When Gordon Yahn describes his career in the marine industry in British Columbia, he does so in the context of the various mentors who have provided him with guidance and advice — Don Mackenzie, John Cosulich, Bob Shields, Wayne Cammell and others who have helped shape B.C.’s tugboat sector. As his own career has progressed, Yahn has taken the lessons learned from these masters and applied them to various roles. Now, as an owner of Samson Tugboats, he employs the sum of his education to develop a company that prides itself on innovation, safety, and quality service and relationships. While his success is a testament to his mentors, one realizes the truth of an age-old adage: If you work with giants long enough, you eventually become one yourself.
BCSN: Let’s start with a bit of background — tell me how you got involved in the marine industry.
GY: I got my start while still in high school. I worked summers with Mackenzie Sea Services/Seaforth Towing — they had a collection of older docking tugs in Port Moody. Their fleet contained tugs of single-engine, Second World War-vintage, but they got the job done. Seaforth was a very well-run company — it was small but very professional and well-managed and respected. The experience has always stuck with me and I wanted to emulate that culture. It’s how we try to run Samson Tugboats, albeit with more modern assets.
By the time I got there, Seaforth had been purchased by the Cates Group but was still partially operating out of Port Moody. Seaforth owner Don Mackenzie was focusing on his marine construction and towing business. It was an interesting experience and gave me a good overview of a number of sectors within the industry.
In 1999, I started working for Rivtow and became their operations manager, including responsibility for the company’s chemical barge towing contract. It was still owned by the Cosulich family at that time. Working for John Cosulich was a great experience. I haven’t seen his equal in terms of a sharp mind for business. He was not afraid to make tough decisions, and if an activity didn’t make money, it was considered a hobby. He turned an unfocused organization into a really good profit centre to his credit.
Following Rivtow, I became the assistant operations manager for Island Tug and Barge. Bob Shields is another leader who greatly impressed me with his technical knowledge, plus a deep understanding of the regulatory issues as well as his business ethics. I was responsible for ITB’s bunker business in Vancouver harbour and both North and South Coast pool barge runs.