A Habit of Quality

29 November 2023

When IRI’s Captain Rob Lorigan, Senior Vice President, Quality Assurance, describes retirement, he reflects on a bucolic depiction of rolling hills, tomato plants, and the laughter of grandchildren. Then he quickly mentions that he will happily take calls from colleagues after retirement, which is not a surprise offer from a maritime professional with 46 years of experience in improving organizational outputs. He has always been quick to support, help and engage others. In fact, Rob has been involved in organizational management, marine safety operations, and quality assurance since he joined the United States Coast Guard (USCG) in 1977.

Quality has been career continuity for Rob, who served in a variety of leadership and marine safety roles in his 31 years with the USCG. Following his retirement from USCG, Rob joined OSG Ship Management as Vice President, Operations Compliance and later as Vice President, Health, Safety, Quality, Environment and Operations Assurance. Rob joined IRI in 2014 to formalize a Quality Assurance Department and will retire in late November 2023.

“The Registry had been growing rapidly and we wanted to formalize our quality assurance team, but we wanted someone with experience, maritime knowledge, and a passion for marine safety,” said Bill Gallagher, who hired Rob and brought together resources to formalize the Quality Assurance Department.

IRI’s long-term commitment to quality and high standards was already certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) when Rob joined the team in 2014. In fact, IRI obtained Quality ISO 9002 Management Systems Certification, with the Maritime Services Group (MSG) in Reston and New York certified and registered under ISO 9002:1994 in March of 1995 and later upgraded to the ISO 9001:2003 standard in 2003. London’s MSG was certified in 1998 for ISO 9002, and later for ISO 9001:2000 certification. Piraeus went through the certification process in 2008 and became ISO 9001:2000 certified.

The MSG’s extensive vessel registration and administration program, coupled with its focus on providing quality technical and administrative services enabled IRI to successfully certify these key hub offices, but Bill and other senior leaders wanted to ensure quality would remain at the heart of IRI’s commitment to clients.

“My job was really to take a look at the entire quality assurance program and put the pieces together in a way that would allow the organization to continue to expand while maintaining what makes the organization so special, its client services focus,” said Rob.

In 2015, ISO updated the 9001:2004 standard expanding it to include for the first time, requirements for service organizations. Rob saw an opportunity to engage the entire global network of IRI offices in a quality assurance program.

“The update to the standard allowed the regional offices to participate in a new way. It was a door for us to prove that we had best practices, operating standards, and procedures across the regional offices,” said Rob.

Rob and the Quality Assurance Department took on the responsibility to expand the ISO certification to 18 offices over the next two years, ensuring all the full-services offices at the time were ISO certified.

“I certainly wore through my traveling pants during that time,” Rob said as he recalled the intense travel he undertook to visit every office, sit down with the staff, and build out the requirements for ISO certification. “Sitting next to our team members really drove home the point about the importance each of us plays in quality and safety,” he said. “The process unified us as a team. We formalized structures, trained team members on how to prepare for an audit, how to audit, and updated our documentation policies. The process created opportunities within the office’s policies and procedures to respond to changes the industry while remaining focused on quality and client service,” he continued.

ISO certification is a rigorous process that requires a tremendous and on-going dedication of resources and operational time. Earning and maintaining ISO 9001:2015 certification requires management operations and administrative functions to be documented and audited annually by third-party auditors. Nine systems, from leadership and documentation/record keeping to performance monitoring and continual improvement are audited annually by IRI’s internal auditors as well as by third-party auditors as a condition for maintaining the ISO 9001:2015 certification. Today, IRI has internal qualified internal auditors in Piraeus, London, Reston, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Long Beach, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and has trained all department heads in quality assurance and audit procedures.

“Engagement in our quality assurance program is what makes our decentralized structure work so efficiently and so well,” said Bill. “A client gets the exact same experience in our Hong Kong office as they do in Fort Lauderdale or Piraeus. Everyone understands the role they play, the role their department plays, and how they fit into the puzzle of flag State responsibilities and administration. We truly work together,” he continued.

Beyond expanding the ISO certifications, Rob also focused on marine safety – updating incident contingency plans, incident response plans, and creating additional structure for investigations.

“As one of the largest flag States in the world, we have the unique opportunity to conduct trend analysis, identify best practices, and share lessons learned,” Rob said. “Putting a more formal structure in place for investigations allowed us to make and track recommendations for regulatory changes to IMO and improve the safety of all vessels at sea.”

John Taverner, based in London, is now at the helm of the Quality Assurance Department. John has served as deputy department head and has been an integral part of the quality assurance team for many years. He also brings a wealth of experience from his work with classification societies.

As Rob moves to this next stage of life, we know he’ll continue to do what he has always done – plan, do, check, and act.