We’re enjoying predictably unpredictable March weather today, and Excell Member Jim Rothlin is having another predictably unpredictable day as CEO of the Port of Bremerton. “Yesterday, we were in the middle of anchoring a historical navy ship onto mooring, which was a first for us….the day before, an aerospace conference…” With the Port’s role in economic and land development, creating jobs and bringing businesses to the area, Rothlin might work with any industry at any time. “I’m constantly getting ideas; how to develop, market, engineer this or that property for kitty litter production or bioengineering or green energy or anything; it’s just incredibly interesting.”
Overseeing an agency responsible for managing a marina, an airport and land might be information overload for some. But Rothlin calls it “energizing” and cites his entrepreneurial spirit. “If I were doing the same thing every day for five years my brain would get bored. This industry is different every day. Constant opportunity – that’s what drives me. If you give me one idea, I’ll try to figure out how to do it bigger, better, faster, more efficiently.”
After three years with the Port, Rothlin finds pride in the people on board and the passion that they have for bringing jobs to the community. He references a company which was considering moving and taking its ˜200 jobs with it, but ultimately stayed after Rothlin and Port staff brainstormed ways to make it sensible for them to do so. “Anytime I can keep jobs here, or bring jobs here, that’s what I’m most proud of,” he says.
A recent big success was the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) event. The Port anticipated handling up to 500 planes, 1500 cars and predicted attendance at around 2500. In reality, over 700 planes came through, there were about 2500 cars and over 4,000 people attended, learning about the future of airplanes, about flying itself and places to go by plane; there were booths and music and food. Rothlin said they received nothing but compliments about the event and the handling of the massive turnout. It brought the highly accessible airport to the attention of many pilots and visitors, which was a win for the community.
Citing the wide range of projects the Port is involved in that lead to job creation and quality of life benefits for the community, Rothlin says that “this is something I would want to do for free…always trying to find ways to help the community, to spend 50-60 hours a week doing that is fulfilling.”
Rothlin was born in California, and his family moved to a dairy farm in Chehalis, Washington while he was in elementary school. Initially, because he was good with maths, he went to school for accounting. Concerned that by his last year of college most of his fellow students had dropped the accounting path, he pushed on through and eventually found that an accounting degree prepared him for more than a traditional accounting career. He enjoyed jobs that were finance-related; using numbers to understand how to make a business grow. “I can look at a spreadsheet or a balance sheet and tell the story of the business.” This was a perfect fit for him to start his own financial consulting company, upon his return to Washington State after initial post-college work in the tech companies of Silicon Valley. Despite his love of the Bay area – being able to play basketball outside in the winter is possibly the greatest thing ever, he says – he moved back because he knew he’d want to raise his kids in Washington.
To younger people unsure of which direction to go for a career, Rothlin says, “If you’re interested in a certain line of business, go talk to someone in it.” When he injured his knee and was sidelined from his many sports activities – including his favorite, basketball – he became curious about the physical therapy field. In talking with a physical therapist about their job, he found that it wasn’t the path he wanted to take, but feels that most people are happy to talk to younger folks about their own jobs and opportunities. “I tell people, ‘Go with what your passion is, don’t go where you think the money is. If you don’t like what you’re doing, it’s harder to be happy and financially successful than if you like what you’re doing and you’re good at it.’ ” Ultimately the advice is to “find out what’s important to you, and then talk to people who are doing it already.”
One of Rothlin’s passions is coaching, and when he was running his own business, he had the freedom of flexibility and was able to coach baseball at a high school level. He enjoys mentoring and says that the more time you spend coaching, the less time you spend teaching about baseball and more time about life. Rothlin’s wife teaches fourth and fifth graders; he sees one of her greatest accomplishments as building up kids’ self-confidence. “I’m in awe of what she does…those kids love her…she really does teach them how to have confidence.” While working in different fields, Rothlin and his wife are both coaching the future leaders of our communities.
Rothlin cites the 1995 film Mr. Holland’s Opus as an example of how sometimes a legacy isn’t created knowingly. “This was a guy who thought [his destiny] was to create this opus and he spends his life trying to create it, and meantime he’s teaching to facilitate that, but realizes his real purpose was all those lives that he changed, of those kids….That movie just chokes me up when I watch it. I want to feel like I made a difference in people’s lives.” He notes that not everyone has the same drive, or the feeling that they are meant to do something important, something that changes lives somehow – and that it’s too bad we don’t always know that we’re building our legacies while actively pursuing something different!
While the work itself is rewarding and energizing in its own rights, something Rothlin hopes to learn from other Excell members is how to develop more habits around recharging the batteries; how to step away from work at times. Since moving to the Bremerton area for the Port job, he spends more time at work than he used to and doesn’t know as many people outside of work. His primary method of clearing his head is golf. “Once I’m on the course everything disappears except the next shot; it puts me in the now.” (A little golf joy to the right here!) He notes that despite living relatively close to the Kitsap area growing up, he’d never been to Kitsap County and wants to continue to explore the incredible area.
With the work of the Port all around him, and the gorgeous Kitsap-Olympic Peninsula backdrop, Rothlin will surely continue to discover new opportunities to renew his energy stores, so he can continue to do work that he feels called to do!
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