Fresh out of college, Ned Barham joined T. Parker Host as a boarding agent on March 10, 1980, and today he celebrates 40 years with us!

“I just knew I wanted to be on the water,” he says. “I didn’t even know what a ship agent did, but I knew it sounded exciting.” Much to the contrary, his first few weeks were spent in the office reading study materials and learning how to use a typewriter and telex machine. He still remembers the first time he boarded a ship. “It was anchored in the James, and I was just sent to deliver a message to the captain,” he recounts. “But I was thrilled to finally be out of the office and nervous the whole trip there, wondering if anyone on the vessel would know English.”

Before long, the mystery became his favorite part of the job. "Every day is different in this industry,” he beams. If being the first boarding agent in Hampton Roads to board a ship by helicopter wasn’t enough, he says he’s always treasured the opportunity to learn about new cultures. “I’ve appreciated the challenge of finding solutions while working with various personalities and nationalities,” he says.

Meeting a helicopter to board a ship in the 1980s

Meeting a helicopter to board a ship in the 1980s

Ned was a boarding agent alongside Tom and David Host, the third generation of the family business. “Mr. Host held his kids to high standards, and he treated me no differently,” he says. “If we saw a ship coming down the river from our office window, we knew we had better learn everything about it before Mr. Host came in and asked. He always preached our role as detectives, and he took it seriously. That thinking has carried on to the research we still do today to track trends and find the best solutions for our customers.”

From left to right: David Host, Tom Host, and Ned in the 1990s

From left to right: David Host, Tom Host, and Ned in the 1990s

In the past 40 years, Ned says technology has changed the maritime industry more than anything. “We’ve always embraced technology to give our customers the best service possible,” he explains. “Now you know almost everything about the ship before it arrives, and it has certainly made communication a lot easier. You don’t have to run around with a pocket full of dimes to call the office from a pay phone after receiving a message from the vessel in Morse code from the coast station,” he laughs. But he misses the slower speed of the business from those days. “It was a simpler time. Ships were in port longer, which meant you spent a lot more time with everyone involved with a port call. I miss that. Everything moves so quickly now.”

Ned spent 12 years as a boarding agent before moving up to operations manager, and then to senior vice president of operations in 1999.  “As a small, family company, progression was slow back then,” he explains. “The lack of promotion opportunities also made it difficult to recruit new talent.” In fact, Ned and Tom Host were the managers who hired Adam Anderson, Host’s current CEO. “We hired him as an entry level boarding agent on the condition he’d promise to stay for two years,” Ned laughs. “Clearly, things changed. The opportunities at Host are limitless now. You can go as far as you want and in so many different directions.”

The reason for the upsurge in opportunities was the expansion of Host’s operations, growing from one small ship agency office in Norfolk, VA when Ned started to the company’s current count of 30 agency, stevedoring, and terminal operations, spanning the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts. Ned was on the front lines for much of this growth, boarding the company’s first vessels in Baltimore, MD, Brunswick, GA, Wilmington, NC, and Morehead City, NC.

His years in ship agency helped him with his current role of terminal manager for Host’s operations at the Perdue grain elevator in Chesapeake, VA, which he took on in 2014. After years in his executive role, he says he was excited to get back on the waterfront. “Being outside makes me happy,” he smiles. “I was thrilled to get out, board ships again, and experience the stevedoring side of the business.” He says his favorite thing about his job now is just going to work. “I know that sounds corny, but it’s just a neat job. I work with the same crew day in and day out, and we’re like a family. I love working together to get a ship loaded and then watching it sail.”

Ned (center) as terminal manager for Host's operations at the Perdue grain elevator in Chesapeake, VA

Ned (center) as terminal manager for Host's operations at the Perdue grain elevator in Chesapeake, VA

Still helping with Host’s growth, his favorite memory from the past 40 years was the time he spent training a new team of stevedores to load grain ships in Baton Rouge, LA, when Host took over stevedoring operations for the Louis-Dreyfus Commodities grain elevator in 2017. “It was very rewarding,” he says. “I still keep in touch with some of the guys I trained, and I enjoy watching them progress.”

Ned (center) training a new team of stevedores at the Louis Dreyfus Grain Elevator in Baton Rouge, LA

Ned (center) training a new team of stevedores at the Louis Dreyfus Grain Elevator in Baton Rouge, LA

His favorite thing about Host is that it’s a family company. “Even with all the growth we’ve experienced, the company still cares about each team member and the person’s entire family,” he says. “Adam has done a fantastic job bringing that piece of our culture into the next generation.”

Ned was born and raised in Portsmouth, VA and has been happily married to his wife Penny for 36 years. They live on the water and enjoy spending as much time as possible on their boats. Ned especially enjoys fishing with his three sons, one of whom works for Host in Baltimore.

Celebrating 40 years with T. Parker Host

Celebrating 40 years with T. Parker Host