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Former port president Silvester reflects on 14 years at helm

Robin Silvester tells the Delta Optimist he’s proud of what has been accomplished and looks forward to new opportunities
Robin Silvester taking part in a 2021 dive at the Maplewood habitat project to check eel grass beds. Port of Vancouver image

He’s taking some time off after serving 14 years in a very high-profile position, but isn’t ready to enter the world of retirement just yet.

June 30 marked Robin Silvester’s last day as president and CEO of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, which oversees, among other port operations, the Deltaport container terminal at Roberts Bank.

Most of his tenure included overseeing what turned out to be a lengthy and highly complex Terminal 2 expansion application, which recently received the green light from the federal government, but still requires a provincial thumbs-up.

“I’m just really proud of where the organization is and, as I reflect back over the 14 years, we delivered some real progress including growth in trade, significant new capacity, whether it’s a new grain terminal or Centerm expansion or T2 over the line, but also significant progress on the environmental front and significant progress in our community relationships,” he said. “As I look back on it, I’m proud we moved the dial on our vision creating a sustainable port. There’s still a lot to do, but there’s a great team of people at the port authority to do it.”

After a worldwide search, the port hired Silvester in early 2009 to replace the retiring Capt. Gordon Houston.

At the time, the port said it was, “important that we found someone with the business intelligence and global experience that Robin possesses.”

A significant part of his career was in the ports sector, working in a number of senior roles internationally.

In one of his first interviews with the Optimist, talking about future infrastructure and capacity expansion, he stressed the importance of community and stakeholder consultation for projects.

Now saying he feels relaxed “after being 24/7 for Canada’s biggest port” and is looking forward to visiting family in Europe, as well as doing some cycling, Silvester said his position turned out, “to be a lot more opportunity and a lot more fun than I expected.”

“The thing that really was more than I expected was the scale of the opportunity and what we delivered as far as growing Canada’s trade capacity on the west coast,” he said. “It ended up, really, being a much bigger opportunity than I realized when I took it on and we made the most of it.”

When it was announced in June that Silvester would be leaving, the port noted his tenure saw, “unprecedented port growth due to port authority-led infrastructure investments in Vancouver’s gateway, which have supported and catalyzed private-sector investments throughout the port. During Robin’s tenure, these investments in the gateway have helped drive more than 40 per cent growth in international trade through the Port of Vancouver.”

The port authority also stated that under his leadership, the port set and is actively advancing a vision to be the world’s most sustainable port, protecting the environment and “winning significant recognition for its environmental programs.”

Silvester said a key development for the port just before his arrival was the amalgamation of the previous three port authorities into one.

“Bringing the three together brought that strategic coherence of one organization looking after Canada’s trade and, by far, Canada’s biggest port, and plan for the whole of the Lower Mainland in the most effective way, building relationships with communities to delivering environmental programs across the jurisdictions,” he noted.

Reflecting that he’d get bored, Silvester said he’s not ready to retire just yet and will consider his options after enjoying some time off.

He said he may look at future opportunities involving relationship-building with communities and First Nations, as well as helping to make significant progress when it comes to environmental agendas.

The port authority’s board of directors said it will undertake a global search for a new president and CEO.

Chief financial officer Victor Pang will fill the role in the interim.