need for a road expansion.

“The fact is, when [Kee] puts a security system in place, he also looks at how it can improve and enhance [all] port operationsnot just securitywise,” says Beth Brown, a regional security inspector for Transport Canada, the government agency that regulates the port. (Brown spoke to CSO as a colleague of Kee’s, not as a representative of Transport Canada.) Brown cites the vehicle access system as an example of a security application with business benefits. “He brings a lot of synergy to the port security community. Graham has one of the best operations going, because of his approach and his proactiveness. He’s in the lead.”

Another Test

The coming months will test the amount of goodwill that Kee has truly garnered. The Canadian government has announced that it will soon require a background check on anyone in the port who has certain responsibilities or access to certain areas. The details of the regulations are still being worked out, but there are huge points of contentionprimarily that the government wants to know not only criminal history but also a bevy of personal details such as ethnicity, ex-spouses and everywhere the employee has traveled in the past five years.

Naturally, many in the port community are upset, seeing this as an invasion of their privacy. Among the loudest critics are members of the port’s powerful longshoremen’s union. This makes negotiations tricky, because many Canadians believe that the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang and organized crime figures control this union.

It’s a perception that Kee and others say is grossly exaggerated. “Are there Hell’s Angels working the port? Absolutely,” says Jock Wadley, who heads the city of Vancouver’s waterfront police team. But, Wadley insists, “Organized crime does not control the port authority. They don’t control the terminals. They don’t control labor unions.”

Nevertheless, even the perception of a link to organized crime complicates discussions about the background checks, because it feeds into the stereotype that the unions have something to hide. In this debate, Kee must serve as a liaison, learning about how the background checks will work and explaining it to members of the port community. Kee is optimistic that reason will prevail.

“You’re filling out this form, and you’re putting down a lot of personal information,” Kee says. “If you know exactly what [the government] does with the information, if you know what laws are there to prevent them from doing this or that with the information, if you know what their policies are, then you feel a lot better. I want to make sure that everybody who has to go through the background check understands what happens to that information.”

On this day, even Kee didn’t know what would happen to the information. He was gearing up for a day of meetings with Transport Canada, where he and other stakeholders were going to get more information about the program.

To read some of the news articles about resistance to the checks, you might think that a strike is imminent. But to hear Kee talk, his contingency plan for a labor stoppage is already in place, and it is going pretty well, thank you very much. “I’m not going to implement any program that’s going to fail, so my contingency is already started, to make sure that this program is successful,” he says. “That’s by inclusion, that’s by communication, and that’s by proper implementation. The failure of the contingency plan is a strike.”

The question of failure or success will be answered by autumn. Several months from now, according to Kee’s plans, there will be another tiny bit of information on that white ID card. Background check passed? Yes/no. If the cardholder needs to have had the check done, and if the cardholder passed that check, then the right gate will go up. It’ll be just another door carefully opened by Graham Kee, with a little help from a lot of other people.