Lisa Lefeber is the first female in the Port of Everett’s 100-year history to be named chief executive officer.
Lefeber, currently the deputy executive director of the Washington state port, will begin her new role October 16. The port’s all-male commission last week voted 3-0 to award her a contract for the top job.
“It’s definitely a tremendous honor” to be the first female CEO, Lefeber said. “I love and have so much passion for the port industry. It’s probably one of the coolest industries you could possibly be involved in. It gives me a great sense of pride to be able to be able to lead an organization in an industry I love so much.”
Lefeber will succeed Les Reardanz, who announced in July he will be stepping down as port CEO in October to move back to Bellingham, Wash., to focus on his aging parents and expanded military responsibilities. Last month, the U.S. Senate confirmed the promotion of Reardanz to rear admiral in the Navy Reserve Judge Advocates General Corps. Lefeber served as acting CEO in 2018, when Reardanz was deployed to Afghanistan.
Lefeber, who joined the port in 2005, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Western Washington University and a master’s degree in public administration from Seattle University.
“My first job out of college was working for an Everett newspaper and one of my assignments was to cover the Port of Everett,” she said. “The port was doing a lot of newsworthy activities at that time, so they directed quite a bit of my time to the port.”
Then Lefeber received a call asking if she would be interested in applying for a newly created position as port communications director.
“It was actually one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made because I loved news reporting and I loved the excitement and how it was always different. But with the trend that was going on in the industry (with newspapers downsizing and digitalizing), I made the decision to switch. It was honestly the best decision I’ve ever made,” she said.
Over the years, her job grew in scope and responsibility.
“Every time there was an opportunity to grow and take on more responsibility, even if it didn’t fit in my lane, I always took it,” she said.
In 2016, Lefeber was selected to lead the port’s seaport modernization efforts, which include infrastructure investments of more than $100 million to allow for larger ships and additional train volumes.
“One of the things that we needed to be able to make this modernization happen was to get the community on board and we needed to get the financing in place,” she explained. “Because we are an operating port right adjacent to the U.S. Navy base, we knew that we were going to need some federal support to be able to make this project happen. So I took charge to be to pull the community support as well as the financing from the state and federal government together as well as to keep our team on track to make sure we didn’t do anything in the project to jeopardize our state and federal funding.”
Lefeber also has spearheaded a project to nearly double the port’s footprint.
“We’re working on acquiring this 65-acre industrial property that’s right between the port’s industrial seaport and Naval Station Everett,” she said. “It’s got some infrastructure limitations in terms of environmental remediation and power. We need to be able to get a new substation put up so we can power it.”
The former site of a Kimberly-Clark mill has been idle since 2012. The one remaining structure, a nearly 400,000-square-foot warehouse, will be converted for port use. Lefeber expects portions of the project to be completed within five years.
“Going part and parcel with the property acquisition is we’re working on getting a shipyard back into port. We had a shipyard that left two years ago. It’s really been a void for the military and commercial maritime needs. We hope to have something soon for a shipyard in Everett to handle the commercial and military requirements because it gets expensive when you have to move sailors and tugboats and other watercraft for repairs,” she said.
Lefeber granted, “There’s not for lack of work for sure,” and explained berth lengthening at the south terminal also is in her sights.
“We just got done doing the modernization that should open in January to strengthen the dock. And now the next phase of that project is adding onto it. We need at least an 1,100-foot berth in that area. That’s a project that we’re actively planning and preparing for with the larger aerospace ships that are planned to come,” she said.
Port of Everett has three business lines, Lefeber said. “We operate the largest public marine on the West Coast. We’ve got 3,000 acres of property. Then we’ve got the international seaport. Moving farther down the port, we’re working on creating mixed-use redevelopment in between our marina. We want to make sure we have a balanced waterfront where we can protect and enhance the working waterfront for the seaport and trade and all the things that make the economy go around, but then also have a place where people can recreate and dine and enjoy the waterfront.”
A Northwest native, Lefeber grew up enjoying Washington’s waterfront.
“My aunt worked as a tugboat chef. I spent a lot of time down on the Tacoma waterway,” Lefeber said.
She has seen the maritime industry evolve over the years, although today only about 12 percent of Port Everett employees are female.
“When I first started in the port industry, it was even more drastic. It really has come a long way. It’s been an industry that’s really been diversifying over the last 15 years, and I see it. But it takes time,” she said. “I honestly think it’s not so much the women piece as much as the changing dynamics in our nation. A lot of families need two incomes to make ends meet in this day and age. It just happened organically with how society and the economy has changed.”