NFIB/New York Member Profile: Cliff Clark, South Ferry Company

Date: May 20, 2015

Related Content: News State New York

Long Island’s South Ferry Company holds NFIB/New York’s longest running membership.

Long Island’s South Ferry Company holds NFIB/New York’s longest running membership.

“South Ferry has been in business since the early 1700s,” says Cliff. “It was begun by the Havens family, the maternal grandparents of the current Clarks who run the business. In 1830, two Clark brothers married two Havens sisters, and the company became the Clark’s. It has been passed on from fathers to sons ever since. It began with a rowboat, then a sailboat and now we have four 100-foot diesel-powered, double-ended ferryboats.”

While Cliff didn’t start the business, he chose to return to it in 1976 after earning his college degree and serving eight years in the United States Air Force because of the family legacy and the desire to raise his children in the area.

The business, which employs about 40 people year-round, has grown tremendously since the beginning. Just during Cliff’s tenure, South Ferry has increased its carry loads from 150,000 vehicles and 350,000 passengers annually to more than 700,000 vehicles and 1.2 million people. And failing to keep an accurate day-to-day history of the operation during this time has been his biggest mistake, Cliff says.

“So many incredible things have happened since 1976 that are forever lost because I didn’t keep better records of the many, many stories that could be told and would be a joy to future generations,” he says, adding that he’s advised the next generation not to make the same mistake.

Although challenges include everything from hazardous weather conditions to economic uncertainties to ever-increasing government regulations to the 24/7/365 nature of small business ownership, Cliff enjoys his role.

“The best part is that I can make a difference in the lives of our customers and of our staff,” he says. “Compassion for people, truly caring and being in a position to make things happen can change the world for people benefiting from that compassion. Many are the stories of people whose lives have been turned around for the better as a result of working at South Ferry.”

Cliff says applying his strong Christian values to every aspect of the operation—without obligating employees—has been his biggest success as  a business owner, and he believes the diversity of his staff and their kindness to each other and to customers speaks to those values.

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