Hiltzheimer, former Sea-Land CEO dies at 83
Charles I. Hiltzheimer, 83, who served as chief executive of three major U.S.-flag shipping lines — Sea-Land Service, United States Lines, and Puerto Rico Marine Management — at different times in his career, died suddenly on Monday in Charlottesville, Va.
Hiltzheimer had been living at home while battling a number of medical issues, when he had an aneurysm and died at the hospital.
He served as chairman and CEO of Sea-Land Service from 1976 to 1984, when the company was owned by the tobacco company R.J. Reynolds, and for a while after it was spun off.
When Dallas investor Harold Simmons sought to acquire Sea-Land in 1985-1986, in a battle he eventually lost to CSX, Hiltzheimer was named an advisor along with retired Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt.
Hiltzheimer joined Sea-Land in 1962, just six years after its founder, Malcom McLean, introduced containerized shipping.
Before becoming CEO, Hiltzheimer had held a variety of positions at the company, including executive vice president of the Pacific group, and president.
'He was the most natural leader I ever met in my life,' said Stanford Erickson, who worked for Hiltzheimer as vice president of public relations at Sea-Land for six years, then later covered him as an editor in chief for the Journal of Commerce.
Erickson recalled when he asked Hiltzheimer's secret to leadership, he was self-effacing enough to suggest that it was a good idea to look over your shoulder to see if anyone was following.
Erickson recalled how when a captain of a Sea-Land ship was reluctant to sail into Anchorage because of ice conditions, Hiltzheimer came to the ship himself and insisted the ship be taken into port.
'He was an exceptional person who excelled at every level of the company that he worked in. He was one of the real pioneers in the early and critical years at Sea-Land,' said Paul F. Richardson who preceded Hiltzheimer as president of the company.
A native of Pulaski, Va., Hiltzheimer earned a BA in business administration at the University of Richmond, and worked at Roadway Express before joining Sea-Land.
After McLean sold Sea-Land, he purchased U.S. Lines, quadrupling it in size by 1985, and building a dozen ships capable of carrying 4,258 TEUs, at the time the largest ships ever built. These so-called 'econships' were extremely fuel efficient, but operated at slow speeds and when fuel prices fell, the company had a hard time competing.
U.S. Lines was forced to seek protection under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code, and McLean hired Hiltzheimer, who had left Sea-Land several years earlier, to work as CEO and try to nurse U.S. Lines back to health, something that proved impossible.
Hiltzheimer ran yet another shipping company from November 1989 to October 1992, when he was hired to serve as president and CEO of Puerto Rico Marine Management Inc., the agent for the government-owned Navieras de Puerto Rico, which operated a service between the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico.
Later in his life, he was president of his own financial and transportation consulting firm located in Charlottesville.