Mark Collins remembers, as a boy, making trips to the grocery store with his mother after winter ice had blocked ferry service to Newfoundland for weeks on end. Without the ferry, the island had no supply of fresh produce. “My mother used to hunt for the least rotten vegetables,” Collins says. “From an early age, I understood that ferries are critical.”
Collins has swapped the East Coast for the West Coast, but his love of the ocean is a constant; he spent his career as a marine engineer and executive before joining BC Ferries in 2004. In the spring of 2017, after roles as vice-president of strategic planning and community engagement, and vice-president of engineering, Collins became the company’s CEO. He’s in charge of the long-term health of BC Ferries — calibrating plans, making sure the right people are in the right positions and overseeing vessels, terminals and financing.
It’s a huge job, but Collins can’t believe how much fun he’s having.
“The job is about solving problems, and it’s enjoyable to help others succeed,” he says.
In his first year as CEO, Collins has worked with the BC Ferries team and coastal communities to add sailings and modify schedules for certain routes. The Comox-Powell River and Denman Island-Hornby Island routes have gained much-needed sailings. Work has also been done to improve the on-time performance of vessels for commuters in the community of Langdale on the Sunshine Coast who rely on sailings to and from Horseshoe Bay.
Collins knows changes like these can make a big difference to communities on the coast. He plans to delight customers in smaller ways too, by empowering frontline employees to be creative and flexible in customer interactions.
“If a customer spills his bowl of soup on the deck, give him a new one straight away. The people with the answers are our frontline employees. There are hundreds of ways they can make a customer’s day,” Collins says. He’s proud of the enthusiasm with which employees are embracing this approach.
While he never loses sight of the procedural side of the ferry business — the side that delivers commuters and tourists to their destinations and keeps passengers safe — Collins knows customers are the company’s heart. He hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to wait all night at a Newfoundland ferry terminal.
“I always think about the way I like to be treated,” he says. “Let’s see if we can make every customer happy in the same way.” Right now, he’s excited about a new project that will aim to improve the experience for customers as they travel through BC Ferries terminals.
Collins says his father taught him to sail when he taught him to walk, and he has done the same for his own three children. He doesn’t have a lot of free time, but the little time he does have, he spends with his family, on his motorbike and — of course — exploring the coast in his own small boat. “I like my time on the water,” he says.