Stavis Seafoods responds to OSHA fine, seeks new president

Published on
November 8, 2016

Greg Burgess, the former president of Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A-based seafood distributor Stavis Seafoods, has left the company, according to CEO Richard Stavis.

According to Burgess’ LinkedIn profile, he left Stavis Seafoods in October and now works as an executive vice president of finance, operations and administration at New England Ice Cream in Taunton, Massachusetts.

Stavis told SeafoodSource Burgess left the company for “family and quality of life reasons” and that the parting was an “amicable situation.”

Long-time company board member Jack Fleishman has stepped in as a temporary replacement while the company searches for a permanent hire, which is an open and ongoing process, Stavis said.

“Jack knows our company intimately, and was on the board specifically because he has expertise in fields important to our business. There’s nobody more qualified than him to step into the role of president on an interim basis while we find someone to fill the position long-term,” Stavis said. “To be honest, we both want to make sure we hire the right person. We’re not going to rush Jack out the door, but at the same time, we both want to hire someone with permanent status. If we find the right person tomorrow, they’re hired. If it takes six months, that’s OK, too. It’s all about finding the right person.”

The company is still dealing with the consequences of an ammonia leak in March at its 7 Channel Street warehouse facility, which killed worker Brian Caron. Last month, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) fined Stavis Seafoods USD 173,168 (EUR 154,232) for 20 different infractions found at the warehouse, including an improperly installed cooling system and a non-functioning alarm system in the machine room.

The shock of the event is still fresh for the entire company, Stavis said.

“It has traumatically impacted people’s lives,” he said. “Safety is something we take very seriously. We are comforted that OSHA did not find a causal link between the conditions that were present in our facility and Brian’s death. At the same point, from the day after the accident, we hired a safety consulted and added a lot of best practices to what we do. The fine is about the past. The way we conduct ourselves in the future is much more important. Making sure we are being responsible in the way we’re addressing worker safety is paramount going forward.”

On a corporate level, Stavis said the company had negotiated with OSHA a reduction in the dollar amount the company will pay in fines and that “as a company, we can manage it.”

“We worked our way through with OSHA; they’re very reasonable,” he said. “Ultimately, we are able to mitigate and reduce the total and put together a payment plan. It’s not going to have a nonoperational impact on our business.”

The larger impact is being felt following the company’s decision to permanently close the 7 Channel Street facility. With another two or three years until its new 90,000-square-foot building in the Massport Marine Terminal is ready to open, Stavis has been nine different cold storage sites in the Boston area and doing daily pick-ups at each one, then assembling customer orders at Stavis’ Fresh Center facility at 310 Northern Avenue.

“Fortunately, we’ve been able to avoid any layoffs, but what’s not good is the process is incredibly inefficient and labor-intensive,” Stavis said.

As a short-term solution, Stavis has announced plans to lease a 45,000-square-foot unit in the former US Foods building in Peabody, Massachusetts. The company will occupy the building within the next 30 to 45 days, Richard Stavis said.

“It will allow us to keep more of our frozen fish in one place, and to put together orders more quickly and efficiently,” Stavis said. “I’m so proud of my people. They’ve been working like crazy and filling orders in a space that’s a third the total amount of space dedicated to distribution we had before the accident.”

Stavis also announced the hiring of three new employees: Tim Kramer, a national retail account manager, who formerly was employed at High Liner Foods; Matthew Hewett, a former chef and previous employee of Joseph’s Gourmet Pasta, as national foodservice chain account manager; and Nick Smiciklas, previously of Beacon Seafood, as a sales executive in Stavis’ Miami office.

As Stavis Seafoods has faced capacity limitations in Boston, it has sought to expand other parts of its business, including its Florida operations and its value-added chains.

“Nick is part of our expanded presence in Florida, where we’ve doubled our sales staff to four due to increased business there,” Stavis said. “We’re also working on developing a new tack to market, focusing on business we can do without handling boxes ourselves. It’s business that can grow regardless of our physical location, ad and we’re having some fun and success building out our network and moving closer to the end user.”

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