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GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ — Sustainability is a term Leo Holt likes to use — and not just as a buzzword. The president of Holt Logistics Corp. applies the approach throughout his business network and in his approach to the world at large.

Sustainability is more than talk — it also requires investment. In 2011, the Holt family, which owns the Gloucester City Marine Terminal and whose separately managed affiliates operate Philadelphia’s Packer Avenue Marine Terminal among other enterprises, spent $22 million improving facilities. Recently, Holt purchased a new $5 million crane. And the company two years ago spent $42 million on a rooftop solar panel array that generates nine megawatts of electricity, enough to run its operations and sometimes generate energy for the region’s power grid. The system will pay for itself halfway through its life cycle and become a profit center.

Holt-1Giant cranes from Holt Logistics’ Delaware River operations dominate the skyline. The emblazoned name is less a source of pride for the family than a constant reminder of the responsibilities it shares. (Photos by Chip Carter)

Mr. Holt and his family learned from his father, the late Thomas J. Holt Sr., that with great success comes great responsibility.

“It started with my father, and those seeds were planted at the very base,” Mr. Holt said. “Whether it’s someone at the terminal knowing they have to turn out the lights and keep the doors closed — I walked through the shop today and turned off two forklifts as I walked through — it starts at the very, very entry level and works its way up. In our business, our terminals, our warehouses — whether you’re the guard or the manager or anybody in between — everybody is not just required to, but empowered to point out deficiencies, help people at the end of the day do things right the next time and at the same time save money while you’re doing it. That’s where sustainability comes full circle; you then have resources — it’s all about marshaling resources to do the job the next day.”

Mr. Holt said the same principles apply in all business matters. He uses the establishment of the South African citrus export industry as an example. By helping people in another country find a new market and raise their standard of living, all operations along the Delaware River now benefit by the arrival of South African product in the form of jobs, income, revenue — those resources that create sustainability.

“Creating impediments to trade or letting impediments hang around is really not a way to help foment trade,” said Mr. Holt, who also serves on the USDA National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board. “It’s enlightened self-interest, because from the U.S. point of view as one of the great proppers-up of the world, you can see an economy evolve and communities evolve in other countries that otherwise would be reliant in part on the generosity of U.S. aid. We don’t need that in South Africa. We have programs going into South Africa on the health and human services side, on the education side, and I participate in some of those, but doing it through simple block-and-tackle is always simpler than trusting someone within the government to have to go over and administer a program 7,000 miles away.”

While Mr. Holt honors the legacy his father left, he does not feel bound by it. “The generation that my father occupied in the American firmament of the 20th Century was the generation that did not ask for permission, they asked for forgiveness. They didn’t draw up permits, they drew up plans and they went to work,” Mr. Holt said. “We live in a different world than he did in the 1960s and ‘70s, or that his father did in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. All for good reason — and no pining for different days — from our perspective, we do things differently. We use the same sort of entrepreneurial spirit, we try to instill that spirit in the generations of people he helped bring along and inspired and still inspires today. We have a lot of third- and fourth-generation employees and third- and fourth-generation family members in the business. So ours is a continued growth story, but it’s also a story that’s underpinned by a more studied sense of business approach — P&L based so when we make investments there’s a set of projections tied in to that that’s very numbers driven. Then all the other elements, the learning, the fun, the long days and long nights and the surprises that come with any sort of growth and the growing pains that come with it follow based on a plan, and that’s the good part.”