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New Port Chief Leaves Disney, Queen for 'Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity'

April 24, 1988|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — For a good time, Joseph F. Prevratil delves into his longtime hobby of parapsychology and metaphysics.

But Prevratil, the buttoned-down president of Wrather Port Properties Ltd. who transformed the fading Queen Mary and Spruce Goose attraction into a financial success, hastens to add, "I am not clairvoyant. I cannot look into the future and I have no special skills in that area."

Too bad. Prevratil could make good use of extraordinary senses in the coveted job to which he was named last week, executive director of the Port of Long Beach.

Job Pays $110,000

It might give him a little insight into whether he will thrive under the thumb of the Board of Harbor Commissioners, the five tough-minded business and legal leaders who gave him the $110,000-a-year job.

And it could give a hint about how the Queen Mary complex will fare without his guiding hand and under the continued control of Walt Disney Co., which purchased Wrather last January.

Prevratil, 50, said he could have stayed with Disney, but the port job was too good to pass up.

"I could have had self-satisfaction with the Disney company," he said. "This is an opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime."

Disney spokesman Bob Roth said of Prevratil: "We're sorry to have him go. We're grateful (that) we're going to still benefit from his position" as head of the port.

Prevratil said he is taking a pay cut by accepting the port job, but that the responsibilities and challenges of leading the West Coast's busiest port proved too great an allure.

The responsibility is staggering. The port, by its own statistics, moves $25 billion worth of imports a year and $10 billion worth of exports. That consists of everything from bananas to steel, including 400,000 automobiles and 250,000 motorcycles from the Far East.

Prevratil, known for his skills as a business trouble-shooter, said he will not have to tinker with the port to turn it into a major success. It already is.

Prevratil is mum on just exactly what he plans to do.

"Obviously," he said, "the most important priority is to continue the high level of excellence this port enjoys and, quite frankly, we want to take it to even higher levels."

But no matter what course he eventually charts, he said he will be able to work with the harbor commissioners. Prevratil said that while he exercised nearly autonomous control at the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose, he can accept the overall guidance of a board.

"I would not be standing here if I didn't think I had their confidence," he said.

He said he does not know who will succeed him at the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose, but that Disney has many able executives who can fill the void. While Disney has not stated its plans for the Long Beach tourism landmarks, Prevratil is decidedly bullish about their future.

"As a mater of fact, Disney is making every effort to go forward."

Disney spokesman Roth put it more simply: "We really don't have anything to announce at this point in time. We're still looking at those properties."

At a press conference last week, harbor commissioners were as enthusiastic about Prevratil as he was about the chance to work with them.

Calling Prevratil "one of the Southland's top business executives," Commission President David L. Hauser said "the board was seeking a person with outstanding management and leadership capabilities, and these are the qualities for which Joe Prevratil is known."

Commissioner George F. Talin Sr. said "he is going to be to the port what Babe Ruth was to baseball. His administrative skills are impeccable."

And Commissioner Louise M. DuVall said that Prevratil was the commission's top choice from the start. The search began after James H. McJunkin, who had a successful decade-long tenure as executive director, resigned Feb. 1 to become a consultant to the port.

Around the city, few other executives are as universally revered and respected.

Praise From Officials

"Joe is a man of the highest integrity and the highest moral character as well. He brings stability and stature," Mayor Ernie Kell said.

Councilman Evan A. Braude, who represents the port as part of his 1st District, said Prevratil is "a very intelligent and thoughtful person" who "understands how to work with people."

Elaine Hutchison, a real estate firm president and immediate past chairman of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said that Prevratil's selection will help cement the port's relationship with local businesses.

"The port could not have selected a more capable and qualified person for this position," she said. "He will be looking out for the citizens' investment in the port."

Prevratil, the current chairman of the chamber, said he does not know whether he will continue to hold that post, but added that he plans to remain active in local affairs. A Fullerton resident and father of four, Prevratil said he plans to move to Long Beach.

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