Meet a Great Lakes Board Member
Earl Shipp, Always Paying it Forward
Earl Shipp leads an interesting life. Whether it was his education, successful career, giving back, or world travels, his story is one of preparation, hard work, and gratitude.
If you read Earl Shipp’s bio you will learn that he is an accomplished executive with a storied career of 38 years with Dow Inc., (NYSE:DOW), formerly known as The Dow Chemical Company, where at one point he was responsible for US Gulf Coast operations which represents more than a third of Dow’s global asset base. He retired from Dow in October 2017. He serves on the Board of Directors of National Grid PLC (NYSE:NGG; London:NG), Olin Corporation (NYSE:OLN), and our company, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Corporation (NASDAQ: GLDD).
What you will not find in his bio are some of the many things that make him so interesting and inspiring.
A life around water
The sea has always been part of Earl Shipp’s life—from fishing with his father as a young boy to sitting on the board of directors of a maritime construction company to sailing around the Gulf Coast in one of his own two vessels. “I have been around boats most of my life. I grew up in Michigan fishing with my father on his boat,” said Earl.
Earl is a civilian captain, Coast Guard licensed to run vessels for hire up to 100 tons. Earl is captain of his own two vessels – one 37-foot sailboat and the other a 74-foot power boat. “As much time as my wife and I spend on the water, I obtained a captain’s license because I should know as much as possible and be as safe, knowledgeable, and qualified as possible. The licensing process gave me a much better idea of the rules of the road on the water and allowed me to pursue my boating hobby more safely with as much knowledge as possible.”
Fresh out of college with a degree in Chemical Engineering and an offer from Dow Chemical to work as an engineer in Freeport, Texas, Earl already had a 16-foot catamaran that allowed him to sail off the beach of Surfside, TX.
Throughout the years, Earl learned to navigate larger boats and rougher waters. Eventually, Earl and his beloved wife and first mate, Zee, acquired a 38-foot sailboat that they still have to this day. “The wind is not always with you,” Earl explains and so ten years ago bought his first power boat, a 68-footer. Currently he has a 74-footer that they use to sail around the Gulf Coast.
They sail to and from Texas and Florida – each trip approximately 1500 miles. It takes them about a week to make this journey sailing seven or eight hours a day. They do not travel at night on the boat for a number of reasons, not the least of which is safety. “The night is more dangerous for sailing – there is a safety component you lose when the sun goes down. And we are doing this for fun – it is not a race. We dock at a convenient location, have dinner, and spend the night. Not to say that I do not race – actually I do compete in sailboat races in Galveston, TX.”
The boat is fully equipped for living and working with three bedrooms, 1000 feet of living space, and the ability to attend business meetings while onboard. “We are on the boat every week; it is our second home.”
During the COVID lockdowns when many of us were binge-watching Netflix, Earl and Zee were on the boat even more than they are now. Zee enjoys the power boat and takes turns at the helm on long trips.
Earl grew up in Southeast Michigan. Directly out of college and a Michigan resident, you would expect him to enter the auto industry, however that was not exactly the career trajectory for a chemical engineering major. Although Earl interviewed with Dow in Midland, Michigan, he was offered and accepted a role with Dow in Freeport, TX. Shortly after beginning his career with Dow in Freeport, Earl accepted an opportunity as a young engineer to work on a project in Japan. He considered it a great opportunity to live successfully in another culture. It also launched his international career. Earl worked all over the world with Dow, including five years in Dubai as Dow Chemical’s President for the Middle East, India, and Africa.
Paying it Forward in his career
Earl cares about people. From his executive experience with Dow where he was responsible for a $30 billion asset base and over 15,000 employees to the many young professionals he has mentored, Earl believes that together with a good education, development, preparedness, and an element of luck, he has been given many opportunities he can never repay. “I can never pay back all the support and mentoring that was given to me, but I can pay it forward,” he says. And pay it forward he does. Earl was the Dow Executive Sponsor for the National Society of Black Engineers and National Society of Women Engineers. He helped sponsor summer engineering programs in middle schools and also STEM robotics programs. Even while he was in college, Earl visited with middle and high school students to talk about a career in engineering.
Preparation was part of Earl’s recipe for success – a good education in engineering coupled with company goals and objectives. To the people he mentors, Earl advises listening to earnings calls and knowing the company’s goals and objectives to align their careers accordingly. Being in a position to accept opportunities that were presented to him meant that Earl had to know where the opportunities would be in order to be ready developmentally—in the right place at the right time with the necessary skill and knowledge.
Top of the world, bottom of the world
Although he traveled the world with Dow, there were many more places he wanted to experience. “I know London better than Los Angeles,” he explained. The day after he retired, Earl and Zee traveled to Vermont and Maine and drove around seeing the beautiful fall colors and eating lobster rolls from one end of the state to the other. Lobster rolls, beautiful scenery, and no emails!
And Earl and Zee make two major international trips a year.
They went on a 20-day National Geographic expedition to the Arctic with 100 other passengers. The expedition took them within 600 miles of the North Pole. During that time, they only docked once, in Ilulissat, Greenland, where the chef purchased fresh haddock for the lucky voyagers to enjoy.
The Ilulissat ice shelf on the west coast of Greenland is believed to be the glacier from which the iceberg that sunk the Titanic broke away. To this day, they are still in contact with some of the couples they met on that trip.
One pole is certainly more than most of us could even imagine visiting, yet Earl and Zee also took a 25-day expedition to Antarctica and the South Pole where there is little more than penguins and seals. While there were no cities in which to dock in that region, the captain drove the vessel into the ice one day and gave the passengers an opportunity to walk around in snowshoes or cross-country skis. “It was beautiful and untouched,” said Earl. “The penguins were curious and would come right up to us.”
So where do you go after you have been to both the North and South Pole? Their next major expedition took them to Seoul, South Korea. Sometime in 2023, they plan to visit Normandy for an historical perspective. “This is somewhere I have never been and always wanted to see,” said Earl.
Paying it Forward in his retirement
Earl and Zee use their sailboat for more than travel. They also have enjoyed participating in the SAILING ANGELS and Wounded Warriors programs.
They donate their sailboat and their time to host kids referred from the Make-A-Wish foundation and soldiers, sailors, and marines from the Wounded Warrior Program out for day sails on Galveston Bay. Many of the kids are referred from MD Anderson Cancer Center or Texas Children’s hospital.
With energy levels off the charts, the Make-A-Wish kids were all over the place in their excitement. It was fun to see one little girl learn port from starboard and be able to pilot the sailboat with simple verbal instructions from Earl. “It was a lot of fun, but we needed a nap afterwards,” said Earl.
The Wounded Warriors program is therapeutic in nature. Doctors were prescribing a quiet and peaceful day away from normal stresses. In stark contrast to the children, most of these trips were quiet – no music and little initial talking – just the sound of water and wind.
Usually, they would start to talk about two hours into the trip. “What they shared made me appreciate even more what some of them went through in support of our country,” said Earl. “A very, very rewarding endeavor for my wife and I to be able to share our passion for the water in this way.”
Since 2013, Zee and Earl have set up, through their personal foundation, a full-ride scholarship program at Brazosport College to support a student who wants to attend but does not have the means.
Earl Shipp is always paying it forward.
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