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Photo of James Lyons, CEO of Alabama State Port Authority speaking at a press conference in front of microphone
Alabama State Port Authority Director and CEO James K. “Jimmy” Lyons

Port of Mobile launches search for new CEO

PortandTerminal.com, December 6, 2019

Alabama State Port Authority Director and CEO James K. “Jimmy” Lyons, who has guided the growth of Mobile’s port for more than 20 years, has announced plans to retire at the end of 2020

MOBILE, AL – Alabama needs a new CEO and whomever that person ultimately turns out to be, they will have big shoes to fill. James Lyons is retiring.

James Lyons is the only person to have lead the Alabama State Authority since it was created in 2000 and now, after 50-years in the shipping industry, he is stepping down.

The Alabama State Port Authority wants to have Lyons’ successor in place as early as possible in 2020. Lyons, who is on the authority’s search team for the new port head, told staff on Tuesday he would step down at the end of next year after 23 years at the agency.

The search for Lyons’ replacement heralds the start of a new era for the port and follows the departure earlier this year of another long-time port veteran, deputy director and chief operating officer H.S. “Smitty” Thorne, who was replaced by Richard Clarke. 

Lyons, in an interview with JOC.com, said he opted to step aside in part because he had put several major projects on good footing. They included: a project to dredge the port channel, which obtained approval from the Army Corps of Engineers in September; the expansion of the port’s container terminal, which will be completed in the first quarter of 2020; and the creation of Mobile’s first auto-processing facility, which will open next year.

“There were things that I felt I needed to accomplish, or I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving,” he said.

Reflecting upon his career, Lyons said during his JOC.com interview that “A lot of what I’ve done over my career has been heavily involved in industrial development projects,” he said, citing the port’s involvement in persuading ThyssenKrupp Steel USA to open a $5 billion carbon and stainless steel plant in Calvert, Alabama, in 2010.

Port leadership also played a role in attracting Walmart, opening talks with the retail giant about the merits of the port a decade before it opened a new 2.6 million-square-foot international distribution center in Irvington, Alabama, in 2018.

“What we are hoping to find is someone that can stay here for a long time,”

“What we are hoping to find is someone that can stay here for a long time,” Lyons said, noting that luring major businesses to the area requires a sustained effort. “Planning and building out marine terminals takes a long time from ideas, to concept, to planning, to execution, to delivery.”

The next CEO will also need to negotiate with APM Terminals to secure the investment needed to continue the expansion of Mobile’s lone container terminal, Lyons said. Operator APM completed the development of an additional 20 acres of container storage space in September, and next year expects to complete the extension of a dock from 2,000 feet to 2,400 feet, allowing two post-Panamax vessels to be worked simultaneously. Further expansion involving 35 acres of land adjacent to the terminal is under discussion, Lyons said.

The port also needs to expand its ocean carrier business beyond the five services currently stopping at Mobile, Lyons said. A north-south service would add value to Mobile’s portfolio, enabling it to serve the fruit and concentrated fruit juice trade that comes from Latin America, Lyons said. The port also sees potential demand for a service from South Asia that could handle growing fish production in that region, he said.

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