Former Matson President and CEO Michael Wasacz Dies at Age 73

Former Matson President and CEO Michael S. Wasacz died yesterday in San Francisco at age 73.

Wasacz’s career with the company spanned from 1959 to 1990 and included eight years as president of Matson Navigation Company and two years as president of its parent company, Alexander & Baldwin, Inc., of Honolulu.

A native of a small coal-mining town, Olyphant, Pennsylvania, Wasacz was the youngest of 10 children. He lost his father when he was 13 and his mother when he was 19. Following a short stint in the Army, Wasacz worked for Bankers Trust in New York, while putting himself through college at St. John’s University. His Matson career began in 1959 when he accepted a position as a freight clerk in the company’s relatively small office at Rockefeller Center. In 1961, he was able to transfer to Matson’s San Francisco office and began his career arc with the organization. His objective throughout was to gain as much knowledge of all facets of Matson’s business as possible. In a 1983 interview, he reflected: “Through most of my early career I resisted being cast in any role other than that of a generalist. I was sure I could move up faster that way. Quite often in the early days my transfers were designed to provide such balance.”

By 1978, Wasacz had completed an intensive professional development program that had taken him to all Matson ports and exposed him to every aspect of the company’s operations. He had held managerial positions in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles; he had also served as area manager in Hawaii, Northern California and Southern California. He was made a vice president of Matson in 1976 and senior vice president in 1978. In 1979, Wasacz was named president of the subsidiary, Matson Terminals, Inc., which operated the company’s terminal operations on the West Coast and in Hawaii. In 1980 he was appointed executive vice president of Matson, and in 1981, became the 12th president in Matson’s history. In 1983, he was named president of A&B and relocated to Honolulu. He returned to San Francisco in 1985, once again as president of Matson.

As head of Matson during the 1980s, Wasacz led the company through a number of major initiatives. In the early 1980s, Matson was completing an ambitious 12-year ship construction program that involved building a modern, fully containerized fleet of vessels. In 1982, the S.S. Lurline returned to the Matson fleet following a conversion from a ro-ro ship to a combination container/ro-ro vessel with cargo capacity nearly tripled. Other major improvements for the company’s Hawaii service included relocating the company’s entire terminal facilities – cranes, equipment, containers and personnel – from an inefficient terminal at Pier 2, near downtown Honolulu, to an expanded site at Sand Island; the facility continues to be the hub of Matson’s operations today. In order to improve the level of service Matson provided to the Neighbor Islands, two specially designed container barges were constructed for the service.

In 1982, Matson celebrated the company’s centennial, which was commemorated with a number of events and festivities and included the publication of two history books about Matson’s evolution from sailing ships to containerization.

In 1987, the Matson subsidiary, Matson Intermodal System was established to serve the needs of the increasing intermodal volume on Matson ships, as well as international steamship companies moving freight through North America. The company is known today as Matson Integrated Logistics, and has a key role in Matson’s strategic growth. Another subsidiary, Matson Leasing Company, was formed in 1989, and established Matson as an international container leasing company. Headquartered in San Francisco, with an additional U.S. office in New York, Matson Leasing gave Matson a global presence, with offices in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Paris and Zurich. The company was sold to Xtra Corporation for $360 million in 1995.

Several key initiatives implemented during Wasacz’s tenure have had a long lasting impact on Matson. In December 1988, Wasacz led a restructuring effort of the entire Matson organization, establishing Marketing and Operations as the major entities in the corporate structure. That structure remains in place today. In addition, Wasacz began moving forward with significant investments in information technology, with the objective of designing and building new information systems that better serve Matson’s customers, providing them with timely information about their shipments. Similarly, in 1989, a centralized Customer Service Center was established in Los Angeles, providing customers with a toll free number to obtain virtually any type of shipment information. In addition, strategic investments were made in systems would be designed to afford customers direct access to online freight tracking, booking, billing, claims tracing and other information. That center became the model for Matson’s Customer Support Center in Phoenix, which today is recognized for its industry leading customer service.

“Mike Wasacz left a lasting legacy here at Matson,” says Matt Cox, president, Matson. “Under his leadership, a number of key initiatives enhanced Matson’s core market, our Hawaii service, including the company’s Sand Island facility and Neighbor Island barges. Equally important, he explored growth opportunities outside that market, with Matson Integrated Logistics a living testament to his vision. Our centralized Customer Support Center is another example of an initiative that has differentiated Matson in its markets and distinguished the company through its emphasis on exemplary customer service.”

After leaving Matson, Wasacz continued to work as a consultant, notably with the Bechtel Corporation in Houston, Texas. Additionally, Wasacz worked as Executive Director at the Institute of Human Origins in Berkeley, California.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Vera, his three children: Mark, Martha and Maria and his three grandchildren: Max, Sophie and Ava. A private family service will be held.