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Maria del Mar Rodriguez said Tropical Shipping Puerto Rico will continue to focus on the wellbeing of the people and countries it serves.

By Hilary Reeves

Maria Rodriguez poses in front of the Tropic Express, wearing a neon reflective vest and white hard hat.
Maria Rodriguez is the Hispaniola Trade Regional Manager for Tropical Shipping, responsible for Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic operations

As a child in Puerto Rico, Maria del Mar Rodriguez spent countless hours on her father’s fishing boat exploring the coves and inlets.

“My father loved the sea,” she said. “That’s why he named me Maria del Mar – ‘Marie of the seas.’”

Rodriguez, born and raised in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, was a happy surprise for her parents, 15-year-old sister, and 13-year-old brother.

“As a child, both my mother and my father were my greatest influences; they taught me to be fair and humble, but above all to work hard.”

When she was eight years old, her beloved father died of a heart attack. Later that year, her brother was killed in a carjacking.

“He was only 21 years old,” she said. “Both losses made me realize that my mom needed my help and support, since she had to take care of my sister and me. Those were tough times, but the three of us were very close and supported one another.”

Rodriguez graduated from a private high school, Superior Católica de Bayamon, when she was just 16 years old.

“When I started first grade, the teacher noticed that I worked fast, so she started giving me second grade material, and later promoted me early,” she explained. “Also, during high school, I took summer classes for fun. By 11th Grade, I was finished with my high school degree.”

Rodriguez began college at the University of Puerto Rico. She wanted to be a doctor, due to her passion for biology. But that changed when she started working in the transportation industry.

“After I graduated high school, I began working for a small surf shop close to my home, as I needed to help my mom,” she said. “When I turned 18, I was offered a part-time clerical job for a freight forwarder, where I became exposed to and interested in international logistics.”

Eight months later, Rodriguez had a full-time documentation specialist job doing freight bills.

“Puerto Rico had a huge pharmaceutical manufacturing sector at that time, and I was in charge of preparing the documentation for the air and ocean exploits destined to the Far East,” she said. “It was an exciting experience.”

Rodriguez was able to further develop her career in logistics when she went to work for a U.S. Customs Broker, where she learned yet another dimension of the transportation industry: the cargo-clearance process.

“Our focus was the high-end commodities, such as wines and spirits, meats, and art,” she said. Later on, she was offered the challenge of managing the business of the world famous alcoholic beverages consolidator J.F. Hillebrand. That experience placed her closer to the customers, working on marketing strategies, sales forecasts, and inventory management for intra-Europe, Asia, and South American consolidations.

“I really enjoyed that experience, as it gave me the opportunity to work with the whole supply chain, from sales and marketing strategy, to sales forecasts, to orders, shipping and customs clearance, to final delivery.”

Twelve years ago, Rodriguez decided it was time to move on. She applied for a sales representative position opening at Tropical Shipping Puerto Rico.

“As a sales representative, my initial focus at Tropical was on the Canada to San Juan service,” she said. “Later, I was also responsible for selling the ‘less than container load’ (LCL) service.”

Her new responsibilities required traveling often to the islands, and she found Caribbean logistics to be both exciting and challenging.

“With the new Caribbean focus, we were able to increase our market share for five consecutive years,” she said.

Rodriguez was promoted to Sales Manager in 2006.

“My main goal has always been to solidify relationships with our customers to where they feel we are an extension of their business,” she said.

She again was promoted to Puerto Rico Island Manager, where she had the opportunity to apply skills learned in other departments, such as vessel operations, customer service, and accounting. Currently, she is the Hispaniola Trade Regional Manager, responsible for Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic operations.

“I’ve been blessed and feel very fortunate to work for such a great company, with great teams in both countries,” she said. “As a group, we’ve been successful in developing the produce exports from Puerto Plata, increasing the full container export from Caucedo and San Juan, and developing the Canada trade as well as the LCL exports to the Caribbean.”

Rodriguez said she loves “everything” about her job – especially the fact that she works for a fair company with great leaders.

“I’m an example of the fair opportunity employer Tropical Shipping is, as well as how committed they are to developing woman leadership roles within the company,” she said.

Rodriguez and her husband Rafael married six years ago. The couple live in Puerto Rico with Rodriguez’s 14-year-old daughter, Alexandra, and her three stepsons: Joyce, Gianna, and Gabriel.

“We’re a big family,” she laughed. We enjoy spending time together at the beach, watching movies, and singing karaoke.”

Becoming a mother, she said, changed her life.

“Alexandra is my inspiration and motivation to give the best of me on everything I do.”

In November, Rodriguez was elected part of the board of directors of the Puerto Rico Shipping Association. She is the youngest member and only woman on the board.

“At Tropical, we’re currently working on a new business segment from the Dominican Republic, and are in the process of preparing a business model to present to management,” she said, adding that her future plans include continuing to develop the Hispaniola Trade, specifically focusing on safety awareness.

“We live in a very vulnerable area,” she concluded. “As part of our commitment to the Caribbean life, we will continue to focus on the wellbeing of the people and countries we serve. Promoting both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic as gateways to the Caribbean is also a priority. Both countries have a lot to offer.”