On the Waterfront

OOCL’s container yard, Port of Long Beach. The Seapac offices were in the building partly covered by the third crane from the left.

Summer 1986
Long Beach, CA

I came out of UC Davis determined to go into business with China, and having read and re-read James Clavell’s Tai-Pan and Noble House until the covers fell off I was convinced that shipping was the way in. After all, this was how Struan & Company made their fortunes, and by extension so did the modern trading houses. Shipping was IT.

Plus, every young man loves hardware.

A three-month internship at Seapac Services, the North American sales department for C.Y. Tung’s Orient Overseas Container Line, proved that the steamship business was not the right path into global business. The money was being siphoned out of the industry by brutal business cycles, giant capital requirements, and the commoditization of service. It was all scale and price, and by the time Seapac offered me a job at the end of my internship, I was ready for almost anything else.

That said, spending that time in the guts of the business was a front-row education in the mechanics of trade that served me brilliantly at Thunderbird and throughout my career.

That summer I lived at my parents’ house in Beverly Hills and commuted to Long Beach. My car was new, the freeway smooth, so I hardly noticed the drive.

And frankly, if you had to spend a summer overlooking a container port, there are few of the breed more picturesque than Long Beach.