Bill Payne adjusting his mortarboard before MET's commencement ceremony

An Interview with the President of NYK Line, North America

Shortly after 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 19, Bill Payne (MET’12) held aloft the banner for MET’s online International Marketing Management program and led his fellow graduates into BU’s Track & Tennis Center for the 2012 Metropolitan College Commencement ceremonies. Among twenty-five hundred cheering onlookers sat Payne’s wife of 35 years, Alice; his son Michael and daughter Laura (CAS’08); and his sister Janet. After the hard work and sacrifice, it was about time to celebrate.

Payne is no stranger to the international marketplace. He was recently appointed president of the North American division of NYK Line. The Japanese-owned company—established in 1885, after the Meiji Restoration—remains one of the world’s largest purveyors of shipping and logistics.

We asked the recent graduate and winner of the Excellence in Graduate Studies Award for International Marketing Management about his experiences in the shipping industry and as an online student.

Bill Payne, president of NYK Line, North America

Metropolitan: How did you first get involved in the shipping industry?

In 1973, after my first year at UC Berkeley, I had to quit a summer job pumping gas because of the oil crisis. I was able to sign on a newsprint ship, which worked the trade from mills in British Columbia owned by Crown-Zellerbach.

What do you do in your current role as president?

As president, I lead a staff of over four hundred in the U.S. and Canada. My goals for the organization are to interpret and execute the strategy conveyed from global headquarters, but at the same time, adapt it to the environment of North American competition and market realities. We are a value-added provider of ocean transportation. This includes providing inland transportation (or through-service) of containerized product, automobiles, and even bulk product shipping from major ports to inland networks and hubs. We are also number one in the world in the carriage of setup automobiles, on what we call our Roll-On/Roll-Off (RORO) vessels. We participate with global and regional automobile manufacturers in their supply chains to strategically support new car manufacture, subsequent export of vehicles, and the inward handling of the components to the plants.

How is the shipping industry evolving, and what challenges does it face?

Like the airlines, overcapacity of providers puts pressure on per-unit rates. Creating differential, sustainable advantage is critical. Fuel costs, and the inability to move beyond a market-pricing model without injecting a cost-based portion, make this difficult. Our company’s goal is to espouse and translate our value proposition.

What motivated you to return to school? How could a master’s degree possibly provide you with any advantage that outweighs your experience?

By the time I was a somewhat accomplished senior manager, I was engaged in managing many staff with master’s degrees and even law degrees. When I was moved to senior vice president of marketing, I felt a bit more out of my element—and my wife and I were approaching empty nest-hood. I felt time was moving along and a commitment should be made.

What made you choose the MS in International Marketing Management at BU?

My daughter was at BU at the time, and she was challenged and inspired. The Metropolitan College master’s program in International Marketing Management is well-rounded, executive in its business case analysis, and contemporary. It has assisted me in my latest elevation to president in 2011, and has allowed me to interact with all age groups and disciplines. It has also opened some of my team members’ eyes to what one can do, even if you are “older” or perceived to be “executive” already.

Bill Payne with his daughter Bill Payne at the shipping yard Bill Payne at Commencement

What were some highlights of the online experience?

The professors were well educated, but also successful in their fields of expertise, as demonstrated in their private enterprise experience. There are also some amazing people in this program as students—for instance, those who have experienced military service in the Middle East and subcontinent combat zones, and who then put their efforts into these programs. It was inspiring.

With your prominent position in a global company, you must be a very busy man. What motivates you?

International shipping and trade is a wonderful business, and I work for a magnificent firm. I am more motivated, now I have been through this program, than I have ever been in my career. I cannot imagine leading my team without the wisdom and rigor that Metropolitan College has imparted to me.

Knowing what you do about the shipping industry, what were some of the most valuable insights you gained from the online program?

The business cases were, in many instances, about corporations and enterprises that were my customers, and this insight and exposure allowed for a greater understanding of who they were, and the evolving strategies they deploy.

I would like to think the immediacy of the knowledge transfer from BU to the workplace enhanced my ability for creative thinking in a tough environment. I want to have some of my management explore MET, as it is invigorating and challenging, and, frankly, the delivery of the education is how business is done today.