By Dan Catchpole
Everett Herald Writer
EVERETT — He hasn’t worked for a shipping line. He didn’t come from the export industry, moving goods to foreign markets through seaports. But Les Reardanz believes he is the right person right now to lead the Port of Everett.
He takes over the port’s top job next month, succeeding longtime Port Director John Mohr.
Since joining the Port of Everett as deputy director nearly four years ago, Reardanz has played a major role in everything from drafting new policies to looking after environmental clean-up projects to negotiating the transfer of the Mukilteo Tank Farm from the U.S. Air Force to the port.
Ask him about his successes at the port and the 49-year-old will tell you about “our successes.”
It is not a forced modesty. It comes naturally, but it is a leadership style that Reardanz says he has honed.
“I’m a servant leader,” he said.
An executive exists to help the team succeed, not the other way around.
“My philosophy is teamwork, trust and transparency,” he said.
Employees and executives have to be focused on how they help the organization succeed, he explained. Transparency is vital so people understand where an organization is headed and why it is going that way. Managers have to trust people to do their jobs. And employees have to trust that their higher-ups will support them.
“I’ve learned that over the years from good leaders and, quite frankly, from bad leaders, too. Sometimes you can learn the most from the bad ones,” he said and laughed.
Reardanz grew up in Chicago, where his father worked in agriculture. His family moved to Los Angeles just before he started high school, and that’s where he met his future wife, Diane. He stayed in California for college and law school.
After school, he briefly went into private practice before joining the U.S. Navy in his mid-20s.
“It was around the first Gulf War, and I felt like I needed to do my part,” Reardanz said.
After several years in active service as a military lawyer, he transferred to the Navy Reserve and took a job with Seattle law firm Lane Powell’s maritime division.
He also spent more than a decade with the city of Bellingham, where he worked as a legal advisor and oversaw redevelopment of the waterfront there for nearly two years.
Reardanz is still a Navy Reserve officer. In 2008, he was sent to Afghanistan, where he advised the top NATO commander there on building the country’s judicial system.
He recently got a new assignment: legal advisor to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military’s top command.
His Navy service helps him try new approaches to problems rather than just doing the same old thing again, Reardanz said.
When he landed in Kabul in 2008, for example, he realized very quickly that establishing rule-of-law there wasn’t just about writing up legal procedures and an org chart. The solution had to be rooted in local culture, he said. “I had to get away from my Western perspective.”
Reardanz enjoys tackling problems without clear solutions.
That attitude will likely serve him well as the port’s director. There will be plenty to do.
The port’s long-term plans include more than 100 projects. Most of those fall into a few categories: real estate development, such as the Waterfront Place Central and Riverside Business Park; facility upgrades, such as strengthening and eventually extending the south marine terminal; and environmental cleanup, such as removing contaminated soil from the East Waterway by the former Kimberly-Clark mill site.
“Pretty much every site we have is a clean-up project,” he said, only half-joking, as he walked along the South Terminal.
The pier was originally built by Weyerhaeuser, which operated one of the many mills and other industrial operations that crowded the waterfront for much of the 20th century. Back then, Everett was called the “city of smokestacks.”
The port’s to-do list is long, far-ranging and expensive. It plans on spending $134 million on capital projects over the next five years.
“We’ve got the plans. My job is to facilitate them, and make sure we get where we’re trying to go,” he said.
Reardanz is taking over a team that he has helped create. He helped in the hiring of recent top additions, including a new marina director, business development director and purchasing manager.
Port employees sing his praises.
“He trusts people to do their jobs,” said Terrie Battuello, the business development director. “It creates room for innovation.”
That is not something the port industry is generally known for.
“He’s also a nice guy to work with. I mean, we’re often here 12 hours a day,” so getting along goes a long way, she said.
Reardanz said he hopes to finish his professional career at the port, but he does not want to get complacent.
“I feel that I’m the right person for this organization right now,” he said.
But in eight or 10 years, he said, he’ll ask himself and the three elected port commissioners, “Am I still the right person to lead this organization?”
Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; email@example.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.