Marisol Schmidt reflects on her early years spent on the island and her four decades in the shipping industry
By Hilary Reeves
Marisol Schmidt was born in the Bronx. Her mother, a native New Yorker, and her father, raised in Yauco, Puerto Rico, moved the family to the island when Schmidt was 13.
“My mother and father met in New York, married, and had four children – three girls and one boy,” she said. “But the Bronx wasn’t the best place to be at that time, and it wasn’t getting any better. They decided to move to Puerto Rico to pursue a better life for us.”
Schmidt learned to read and write Spanish as a seventh-grader in the Luchetti School of Arts.
“I’d always enjoyed drawing and painting as a hobby, so the school was perfect for me. In eighth grade, my teacher was Mr. Luis German Cajigas, a famous artist who resides on the island.”
Schmidt graduated from high school, passing the college board and accepted by the University of Puerto Rico at the age of 16. Wanting to be a psychiatrist, but unsure, she decided to take a series of business classes, earning an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration.
“In the months before I graduated, my professor informed us that Sea Land Services was looking for a candidate to work in the Documentation Department,” she said. “(My professor) decided to send 20 of his graduating class, including me, for interviews. After a long day of testing, I was offered the job. And so began my journey in the shipping industry.”
Schmidt began at Sea Land Services in Puerto Rico when she was 19 years old, and worked there for 19 years. She started in the Documentation Department, then went to the Matching Department, Customer Service, and finally to Equipment Control and Load Control.
“I was always wanting to learn something new,” she said. “My favorite position was when I worked on the operations side of the business in Load Control. I was in charge of assigning the equipment that had to be loaded on the ship’s empties and loads. It was a lot of long nights, since I had to wait for all loads to arrive. Since that job had always been done by men, when the employee who had been doing it retired, I wanted to take it on and prove I could do it. It wasn’t easy, since I was married and had two children.”
Schmidt worked in Load Control for six years until she left the company for Sea Barge, which is now TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico. She works in the Fleet Management Department, tracking equipment, making sure it arrives where it’s needed to meet customer needs, and helping to negotiate per diem rates with vendors and keeping up with the leasing contracts.
“I love the camaraderie that exists in our group,” she said. “We’re always focused on looking for ways to make things better for our customers while saving the company money.”
Schmidt’s greatest on-the-job challenge was the 2011 layoff of all but one other in her group.
“I was instantly responsible for areas that I’d never been involved in, and it was very challenging to start from scratch and rebuild the Fleet Management group. We put together new ways of doing things with more research and accountability. We started doing all equipment inventories, a new process I was privileged to lead. We added the Inland Depot to our group, and we’re now adding Rail Puerto Rico to our group. We keep on growing.”
It’s been 20 years since Schmidt started at Sea Barge. Now, there are ships, not just barges. And there are more formalities.
“Things were a lot more laid-back than they are now,” she explained. “A lot of agreements were done by word-of-mouth and a handshake – that for sure doesn’t exist anymore. Everything has to be through written contract, which I believe is the right way to do things.”
If she could change one thing about her past, Schmidt said she would have taken more time to be a child.
“I would have gone all the way through high school and not graduated at 16. I would have stayed in college to finish my bachelor’s. If I’d done that, I wouldn’t have married at 20, and I would have enjoyed my youth more. I wanted to be grown up so fast, not realizing that I had more than enough time to be one.”
Schmidt said she encouraged her children to enjoy their teen years, but told them that not going to college and getting a degree wasn’t an option.
“Now they are out there in the world doing great things and building good lives for themselves. I’ve been very blessed.”
Schmidt’s parents, meanwhile, have been together for 59 years. In addition to her full siblings, she has two half brothers who didn’t grow up in the same household but with whom she has always been close. One, Tony Martinez, works with Schmidt at TOTE Maritime in Jacksonville. Her plans for the future include retirement, art, travel, babysitting her grandchildren – and plenty of rock and roll.
“I love playing pool and darts. I love rock and roll. I also love painting and taking pictures of people, getting together to enjoy life. In the meantime, being a TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico employee is a privilege, and if you become one, you will understand why. We are a company who cares about you, a company always looking for ways to help you grow, to pursue what you want to and become the best that you can be. When I’ve completed my journey here, I want to believe that I’ve left my mark as a mentor for all those I leave behind. I want to embrace that satisfaction.”