Last day at helm for port chief due to LNP ending contract

LAST DAY: Leo Zussino.
LAST DAY: Leo Zussino.

GLADSTONE Ports Corporation will be rudderless for the next two weeks, as outgoing chief executive Leo Zussino slipped out the back door on Friday.

His replacement won't start until mid-September.

Gladstone leaders had nothing but praise for the fearless commander, who had the helm as the port made headlines for rapid industry expansion, and sick fish and marine animal deaths in the harbour.

But it was the new LNP State Government that saw the end to Mr Zussino's 21-year history with the port, announcing this year that his contract would not be renewed.

He spent nine years as chairman, and the past 12 as CEO, and made no secret of his desire to continue the role.

Whatever the reasons for Mr Zussino's exit, the decision brings to an end one of Gladstone's most famous leaderships.

Mr Zussino's supporters describe him as a visionary leader driven by social ideals.

His critics, and there are plenty, describe him as an industrial apologist responsible for environmental damage.

We have over full employment in Gladstone. We have guaranteed prosperity. We are recession-proofed and the port has played a very large role in that.

Independent state MP Liz Cunningham said he had worked diligently with the port, following the direction that his mentor, former general manager Reg Tanna, started.

"I found out that his contract wasn't being renewed when everyone else did," Mrs Cunningham said.

"It wasn't a surprise, these changes do happen when governments change - but I certainly wasn't consulted on the move."

Gladstone Regional Council Mayor Gail Sellers said through all his work, Mr Zussino had the interests of the community at heart.

"He's well-known in Gladstone, but also right around Australian ports, and even across the world," she said.

GPC and Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal are partnering to deliver the $45 million Gladstone Coal Exporters Maritime Precinct at Auckland East Shores.

WICET chief executive Robert Barnes congratulated Mr Zussino for his contribution in "positioning Gladstone as an economic powerhouse".

"Under Leo's guidance, Gladstone Ports Corporation has been an industry leader and integral to the contribution our region makes to the Queensland and Australian economies," he said.

"GPC has also greatly enhanced the Gladstone community through its significant social investments under Leo Zussino's tenure."

Earlier in the year, Mr Zussino told the Observer of his pride in what the ports had achieved.

"Two decades ago, Gladstone had 15% youth unemployment. Parents used to come to me and say, 'Leo, what is my child going to do when they leave school?'

"I can assure you today, no parent asks that question.

"We have over full employment in Gladstone. We have guaranteed prosperity. We are recession-proofed and the port has played a very large role in that."

At a GPC stakeholders meeting last month, he said the port had seen $10 billion in trade last year, and the figure would soar to $25 billion in 2016/17.

Mr Zussino's sucessor is former executive general manager at sugar giant Wilmar, Craig Doyle.

Mr Doyle will start on September 16.

The port will run with an acting chief until then.

Mr Zussino will return for a handover period after Mr Doyle's arrival.

Ports staff delivered their leader a quiet farewell on Friday night.