Gordon Houston, CEO and President, Port Metro Vancouver

Until his retirement in February of this year, 61-year-old Capt. Houston administered the busiest – and, in his view, most beautiful – port in Canada.

How long have you been at the port?

I came ashore in ’88. I was the harbourmaster of Prince Rupert for four years, and I’ve been down here since ’91. So 20 years total.

How does one get to be a captain in the first place?

You join the merchant navy when you’re 16 years old, as a young deck officer. Then you sit exams and put in some sea time. Eventually you get there.

Have you ever seen a pirate?

Some tried to stop us once in the Malacca Strait, but I threatened to run them down. I pointed the ship straight at them – there was nothing else you could do. When I was a kid, we used to anchor ship and do pirate watches, because they would try to get on board at night and steal ropes, paint, all kinds of stuff.

Did you ever worry for the port’s security?

When Tom Ridge, the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, came to Vancouver, he said, “You are much more secure than any of the ports in the United States.” We had all the safety measures in place, and we switched them on the day 9/11 happened. So we actually had better foresight. You know, if we can put 130 million tonnes of cargo through here and most people in Vancouver are blissfully unaware of it, we’re doing something right.

What’s your mood as you take your leave?

Optimistic. I am very excited about the future. The one thing I’m doing now is turning down everyone who asks me to do something. The main thing I don’t want is to become a consultant. I’m not the sort of person who can take two pages of data and turn it into a 73-page binder.

What about hobbies? I have a sailboat, which is a consuming passion, and I’m a musician. I play 16 instruments. That’s what a lot of wasted hours at sea do for you. In the six months I was away, I’d play a new instrument. The next time I’d go out, I’d take another.

What do you think your legacy will be at the port of Vancouver?

The amalgamation of the three ports [North Fraser Port Authority, Vancouver Port Authority and Fraser River Port Authority]. When people look back to when I was CEO, they’ll probably think about the amalgamation of the ports.

Is anything left undone?

Nope. I realized that if I was going to do something else, it’d take five years, and I’m just not prepared to stay here – anywhere – until I’m 65. So I went to the board and told them I’d like to leave. Then they said they wanted me to stay, and we got into a debate. I won.

You win most of your debates?

I tend to.

If you were laid up in hospital, what literary or historical figure would you want in the bed next to yours?

Hornblower, from the books by C.S. Forester. It’s an amazing series about a young fellow who goes into the Royal Navy as a midshipman – which is the way I started off in the merchant navy – and works his way through to become first lord of the admiralty.

What are your favourite ports?

I’ve been to over 2,500, and my judgment is based on nothing but sheer physical beauty. In no particular order: Vancouver, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro.