David Fennelly- ‘Maritime Person of the Year’

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 23, 2008

By Kevin Chiri

Got to meet an interesting River Region businessman recently when I attended a couple of events in one afternoon on the Port of South Louisiana property.

I was covering the groundbreaking for a huge cargo storage shed, which will be constructed by Associated Terminals, the Reserve company that handles the majority of shipments into and out of the Port of South Louisiana.

I have slowly figured out more and more about this Associated Terminals company, which sits rather quietly on River Road, appearing as a small business that certainly could never be much of a power player in our heavy industrial laden scene here.

But trust me, there is much more to meet the eye with Associated Terminals than you might think.

You have to remember that even as I just passed my four year anniversary here as publisher with L’Observateur, there is so much I am still learning about the people here, and certainly the very important business scene.

Associated Terminals has done advertising with us (which I naturally thank you for,) and I had noticed their name as being a sponsor here or there with particular public events. But that was about all I knew about the company other than passing it on River Road many times.

But when I got a call a couple of months back about the biggest ship ever to pull into dock at the Port of South Louisiana facility near Reserve, my knowledge about Associated Terminals was about to change.

I was invited to take a boat ride on the Mississippi with Barry Hoth, a vice president with Associated, and that gave me some insight into just what Associated Terminals does. It was then that I learned they were the major player in the cargo business with the Port of South Louisiana, and even for a dummy like myself, I began to get it.

Fast forward to the social event at the Port of South Louisiana house in Reserve, following the groundbreaking, and I had figured out after I took a picture earlier that a fellow named David Fennelly was the president and owner of Associated Terminals.

Talk about a low-key guy! David came across at the groundbreaking as just a good-natured man who was quite friendly, and didn’t strike you as a tough, hard-nosed businessman who had turned Associated Terminals from almost nothing into a multi-million dollar company that has a presence which touches around the entire world.

David still probably has to pinch himself to believe he is now heading up a company which does hundreds of millions of dollars in business each year, but was barely in existence little more than a decade ago.

For that matter, David is probably still wondering how he is in the river cargo business, or stevedoring business, as it is correctly called.

He was born in Boston, Mass. to Irish parents, who then moved back to County Cork, Ireland, where he grew up until the age of 21. However at that point in his life he decided to move back to the United States, and came to Lexington, Kentucky due to his love of horses.

His Irish accent is still hanging on, and you can definitely hear it if you listen closely. However I think we all know it doesn’t have much of a chance of staying around much longer since he is settling in nicely with all these Cajuns.

But I digress.

At the age of 27, David got offered a job by a client from the Spendthrift Farms where he worked, which was one of the premier horse stables and farms in Kentucky. But the job was in a completely different line of work, which quickly had David heading to New Orleans in 1991, where he began to learn all about ships that loaded and unloaded cargo.

Even though he never attended college, David is obviously one of those guys who has tons of common sense, and he was a quick study with this new business he was around. That led to forming a small company with a friend, that was called Associated Terminals, and a company that became his own in 1995 when he bought the friend out.

His big step up came in 1996 when he walked into a bank office and somehow convinced a board of directors that this young fellow from Ireland was bright enough, sharp enough, and savvy enough to take $4 million of their money to buy a couple of huge floating cranes, so he could actually make his company begin to operate and earn some money.

The gamble paid off in a big way and now he has 11 of these multi-million dollar floating cranes up and down the Mississippi River, doing more business than he probably ever imagined.

His company now has—get this—450 employees around the world after barely over 10 years in business, and I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Fennelly is pretty happy about his decision to leave the horses.

Think that’s enough? David was also named the “Maritime Person of the Year” just last October by the Propeller Club of the United States, Port of New Orleans Chapter.

Through it all, the man couldn’t be more humble, giving all the praise to “some amazing and incredibly smart people” who run his company and ensure everything flows smoothly.

I found out that the Associated Terminals logo, which has a huge ‘A’ in it, actually stands for “Ability and Attitude to Accomplish Anything for our Customers.”

That should answer any further questions you may have about how this soft-spoken man from Ireland has risen so quickly to rank as one of the most influential and important business men in the River Region.

Kevin Chiri is Publisher of L’Observateur and can be reached at (985) 652-9545 or at kchiri@bellsouth.net