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Women Take the Helm in the South Florida Marine Industry

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There’s no doubt the marine scene is a male dominated one. Just look at the majority of faces you see. Men outnumber women in recreational boating pursuits such as sports fishing, sailing and mega-yachting. In fact, a 2011-published report by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation revealed that only 23 percent of all current boaters are women. Likewise, according to the May 2017-released report, Women’s Business Ownership: Data from the 2012 Survey of Business Owners, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, marine industry professions didn’t rank among the top five industries with a woman at the helm. Yet times are changing.

Two women in South Florida represent a growing wave of women marine industry professionals. Heather Valdez is now general manager at Sailorman, a 30-plus year old marine store bought by her father, Chuck Fitzgerald, back in 1985, whose niche is second hand parts and supplies for all types of craft. Jaclyn Baumgarten is chief executive officer of 2-year-old Aventura, Florida-headquartered Boatsetter.com, the number one boat rental community with thousands of vessels available nationwide and internationally. Interestingly, both Valdez and Baumgarten started their love of the marine world recreationally while boating with their families.

“My dad bought Sailorman when I was a freshman in high school, but he’s been working in the marine industry since I was born,” says Valdez. “I worked in the store as a teenager. Then, after college (Florida Atlantic University with a major in accounting), I got married and we raised four boys, of which the oldest is now 19. Last year, I was looking at the reality of going back to work somewhere full time when my father decided to retire and deals to buy the business fell through. I decided to keep the Sailorman legacy alive.”

Jaclyn Baumgarten, Boatsetter
Jaclyn Baumgarten, Boatsetter

Baumgarten’s passion for boating began as a child cruising summers with her family on Lake Michigan. It was a desire to use her business acumen, which spans from an MBA from Stanford to management consultant to for Fortune 400 company and coo for marketing firm with team members on four continents, combined with a longtime avid interest in the marine world that led her to take an entrepreneurial leap of faith and start Boatsetter.com

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“In 2012, both of my brothers told me they had to sell their boats because they weren’t using them enough. At the same time, I saw the awesome success of Airbnb, which enabled people to offset the cost of an expensive asset by renting it out. When I shared the idea of renting their boats with my brothers, my oldest brother said it wasn’t possible because of insurance limitations. So, I hit the global insurance market and started CRUZIN, America’s first fully-insured peer-to-peer boat sharing marketplace,” says Baumgarten, who in 2015 merged with competitor, Boatsetter, creating a formidable enterprise in the boat sharing arena.

What both women enjoy about their leadership positions is an ability to create their own culture in the workplace.

“Business isn’t just a numbers game for us. Instead, it’s all about personal relationships with our customers. They love the everyday wheeling and dealing and the free hot dogs and keg of beer when we have a big sale. This extends to our employees too. When it’s their birthday, we celebrate with their favorite foods and invite customers in the store at the time to sing Happy Birthday. This whole picture rather than just the bottom line approach makes it harder, but much more satisfying,” says Valdez.

Similarly, Baumgarten wanted to create a business herself from the ground, or waterline as it may be, up.

“What I love is being the producer, putting all the pieces together, building teams with the right people with the right talents all aligned on a common goal for today and business objectives 6 to 12 months out. This is something that is very empowering and very positive. Women have an innate and unique ability to lead, to collaborate, to produce and to effect change and influence others,” Baumgarten says.

What advice would Baumgarten and Valdez offer young women who would like to wade into these women’s wake and set their own professional courses in the marine industry?

“Be tenacious, especially if you want to create a company that doesn’t exist. You have to block out the ‘no’s’ and figure out a way to get what you want accomplished. Creative problem solving is key. Most of all, you must know the business, know the metrics, better than anyone else. You have to earn your credibility,” says Baumgarten.

For Valdez, it’s means pushing the envelope and knocking down barriers. Most of all, she says, “Make sure you do what you love.”

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.


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