Black Ball Ferry Line sale ‘straightforward’

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The sale of Black Ball Ferry Line to its five-man executive management team earlier this month was “a very straightforward deal,” company President Ryan Burles said after the sale.

Sold to the executives by the Oregon State University Foundation, Black Ball will keep its existing Port Angeles-Victoria ferry service anchored by the 1,000-passenger MV Coho, Burles said recently.

Black Ball will remain a U.S. corporation based in Port Angeles, Burles said.

Also, the company will move forward with plans to replace the west side of its Port Angeles dock, a $4 million project expected to begin in the next 18 months and which already has permits in the works, he said.

“We will do everything we can to provide an excellent service, and we will solidify that,” he said, adding that the company intends to sign a long-term ferry terminal lease in Victoria with the Provincial Capital Commission.

Black Ball was never put up for sale, and the foundation approached only Black Ball’s executive management team to purchase the ferry line, Burles added.

Sale earlier this month

The sale of the company for an undisclosed price was announced Jan. 10 but actually occurred Jan. 5 in a Seattle lawyer’s office,
Burles said.

That’s where company Senior Vice President of Finance David Booth and CEO Capt. John Cox, both of Seattle, signed documents that transferred the company from the Oregon State University Foundation to Black Ball’s executives.

Other owners are Burles of Victoria and District Manager Rian Anderson and Director of Marketing Ryan Malane, both of Port Angeles.

Burles said the sale is solely to the executive management team.

Black Ball has 51 other full-time employees and a staff of 110 in the busy summer season, Burles said.

History of ownership

How did a ferry company with a $4 million annual payroll that sustains employees in Canada and the United States come to be owned by a university foundation?

The late Lois Acheson, an Oregon State University alumnus with a love for animals, bequeathed the company to the school’s foundation for 10 years upon her death in 2004 as part of a $21 million endowment for the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

A feminist pioneer in her own right, Acheson had taken over Black Ball Freight Service and Black Ball Transit in 1963 at age 32 upon the death of her husband and just four years after the Coho was built.

“You need to be very strong-willed and capable to do that,” Burles said.

“I was a little intimidated by her. I think most people were,” he added. “She was a very, very exacting person. She was very strong, very fair. She wanted things done right.”

Only woman in her line of business

Acheson was the only woman chief executive in the freight-carrier business on the Pacific Coast and possibly the nation, and was the first woman elected to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce Board of Trustees, according to her Seattle Times obituary.

In 1975, she sold Black Ball Freight Service to concentrate on ferry service.

The 10-year window in Acheson’s gift to her alma mater did not create a hard-and-fast time frame for the university foundation to own Black Ball, nor did it require the foundation to sell the company in 2014, foundation spokeswoman Molly Brown said last week.

The foundation always had intended to sell Black Ball; it was just a question of when, she said.

Black Ball created a voting trust with shares that were passed on to the foundation.

Within the trust were the seeds of the bequest’s demise — and the company’s sale.

“[The trust] was created to give time for the foundation to sell the shares or to transition the management,” Brown said.

“The idea was to give us that amount of time to make arrangements for a smooth transition to new ownership,” she said, a goal in keeping with Acheson’s desire to benefit the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Over the past 6 years where the foundation has been involved as owner of the company, we have worked closely with management to stabilize ridership and make sure the company was on solid, profitable footing,” Brown said.

“We felt it was a good time to sell it and to be carrying out her wishes, too, of benefiting the college,” she said.

“We know Mrs. Acheson’s intent was to preserve the legacy of Black Ball, and we feel the arrangement we made [to sell the company] will help carry out those wishes.

“We feel very good about passing ownership to the management team and keeping it local,” Brown said.

“We do believe that is honoring her wishes.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 22. 2012 6:22PM
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